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Exploring the Role of the Peer Support Specialist in Addiction Treatment


“Peer recovery support specialists—people credentialed by lived experience and on-the-job training—are now being integrated into a wide variety of settings and are delivering services across the stages of long-term addiction recovery.” —The Recovery Blog

Addiction treatment really does take a village. At all stages of the recovery spectrum, there are a variety of clinical experts that provide support to the patient seeking treatment. However, there are also non-clinical experts within this setting that work with substance users from the perspective of having been there themselves. 

This article examines the role of a peer support specialist in an addiction treatment setting. How does this vital role differ from that of a 12-step sponsor? Why should an addiction medicine practice include peer support specialists?

Addiction Treatment and Peer Support 

The role of the peer support specialist is to provide intrapersonal care to the recovering patient. Typically, these caregivers have some sort of real-life experience in or with recovery. Whether they are a volunteer family member of a recovering person or a former addict, peer support specialists are critically important when providing emotional and informational support to those in recovery.

Peer support specialists within an addiction treatment setting are not 12-step counselors. The peer support specialist works to gain the trust of the recovering patient; they are not governed by 12-step rules, although they may use those tools if preferred.

Peer support specialists provide “street cred” to any addiction program. They are often the living proof that addiction recovery works if you put in the energy and time it takes to get sober.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) cites the scientific literature that suggests peer support providers offer four types of social support in addiction treatment settings: 

  • Informational, by providing referrals to social service programs
  • Emotional and compassionate support
  • Instrumental, including helping with tasks
  • Affiliational help in setting up community networks

Peer support specialists have a nebulous role in addiction treatment that may be hard to quantify under evidence-based clinical guidelines. They are there to share their story and gain the rapport of the patient while guiding them through the recovery process. 

Addiction treatment

The personal experiences of a peer support specialist can be very helpful to a patient seeking a psychological role model. Sometimes just being with someone who has been through the painful recovery process and comes out the other side is an affirmation that the patient needs to move forward. These are the sometimes intangible but always crucial mechanisms that aid in the recovery process.

Ironically, the role of the peer support specialist can be underappreciated in clinical settings. New York is one of the first states to professionalize the role by offering a state certification in addiction recovery for peer support providers

Leveraging peer support specialists in addiction treatment is an important but sometimes unrecognized part of the recovery process. A peer support specialist can provide clinical facilities with a warm, human, reality-based voice that offers practical guidance in developing community support systems. While these are non-clinical caregivers, they play an important role in addiction treatment and recovery care modalities.

Are you looking for an addiction treatment facility that will provide compassionate care for your patients who are struggling from substance use disorders? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.

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