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The importance of peer support for a sustained recovery

Provision of care for people with substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses has gradually moved from intervention dynamics towards a long-term recovery paradigm. A peer-based recovery model is being designed to widen the existing care model of behavioral health treatment towards the prioritization of a sustained recovery.

Peer-based recovery support (P-BRS) and formal peer-based recovery support services (P-BRSS) is comprised of centralized recovery management strategies and recovery-based systems of behavioral health care at a macro-level organization of society, state or nation.

The strategies to achieve this goal are based upon pre-treatment, in-treatment, and post-treatment P-BRSS. Infrastructure support includes the development of peer program standards, peer training and certification initiatives, and regulatory changes. These activities are specifically designed to direct individuals and families to fully re-integrate into their communities.

There exists enough evidence regarding the benefits of peer support groups to necessitate more detailed studies of their effectiveness. Despite the limitations, available research is promising. Prior research indicates that regular participation in any kind of peer support group increases the likelihood that members will abstain from alcohol and non-prescription drugs. Furthermore, abstinence rates increase with greater group participation (SAMHSA Fact Sheet).

Peer support programs are vital because they are often the one constant that people experience as they move through the continuum of care. There may be a variety of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and professionals with various levels of recovery from mental health and substance use disorders. Peer support recovery specialists are essentially those who progressed in their recovery and are willing to assist others in their recovery. Since individuals in recovery often find their personal relationships dwindle as they withdraw from friendships that were based on drinking or using drugs, such support may go a long way.

In the midst of all this change, peer-supported recovery programs offer a constant link to the shared experience of recovery from a co-occurring disorder.

The study, “Peer Support Services – What Does the Research Reveal about Peer Support Services?” observed depressed patients with persisting symptoms or functional impairment. Participants were partnered with another patient at a separate outpatient facility, provided with basic communication skills training, and asked to call their partner at least once a week using a telephone with call initiation, frequency and duration recorded.

Depressive symptoms, quality of life, self-efficacy, overall mental and physical health were qualitatively collected at enrollment, six weeks and 12 weeks.

Almost 59.3 percent completed the intervention with an average of 10.3 calls and mean call length of 26.8 minutes. Measures of disability, quality of life and psychological health were observed to have improved. Qualitative assessments indicated that participants found meaning and support through interactions with their partners.

Another randomized controlled trial evaluated the effectiveness of a bi-weekly, 12-session, family-led mutual support group for Chinese caregivers of schizophrenia patients over six months compared with standard psychiatric care. With 76 families of outpatients with schizophrenia in Hong Kong participating, they were assigned randomly to either a mutual support group or standard care.

A comparison of one-week and 12-month post-intervention between groups resulted in significantly greater improvements in families’ tribulations, functioning and number of support persons and length of patients’ re-hospitalizations post-tests. The findings provide evidence that mutual support groups can be an effective family-initiated, community-based intervention.

Peer-support groups encourage confidence, strength and intimacy that play an important role in sustained recovery. In the midst of moving through various hospitalizations, varying medication management and referrals to different housing or employment services, peer-supported recovery programs offer a constant link to the shared experience of recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The 24/7 Recovery Helpline is here for you to help connect you with treatment providers who can get you on the path to recovery. To learn more please call us at any time.

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