Peer recovery support services are designed and provided primarily by peers who have gained practical experience in both the process of recovery and how to sustain it. Within peer recovery support services these individuals may be designated as peer leaders. Many peer leaders donate their time to the peer recovery support out of a desire to give back to their communities by helping others who are seeking to recover or sustain their recovery.
Peer recovery support services provide social support to individuals at all stages on the continuum of change that constitutes the recovery process. Services may be provided at different stages of recovery and may:
- Precede formal treatment, strengthening a peer's motivation for change;
- Accompany treatment, providing a community connection during treatment;
- Follow treatment, supporting relapse prevention; and
- Be delivered apart from treatment to someone who cannot enter the formal treatment system or chooses not to do so.
Peer recovery support services expand the capacity of formal treatment systems, e.g. medication assisted therapy, residential, therapeutic community and outpatient by promoting the initiation of recovery, reducing relapse, and intervening early when relapse occurs. Peer leaders also provide social support to the recovering person’s family members.
Social support is a significant factor in assisting people move along the recovery continuum. Four kinds of social support identified in the literature constitute the core of RCSP (Recovery Community Services Program) services (Salzer, 2002a, 2002b):
- demonstrations of empathy, caring, and concern in such activities as peer mentoring and recovery coaching, as well as recovery support groups;
- provision of health and wellness information, educational assistance, and help in acquiring new skills, ranging from life skills to employment readiness and citizenship restoration (e.g., voting rights, driver’s license).
- concrete assistance in task accomplishment, especially with stressful or unpleasant tasks (e.g., filling out applications, obtaining public benefits), or providing supports such as child care, transportation to support group meetings, and clothing closets.
- opportunity to establish positive social connections with others in recovery so as to learn social and recreational skills in an alcohol- and drug-free environment.