Peer Support in the Spotlight

Written by Scott J. Sheely on Saturday - October 02, 2010.

Washington:  Each September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration partners with other federal agencies, including the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and communities across the country to sponsor National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month (Recovery Month).

This month's observance provides important recognition of the societal benefits of addiction treatment, lauds the contributions of treatment providers, and promotes the message that recovery is possible. Recovery Month is also an opportunity to highlight the critical role that peer recovery support services play in helping individuals reach and sustain recovery from substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Increasingly, peer recovery support services are being offered in conjunction with professional treatment services and mutual aid as part of a continuum of care for individuals with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Peer recovery support services can be particularly important for justice-involved individuals as they return from incarceration to the community, engage in treatment, and identify community-based pro-social supports.

Specific outreach to justice-involved individuals is often conducted by peer recovery support organizations. For example, the Dallas-based Association of Persons Affected by Addiction (APAA) provides support groups and coaching sessions, including those for co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders at a local correctional facility and for individuals returning to the community from jail. States have also begun to recognize their role in supporting peer services and have developed several strategies to support their development. As of May 2008, thirty states had developed criteria for training and deploying "peer specialists" and at least thirteen states have initiated a Medicaid waiver option that provides reimbursement for peer-delivered mental health services.

As communities develop reentry programming it is important to include peer recovery support services and identify local or state organizations that may offer them. The following questions and answers are excerpts from a paper with detailed discussions of the subject published by the Faces & Voices of Recovery, Peer Recovery Support Services: Recovery Management in Healthcare Background, and provide a brief introduction to peer recovery support services.

How are peer recovery support services different from other services?

Peer-based recovery support is the process of giving and receiving nonprofessional, non-clinical assistance to achieve long-term recovery from severe alcohol and/or other drug-related problems. This support is provided by people who are experientially credentialed to assist others in initiating recovery, maintaining recovery, and enhancing the quality of personal and family life in long-term recovery. Peer recovery support services are adaptable across the continuum of care and are distinguished from professional treatment and mutual aid.

When can an individual benefit from Peer Recovery Support Services?

Peer recovery support services can be delivered across the full continuum of recovery, regardless of whether or not a person uses clinical treatment services. They can be offered before an individual enters treatment or when waiting for a service opening and can also coincide with treatment services, providing a connection to the community while a person is in treatment. After treatment, peer recovery support services help people manage their own recovery and give them an opportunity to participate in volunteer work in recovery support settings.

Where can Peer Recovery Support Services be delivered?

Depending on where a person is in his or her recovery process, services can be received in a variety of settings. Peer recovery support services are being delivered in urban and rural communities to many different population groups defined by age (e.g., adolescents); race or ethnicity (e.g., Native American, Latino, African American); gender and sexual orientation; and/or co-existing conditions/status such as incarceration, homelessness, mental illness, or HIV/AIDs.

In addition to established recovery community centers where educational, advocacy, sober social activities, and mutual-aid meetings are offered, peer recovery support services can be offered through avenues such as churches and other faith-based institutions, recovery homes/sober housing, jails and prisons, probation and parole programs, drug courts, HIV/AIDs and other health and social service centers, and addiction and mental health service agencies.

About the Author

Scott J. Sheely

Scott J. Sheely

Scott J. Sheely served as Executive Director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board from 2000 until early 2015. He has worked as a Human Resource Director of a large mental health agency, operations manager of a nursing home chain, associate pastor of a church, and owner of a wholesale jewelry business.

Under Sheely's leadership, the WIB created the first health care-based Industry Partnership in Pennsylvania. He serves on the steering committee of the Pennsylvania Center for Health Careers and recently served on the Workfroce Cabinet of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.