For people going through recovery from substance use disorder (SUD), the importance of good peer support cannot be overstated. One reason is that addiction can be very isolating, a feeling which often intensifies the need for substances. The COVID-19 pandemic has created more social isolation and thus led to more substance use problems.
Another reason that good peer support is so important is that people with SUD may have succumbed to negative peer pressure, one of the contributing factors to substance use. During recovery, they need to learn how to harness positive peer support in a recovery community. This takes rebuilding trust and keeping healthy boundaries in relationships.
The Tendency to Self-Isolate
Peer mentors and sponsors can provide helpful support and accountability for recovering individuals, but building these relationships can be challenging for people new to recovery. Many people with SUD have lived solitary lives, either due to secrecy or stigma. Addiction may have consumed their time and energy to such an extent that they now struggle to connect and build relationships.
To make matters worse, the prolonged pandemic has interrupted in-person meetings which greatly benefit recovering individuals. Many 12-Step programs moved online. The trend of telemedicine and online support groups can still provide a certain level of support. They even have certain advantages in terms of convenience and anonymity that physical gatherings lack. However, online meetings also make it more challenging to build deep, long-term relationships.
Guiding Principles of Good Peer Support Groups
Because hope is the foundation of recovery from addiction, a good peer support group is built on hopefulness. Leaders or coaches should emphasize the positive side of all challenges. They should always affirm the resilience and inherent value of individuals despite their circumstances. The best example of these principles is a 12-Step support group. The first two steps are honesty and hope, laying a crucial foundation for how members relate to each other in their journey.
A good peer support group should also make each individual feel seen and heard. It needs to be a safe and encouraging space for self-expression. Community agreements must be in place to make sure everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Coaches or leaders of the group should have cultural awareness and competency so that the group can cater to the needs of people from diverse backgrounds.
Building a Recovery-Supportive Community
Even for people without SUD, a sense of community can greatly improve their quality of life. Social support is the best stress management tool. Being part of a recovery-supportive community can create lasting changes for recovering individuals and families, but it does not happen overnight. It takes a village to lift someone out of the negative influence of addiction. Being supported by a community can motivate recovering individuals to stay clean and sober.
Peer support groups are also where people’s communication skills can greatly improve. Leaders of support groups always encourage active listening and open sharing of personal stories. These are some of the best aspects of peer groups. Some groups also train members to use nonverbal communication by making eye contact or using visual and sensory cues. These all empower recovering individuals to express themselves.
Recovering individuals should also be open to deepening connections in a recovery-supportive community. This openness shows up in a willingness to be vulnerable. Peer groups are strongest when people open up to each other about frustrations and challenges in life. New friendships can grow and deepen as these conversations continue.
Choosing Support Groups
In recovery, individuals should maintain a rhythm of attending support groups. These conversations and meetings can be a lifeline of support in times of need. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), peer support is “a system of giving and receiving non-clinical support based on shared experiences.” Peer support groups are helpful in many situations, including chronic illnesses, mental health, and addiction.
Sharing lived experiences of recovery can empower members of a support group. Other activities, including mentoring, coaching, role modeling, coping skill development, and community-based support can also be integrated into peer support groups. These provide an extra layer of care, motivation, and accountability to members in recovery.
One-on-one mentor or sponsor support is a vital part of successful recovery. When looking for a sponsor or a mentor, individuals can interview or speak with potential candidates before choosing one, or seek mentorship from someone they already know and admire. An individual’s treatment program may also help connect them with suitable sponsors.
Family members who are supporting a loved one can also join specialized support groups. Through these conversations, many family members gain more understanding of how SUD develops and why empathy and nonjudgment are important in a recovery-supportive home environment. This helps combat stigma among families and prepares them to better support their loved ones.
If you or a loved one is looking for a good addiction treatment center, consider one with strong connections to support groups. Peer support groups are helpful in many situations, including chronic illnesses, mental health, and substance use. Through one-on-one mentorship and support group meetings, such as 12-Step group meetings, you have a chance to build deeper relationships that may impact you in the long term. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals and compassionate staff know the value of peer support. We will walk alongside you or your loved one to offer support and guidance. Our alumni programs offer stellar aftercare and connect you with a lifelong community of hopeful recovering individuals. Call us today to discover how you can be part of our community, as peer support is key to you or your loved one’s recovery. For more information, call (866) 229-9923.