Peer Supporters in Recovery from Substance Use Disorder (SUD): Who Are They?

Throughout a person’s recovery journey, they’ll likely receive support from a wide range of people. Medical professionals might help them through the detox process, while counselors and therapists might help them identify and change destructive patterns.

Peer supporters, such as myself, will assist their recovery journey in an entirely different way. What is a peer supporter and what can they offer someone seeking recovery?

What Are Peer Supporters?

Peer supporters are people who are in recovery from SUD and who help others seeking recovery. Each peer supporter has their own personal story and has walked a unique path to recovery. Just like they have a distinctive fingerprint, no two stories or paths are the same. 

Drawing from their own lived experiences, peer supporters promote hope, motivation, and guidance for change and help reinforce recovery strategies. 

One remarkable thing about peer supporters is that we are just like everyone else, especially those struggling with addiction or mental health conditions. We have been there and intimately understand what it takes to recover from substance use disorder.  

What Do Peer Supporters Do? 

As peer supporters, we take everything we’ve learned and been given – such as resources, skills, tools, planning, and support – and share those things with others who need them. Simply put, we take what we have and give it away! 

Our main goals are to empower those seeking recovery to stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood they will return to use. We work towards these goals using a strength-based approach. This means we assist our clients with identifying their strengths and guide them toward making positive choices that support a healthy lifestyle. 

It’s important to note that while peer supporters don’t provide professional or clinical support, they often work with treatment facilities and therapists to help ensure individuals receive the care they need.  

What Are the Benefits of Peer Supporters? 

In many ways, peer support is a foundational block of successful recovery. We meet people exactly where they are, as they are, with a genuine understanding of their situation and circumstances. We are there to offer our presence and support with no judgment or expectations. When someone is suffering and struggling, having the support of an understanding, relatable peer can greatly impact their motivation and decisions. 

Peer support also acts as a healthy source of social interaction, which has been shown to support addiction prevention and recovery.[*] Peer supporters not only act as mentors, but also as confidants and can offer guidance on how to form new, healthy relationships.

The combination of these benefits has a big impact. Using peer support services, in combination with therapy and clinical treatment, has been shown to:

  • Decrease emergency service use
  • Increase treatment retention
  • Reduce re-hospitalization rates 
  • Reduce relapse rates 
  • Reduce substance use 

How Does Someone Become a Peer Supporter? 

Due to increasing research and personal accounts involving peer support, many treatment organizations include peer support services as part of their recovery program.

Current openings for paid peer support positions can typically be found on these organizations’ websites. If you meet the requirements and are interested in the description of duties, you can apply for the position, just like you would with any other job.

Final Thoughts on Peer Support 

Being a peer supporter is a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience.

Recovery does not have to be lonely. Through peer support, we can effectively help those with substance use disorder and work toward a healthier, happier life.

Written By: Amber King, Peer Recovery Engagement Specialist at CHESS Health