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The Importance of Peer Support in Addiction Recovery

Posted on January 18, 2022

The Importance of Peer Support in Addiction Recovery

The treatment of addiction is a long and difficult process. Rehab programmes employ a range of methods to try and help individuals kick their physical cravings and alter their problematic perceptions of substance abuse, and it can take months or years before they achieve stable and long-lasting sobriety.

A key part of addiction recovery that has a huge impact on the success rate of an individual’s rehab is peer support, a technique known for its ability to aid both physical and psychological progress and give individuals a sense of hope and belonging.

What is peer support?

Peer support is when individuals who have been through addiction recovery – and have achieved profound breakthroughs in sobriety and physical health – return to a rehab facility to offer guidance and support to those beginning or currently working through their own recovery journey.

The goal of this is to allow individuals going through addiction recovery to benefit from the advice and insights of the returning peer supporter, and for these meetings to complement the detoxification and therapy they are already undergoing.

Peer support usually takes place within a group – allowing one or several returning individuals to speak to a group of current rehab occupants – and one-on-one conversations can also be arranged for personalised advice and support.

What are the benefits of peer support?

While the majority of addiction recovery is handled by medical professionals and therapists who monitor and support individuals through their bodily and mental adjustments to life without substance abuse, there are unique benefits to peer support.

Research suggests that it helps individuals overcome substance abuse by enhancing their engagement with treatment [1], and this is achieved in several ways.

Seeing the benefits of rehab

The first and probably greatest asset of peer support is that it allows individuals to see the benefits of addiction recovery.

While medical professionals clearly communicate the benefits of detox and therapy throughout addiction recovery, it is ultimately difficult for individuals to understand how these methods can possibly improve their situation.

Their addiction pushes them to occupy a desperate and pessimistic state of mind, so it is all but impossible for them to see how the future can look better.

When a peer supporter speaks to them, however, this can be overcome. Because these recovered individuals can claim to have been in the same position of hopelessness and pain, they can attest to the benefits of rehab.

By speaking about their experiences, triumphs, and overall improved quality of life, they can show recovering addicts a clear path forward and offer them hope.

Advice and personal experience

Speaking to an individual who has personally been through addiction recovery also offers a richer quality of advice and support compared to that offered by medical professionals.

When doctors and therapists offer techniques and advice for how individuals can better handle their cravings or thought processes, there can sometimes be doubt on the side of the person receiving it.

While the advice will be helpful and ultimately backed by knowledge and medical experience, in the back of their minds they can often be sceptical about the effectiveness of the advice.

Do these techniques work? Has this professional ever used them in real life? It is not that they do not trust the doctor, but the practicality and success rate of the information can be called into question.

But when someone who has been through rehab and achieved sobriety comes back to offer tips that have worked for them, there is a greater sense of trust in that advice. Individuals will be more likely to put them to the test and ultimately believe they will work because they can see the results first hand [2].

Community and belonging

By speaking to individuals currently going through addiction recovery, a peer supporter can provide them with a sense of community that, up to that point, they may have not yet experienced.

When an individual is battling with substance abuse, it can seem like a lonely and unique situation that only applies to them.

They may believe that no one in the world is going through what they are and that they are isolated from the rest of the world by their thoughts, feelings, and impulses.

This can be a detriment to progress and lower an individual’s confidence and self-esteem, but peer support can flip this on its head and change an individual’s perception.

Addressing a group of individuals and sharing their experiences of addiction recovery, a peer supporter can provide individuals with someone to identify with.

Showing them that they are not alone, peer supporters can also spark conversations and connections to happen within the group itself, showing occupants of rehab that they all share thoughts, fears, and aspirations.

This can promote a sense of belonging, making individuals feel closer as a group of people. Not only will this benefit their self-esteem and overall worldview, but it will give them a greater sense of self-worth and motivation.

Mutual responsibility

In addition to this sense of belonging, this new group dynamic can also provide individuals with a richer purpose when it comes to getting better and beating addiction. It can push them to do it not just for themselves, but for the people around them as well.

When a peer supporter comes to a rehab programme and unites a group of individuals in the sense noted above, it connects them.

They learn about one another’s challenges and motivations, and they begin to develop a vested interest in one another’s progress.

As this happens, peer supporters often decide to make individuals aware that they have a mutual responsibility to one another.

By becoming friends and investing in one another, they owe it to the rest of the group to each maintain their individual progress, resist relapse, and beat addiction.

Before they know it, the group is encouraging everyone to stay strong in the knowledge that every person’s success is essential for the overall success of the group.

Challenging denial

In contrast to the above points, the benefits of peer support are not all necessarily supportive and kind. There are also critical impacts it can have which, while sometimes confrontational, are ultimately helpful in the rehab process.

For many, facing addiction can be an incredibly difficult reality to accept.

In response to the negative implications it has on their body, mind, and social life, they can easily fall into the defensive state of denial, ignoring their unhealthy routines, denying the presence of a problem, and resisting the concerns of others.

Ultimately, this can prove problematic to addiction recovery. If an individual has entered rehab without the right frame of mind, they can fail to properly engage with treatment, fall victim to cravings, and not give addiction recovery they’re.

With peer support, however, this can be put to an end.

Not only can a returning individual spot denial and call it out, but they can make clear to the individual that, while it might seem like a good option, ignoring their condition will only make things worse.

Helping the next person

Finally, the work of peer supporters can play a vital part in encouraging individuals to offer their knowledge and experience to others in the future once they have made significant progress with their substance abuse.

When an individual benefits from peer support and makes progress away from their addiction as a result, it is common for them to feel a strong sense of gratitude.

The impact of peer support will have made a real difference, so they may feel a desire to repay that in some way.

As a result, individuals often come back in the future to support others in the rehab process. Once they have achieved sobriety, they return to the facility they attended to offer advice and, indirectly, spark the cycle of support to start over again.

How do people qualify for peer support?

Given this final benefit of peer support, it is important to consider what qualifies an individual to attend rehab and offer advice to those going through addiction recovery.

In order to qualify as a peer supporter, an individual must have gone through a successful rehab process (usually at the same centre they are looking to return to), be currently living without substance abuse or overwhelming cravings, and have been practising such a degree of control over their addiction for at least a year.

Of course, the specific standards each rehab centre has for its peer supporters will be different, but the fundamental requirements largely relate to an individual’s own sobriety.

Getting addiction support

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, it is important to seek help and get treatment.

In order to benefit from treatments such as detoxification, therapy, and peer support, speak to a GP, substance abuse charity, or private clinic and discuss the details of your situation to find out what the best path forward is for you.





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