Peer-based Recovery Support Services
Written by Robert Ashford, MSW, PhD-C
Published on November 4, 2020
Peer-based Recovery Support Services (PRSS) are recovery support services (RSS) which are specifically designed and delivered by and for individuals and family members in recovery. PRSS serve as role models for recovery, providing mentoring and coaching. Peers transmit a message of hope as well as experiential community knowledge; and these can inform service delivery to make it more relevant to recoverees. PRSS can include initiation and introduction to nontraditional or “underground” recovery resources, including anonymous fellowships, social groups, “sober” activities and safe spaces as well as brokering traditional community resources.
While peer-delivered recovery support can be traced back to the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous and beyond, there was a resurgence in popularity in the mental health deinstitutionalization advocacy movement, and then in the substance use field beginning with the opioid crisis of the early 2000s. As noted in the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report, funding and capacity for treatment was strained and outcomes were poor, leading to the community model of recovery gaining wide support. Peer-delivered recovery support services have since proliferated, enjoying increased funding and infrastructure nationwide. As advocacy has remained a driving force for PRSS, an increasing number of peer-led, organic recovery community organizations have grown to help people in recovery to build community connections and capacity.
Unlike clinical treatment, peer services are low-barrier and can be delivered at any stage of readiness for change. PRSS can be initiated before, during and after treatment, and can be provided in a variety of settings. PRSS has been implemented to engage recoverees in hospital rooms, police stations, animal rescues, gyms and on college campuses. Peers can provide support when treatment is not available or desired. Peer support also has a unique ability to accommodate any pathway in recovery, and can be matched with recoverees according to meaningful aspects of their recovery. This results in a more person-centered, strength-based approach which is informed more by the solution than the problem. Peer services are imbued with a set of principles that value choice, empowerment and self-determination which is communicated to the recoveree as well as the larger community.
To learn more about peers and recovery support services, visit SAMHSA.