Social support is an important part of recovery from substance abuse.
Social support is an important part of recovery from substance use disorders. Anyone working an addiction treatment program can benefit from all types of social support, but the guidance of someone who has had similar experiences with drugs or alcohol is particularly powerful. Peer recovery advocates are in recovery themselves, and they devote their time—either as volunteers or as paid staff—to provide recovery services and social and emotional support to their peers.
Also called recovery specialists, peer recovery advocates are people recovering from alcohol or drug use disorders who offer support, leadership, services and guidance for others also in recovery. They are peers of people who are struggling with addiction and have had similar experiences. Some advocates volunteer their time, while others are paid staff members of community centers or programs.
Some of the services a peer recovery advocate might provide include:
Peer advocates may work through any number of organizations that support recovery, from local community groups to statewide programs. One nationwide program is supported by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and is called the Recovery Community Services Program, or RCSP.1 SAMHSA offers grants through RCSP to provide communities with resources for creating recovery programs, training peer advocates, and reaching those who can benefit from peer support.
Peer recovery advocates work directly with people who are undergoing treatment for substance use disorders or who have finished treatment but still need support to help maintain long-term sobriety. They are typically affiliated with a group or organization, such as an RCSP project. They may work as paid staff members, but many advocates volunteer their time, hoping to give back to communities that supported them through their own recovery.
An example of a community group that employs peer advocates is the Huron County Peer Recovery Community Center (HCPRCC) in Ohio. The center opened in December of 2107, and this community group is open to anyone who needs help to maintain sobriety. It provides a safe place for people in recovery to go for both fun and serious support services.2
James Matthews, an alumnus of Transformations and a Certified Peer Recovery Supporter at HCPRCC says, “The community center is the first of its kind in Ohio. It wasn’t easy to do, it took a lot of hard work. We hold 12-step meetings and train other peer supporters in the community. We’re across the street from the hospital and near the county jail, so we are in a prime location to help any way we can.”
Regardless of which organization a peer recovery advocate works with, the services they provide are the same. The services are based on research that has found there are four types of social support that facilitate recovery:3
The benefits of social support in recovery are well known, but the benefits of getting support from a peer, someone who shares similar experiences, are even greater. Review studies4 conducted to determine how peer support can benefit people in treatment or recovery found that there are several ways in which these services help:
The specific requirements for working as a peer recovery advocate depend on the organization recruiting volunteers or hiring staff. In general, candidates to become peer advocates must have been in recovery for a couple of years, be compassionate and have some degree of training in providing support.
In New York, peer advocates are certified through the state to become a Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA). Certification requires 46 hours of training in specific recovery support domains, such as mentoring and advocacy, as well as 500 hours of volunteering and a passing grade on a peer recovery examination.
Anyone interested in working as a peer recovery advocate can also seek certification through the Association for Addiction Professionals. Obtaining national certifications as a Peer Recovery Support Specialist may help someone seeking a paid position with a peer support services organization.