One of the fastest growing fields within Addiction Treatment and Recovery is the use of the peer model. Peers, versus experts in the field, are those who have their own lived experience.
In other words, when someone who is ready to engage in recovery, he or she might include in his or her treatment both experts in the field as well as those who are struggling with recovery themselves, but who are a few steps ahead.
Of course, this is precisely the model of the Alcoholics Anonymous community. Those who attend meetings are recovering addicts and there are rarely “experts” in the room.
Instead, the experts are the 12-step model, the Big Book, and perhaps the stories of others who have long been sober. Peers are those who are struggling with the same issue and so therefore can relate to the new recovering addict who might be desperately looking for support.
There are some significant distinctions between the peer model and the expert-oriented model, meaning those who claim to be experts in the field such as drug counselors, therapists, researchers, and psychologists.
Of course, these professionals do bring their own expertise, experience, and knowledge, which have immense value of its own. However, more and more addiction programs are also recognizing the value of peers.
Some of the qualities and traits of working with peers in recovery include:
There is a shared responsibility.
- When peers engage they often have a similar responsibility, which is the task of staying sober and participating in their recovery. On the other hand, experts might facilitate this responsibility of sobriety in their clients, but they are usually not carrying this burden themselves.
Peers address each other informally.
- There is often a casual connection, easy bonding, and good communication among peers. Because they have so much in common, it’s easy for peers to relate to one another.
There is often a shared identification.
- A recovering addict often takes on the identity of someone who is in recovery. Identifying with that can facilitate that same identity in someone else. There’s pride and a sense of satisfaction in being someone who has changed their life for the better.
There is often little judgment.
- Because peers have been in the shoes of someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are less likely to judge or belittle. Peers can offer understanding, empathy, and encouragement that come from a personal relationship with recovery.
Frequently, the peer model is accompanied by the Harm Reduction model. The two seem to go hand in hand because of its tendencies to so accepting of those who are struggling.
The Harm Reduction model explores how substance use can be minimized through education and empowering an individual. Although sobriety and full recovery is the anticipated outcome in this model, just as in traditional models of sobriety, it is not the immediate goal.
Instead, the goal is to ensure safety and then slowly work to minimize the harm being done by substance use. A reduction of harm model accepts an individual where he or she is at and does not stigmatize them for their substance use.
For instance, if an individual were to enter a sober living treatment facility, a drug counselor using the reduction of harm model might not immediately promote abstinence. Instead, he or she may explore ways that a person might be able to reduce the harm of the addiction.
Perhaps that might be drinking two nights a week instead of four. Or it might be refraining from driving while drinking. Or a reduction of harm intervention might also be deciding not to drink or use drugs when on medication.
Because of its ability to be accepting, non-stigmatizing, and empowering, the peer program is becoming more and more popular within the field of addiction treatment.
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