peer recovery

They're as much recovery coach as they are peer counselor; equal parts 12 Step sponsor and sober support. They're Peer Recovery Support Specialists. But do they really work?

The Origins of Peer Recovery Support

Peer recovery support may sound like the latest thing in addiction treatment, but its history dates back to the early days of AA. In fact, Alcoholics Anonymous pretty much invented the practice of peer recovery support. They also perfected it. And peer recovery support remains one of the most integral components of AA's 12 Step program.

In AA, the practice of peer recovery support is called sponsorship. And peer recovery support specialists are called sponsors. The name springs from the lengths AA members would go to in order to help another alcoholic. And those lengths have often been considerable. Especially in early AA, when addiction was still a mystery and addiction treatment largely non-existent. A sponsor might help a fellow addict put food on the table or pay his or her electric bill. A sponsor might also bail a fellow alcoholic out of jail or cover the costs of a sufferer's detox. Sponsors stepped up to address any financial matters that might impede sobriety.

More important perhaps were the distinctly personal aspects of sponsorship. The simple act of showing up. Many addicts and alcoholics have created untenable situations with their families, as well as their friends. And they often end up isolated and alone. So it becomes especially important to have someone be there for them again. It becomes even more important when said someone can be there without any reservations whatsoever. After all, listening only works when the words fall on empathetic ears.

In fact, early AA members quickly discovered that talking it out was the key to sobriety, for both the sponsor as well as the sponsee. And being there became the most crucial component of sponsorship. It remains so to this day.

Peer Recovery Support in AA

Just because AA doesn't use the term peer recovery support specialist doesn't mean peer recovery support specialists don't use AA. In fact, most peer recovery support specialists got their start in AA. And the most effective of those practitioners stay with the program.

There are obvious parallels between AA sponsorship and peer recovery support. Both require empathy, as well as availability. Both also require setting a good example, and being ready with sound advice.

But the most pertinent parallel between AA sponsorship and peer recovery support has gotta be real world experience. It's also gotta be the most crucial. Having someone on hand who's been there and done that is the most effective way to ensure you don't go there and do that again. It's why addicts help addicts in the first place. And it's what makes addicts helping addicts such an proven proposition.

Unfortunately, peer recovery support generally doesn't see recognize both sides of the addicts-helping-addicts equation. See in AA, both sponsor and sponsee bring something to the recovery table. And both rely upon each other to maintain their respective sobriety. That doesn't mean the sobriety of one is wholly contingent upon the sobriety of another. It simply means that in helping others we inordinately help ourselves.

On Becoming a Peer Recovery Support Specialist

AA really only requires a member to have successfully worked the 12 Steps before becoming a sponsor. Becoming a certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist however, has some rather lengthy criteria. Most states offer Peer Recovery Support Certification programs, as does NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals.

NAADAC's certification criteria includes:

  • Minimum two years of recovery from substance use and/or co-occurring mental health disorder
  • Minimum 200 hours of direct practice (volunteer or paid) in a peer recovery support environment
  • 60 contact and training hours of peer recovery-focused education and training
  • At least six hours of ethics education and training and six hours of HIV/other pathogens education and training within the last six years
  • At least 48 hours of peer recovery-focused education/training, including education in documentation, community/family education, case management, crisis management, Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC), screening and intake, identification of indicators of substance use and/or co-occurring disorders for referral, service coordination, service planning, cultural awareness and/or humility, and basic pharmacology
  • NAADAC was originally known as the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers (NAACT), and it's been around since 1972. NAADAC currently offers three national certification programs: the National Certified Addiction Counselor, the Nicotine Dependence Specialist credential and the Masters Addiction Counselor designations. And to date it's certified over 21,000 addiction counselors, educators and other addiction-focused health care professionals.

    NAADAC's stated goal is to create healthier individuals, families and communities through prevention, intervention, quality treatment and recovery support. So it makes perfect sense that their certification programs raise the bar on addiction treatment. NAADAC's certification programs make even more sense considering the inconsistent history of addiction treatment itself. Addiction treatment centers need to be held accountable for their services. So do addiction treatment professionals. And that includes Peer Recovery Support Specialists.

    Applause Please

    Recovery Boot Camp applauds NAADAC, as well as its members. Then again, we applaud everyone who sincerely sets out to ensure safer, sounder and more effective addiction treatment. It's especially heartening to see how NAADAC enhances AA's sponsorship program, even if it is inadvertent. There's good reason why AA sponsors still serve in a widespread capacity. That's because they work. And it's to see NAADAC and others fielding a team of peer recovery support professionals who are steeped in the training and tradition of AA sponsorship.

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