In the past decade, peer recovery programs have gained popularity in the treatment of substance abuse problems. Clinicians have recognized the success of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and with peer recovery programs have begun to utilize the positive aspects of peer support and life experience to help patients.
Peer recovery support is used by non-clinicians as part of a program to help recovering addicts make changes that help with their overall recovery. Often addicts engage in patterns of lies and deception to minimize the ramifications of their substance use and while doctors and mental health professionals play an important part in recovery, peer support often can provide an added benefit. Peer recovery programs depend on recovered addicts to provide guidance and support for those new to the rehab process.
As well-intentioned as many doctors and psychologists may be, they often lack personal experience in dealing with some aspects of addiction, including the legal system. Intervention and support for the recovering addict makes a difference in the success or failure of the treatment. Peer recovery specialists provide wellness-focused and trauma-informed support fitting an individual’s needs and choice.
Earlier this year, the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board (RRCSB) added peer recovery programs to the list of services offered to local residents.
RRCSB offers the services for free to any residents of the five-county (Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison and Rappahannock) area who are 18 or over and dealing with a diagnosed substance use disorder or a mental health issue. The services are individually tailored to every person’s specific need.
RRCSB Executive Director Jim La Graffe sees the program as a plus for the community.
“Being able to talk to a peer [about addiction] is often an entryway to treatment,” La Graffe said. “There really is no downside to this.”
Cory Will is the director of the new program and is enthusiastic about the opportunities the new program offers for helping recovering addicts. Will said the program has evolved at a critical time as the coronavirus crisis has increased stress among the vulnerable and eliminated some traditional opportunities for treatment.
“With the pandemic we’ve been forced to do more virtual meetings and traditional groups like AA have become homeless,” said Will. “Some people in our region don’t have access to internet or they’re not comfortable with it. Churches and schools, the places where these groups meet, have been reluctant to hold public gatherings. Some have tried to hold meetings in parking lots and outdoor spaces. At a time when we need more services, resources have been stretched.”
Will believes that the program is effective because recovering addicts are often more receptive to the advice of someone with a similar history.
“Sometimes a suggestion that comes from a clinician is met with resistance. It’s a lot harder to ignore the same advice coming from someone that has been there before. There’s a lot more believability when it comes from someone that has been in your shoes,” Will noted. “It allows the recovering addict to see the possibility that they too can get through it.”
Madison County Director of Social Services believes the shared experiences help form a unique connection that can help aid in a patient’s recovery.
“Dealing with addiction there is not a one size fits all approach,” Madison County Director of Social Services Valerie Ward said. “Particularly with cases involving custody it really helps for the recovering addict to have someone who understands what they are going through. It shows them the possibility that the system isn’t set up for them to fail.”
For more information on peer recovery services, visit RRCSB at www.rrcsb.org or call (540) 825-3100 in non-emergency situations. Call (540) 825-5656 in an emergency mental health or substance abuse situation.
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