In general terms, a peer is defined as someone who we can identify with. A friend is much more. A friend is a peer whom we can trust and rely on, and a person who understands where we are in life and where we are going.
In mental health and recovery, a peer refers to someone who shares the experience of having lived with a mental disorder or addiction and has successfully recovered. Peer supports provide a human aspect of real connection with people through shared understanding and respect, and ultimately this supports abstinence and success in the recovery process.
The Facts Behind Easier Recovery with Peer Supports
A study of the effects of peer support on recovery, published in the National Library of Medicine, determined that highly supportive relationships promote greater abstinence. Not only is friendship important to recovery, but peer support has a profound effect on maintaining sobriety.
People receiving general social support possess higher levels of well-being. Conversely, less supportive friendships can perpetuate continued substance abuse problems for people in recovery. Abstinence is found to be more likely in people whose relationship networks (i.e., peer supports) consist of individuals who abstain or are in recovery.
A trial published in ScienceDirect demonstrates an improved outcome of recovery in methadone interventions in patients who worked with peer recovery specialists (PSRs). Treatment attendance and retention were substantially higher compared to individuals who pursued treatment on their own. 88.6% of the participants, those working with PSRs, retained their methadone treatment at three-months-post intervention, which was 28.9% higher than individuals who chose to initiate treatment alone. Participants who completed their recovery sessions with PSRs had significantly reduced substance use-related problems.
PSR-delivered approaches are shown to especially support substance abuse treatment in low-income, and largely racial/ethnic minoritized individuals who typically face barriers such as stigma, navigating services, housing instability, and affordability in mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Interventions with PSRs in these individuals are greatly effective in reducing relapse.
Connecting with Peer Supports, Family, and Friends
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMSHA, writes:
“Family support can play a major role in helping a loved one with mental and substance use disorders.”
A mental or substance abuse disorder in one family member affects more than just the person in need of recovery. Subsequently, families must be open to options of support groups, family therapy, or counseling which strengthens the effectiveness through the support of the whole family. Family support services can help families get beyond what feels painful, complicated, and overwhelming, and it supports commitment in the entire family.
SAMSHA’s Guiding Principles of Recovery (outlined by IDHS) includes 10 principles, all of which can be supported, or negated, through relationships:
The belief that recovery is REAL. Hope is internalized and fostered by others, and it is the catalyst of the recovery process.
Individuals define their own life goals and design their unique paths toward these goals.
3. Many Pathways
Recovery pathways are highly personalized. Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth, and occasional setbacks.
Recovery encompasses an individual’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit, and community. The array of services and supports available should be integrated and coordinated.
5. Peer Support
Peers encourage and engage other peers and provide each other with a vital sense of belonging, supportive relationships, valued roles, and community.
Recovery is supported by the presence and involvement of people who believe in the person’s ability to recover; who offer hope, support, and encouragement.
Values, traditions, and beliefs are key in determining a person’s journey and unique pathway to recovery.
Services and supports should be trauma-informed to foster safety and trust; this promotes choice, empowerment, and collaboration.
9. Strengths & Responsibilities
Individuals, families, and communities have strengths and resources that serve as a foundation for recovery. Individuals have a personal responsibility for their own self-care and journeys of recovery. Families have responsibilities to support their loved ones in recovery and stay well themselves. Communities have responsibilities to provide opportunities and resources to address discrimination and to foster social inclusion and recovery.
Acceptance and appreciation for people affected by mental health and substance use challenges are crucial to achieve recovery. Self-acceptance, developing a positive and meaningful sense of identity, and regaining belief in one’s self are also important.
It can be extremely difficult for families to work through and manage each of these principles without outside support, but it is even more important for recovering individuals to seek peer supports who understand.
Peer supports ensure recovery is focused on hope, internal goals, belonging, values, respect, and encouragement. Peer support involves acceptance, understanding, and clarity through a non-judgmental approach. “I have been there. I made it through, and I am confident that you will too.”
If you are on the road to recovery, know that it is different for everyone. It involves improving in all areas of life, including choosing friends that have your best interests at heart – friends that are respective of your goals and want you to reach your full potential. Connecting with peer supports makes recovery so much easier.
Find Peer Programs
In the United States, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit the online treatment locator.
In Virginia, numerous regional and local peer support programs exist:
SAARA of Virginia
SAARA (Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance) of Virginia offers several programs for those in recovery, including peer support. They also offer family support groups and Young People in Recovery groups.
Region Five Peer and Family Support
If you live in the Region Five area of Virginia, we are your point of access for peer support. Our Peer Recovery Specialists have lived experience with a mental health issue (emotional or mental distress), substance use or addiction recovery, or both (co-occurring), and are in successful and ongoing recovery. Peer Support Services and Family Support Partners use their lived experience to support another person’s exploration of recovery-based services that can help them overcome the impact of mental illnesses or substance use disorders.
Learn more about The Role That Peers Play in Active Recovery, as well as several additional peer support locations.
Help Is Within Your Reach
If you need help today, or any day, 24/7, call our crisis line at 757-656-7755. If you have a 757 area code, you can also reach someone by dialing or texting 988.
Our Region Five Community Service Boards (CSBs – Chesapeake, Colonial Eastern Shore, Hampton Newark, Middle Peninsula Northern Neck, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Western Tidewater) are available with same-day access and peer support. Visit our CSB page for more information.
If you reside in the state of Virginia, outside of the Region Five area, visit the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services location board to find a CSB in your area.