What is the Evidence for Peer Recovery Support Services?
The roles of social support and mutual-help groups in promoting healthy outcomes among individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) suggests peer recovery support services may be helpful for individuals in recovery from substance use disorders.
Peer recovery support is characterized by the provision of non-clinical peer support, which can include activities that engage, educate and support the individual as they make the necessary changes to recover from substance use disorder.
Peer providers offer valuable guidance by sharing their own experiences recovering from SUD by helping to build skills, assisting and addressing specific needs that someone with SUD is faced with as they are in early recovery and by improving social connectedness and helping to identify new positive social environments.
Peer recovery support programs keep the concept of “keeping recovery first” by meeting individuals where they are in the recovery process as they help the individual with SUD along their journey. Another import aspect of recovery support programs is that the peer providers are involved in all aspects of the program including programmatic structure, leadership and overall strategies of the services offered.
Reif and colleagues performed a literature review in order to provide a summary of evidence for and the effectiveness of peer recovery support for individuals with SUD. Few studies measured outcomes relevant to long-term recovery goals, e.g., re-admission to treatment, while others examined process indicators such as treatment engagement, and the remainder of studies examined social support or consumer satisfaction. The studies that did evaluate the effectiveness of peer recovery support for individuals with SUD found improved relationships with providers and social supports, reduced rates of relapse, increased satisfaction with overall treatment, and increased treatment retention.
Peer providers can fill a gap that often exists in both formal and informal treatment for individuals with SUD by focusing on recovery first and by helping to rebuild and redefine the individual’s community and life.
Peer providers have a unique perspective and ability to empathize with those in treatment for substance use disorder (SUD).
Peer providers also often offer many non-clinical roles that might help support recovery activities, including but not limited to abstinence or reduced substance use, and may be an undervalued and underutilized resource that could be better used to help both the recovery supporter and the individual who is in treatment.
These peer providers are becoming an increasingly important part of the treatment and recovery continuum, and could also help create an environment and community where recovery is supported and individuals are working towards a better community.
However, it is important for additional studies, randomized controlled trials and effectiveness trials, in particular, to be performed since the available data cannot be disaggregated in order to determine the causal connections between peer involvement and better outcomes and quality of life. Without more rigorous research of this kind that can provide more accurate estimates of the effects and mechanisms of peer support models, the potential value of peer support models may be undervalued and not widely adopted and implemented.
Reif, S., Braude, L., Lyman, D. R., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., … & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Peer recovery support for individuals with substance use disorders: Assessing the evidence. Psychiatric Services, 65(7), 853-861.