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Opinion: How can peer-to-peer support help with addiction?

By the staff of the Turning Point Center of Addison County
Addiction is a very isolating experience, and over time it may strip away a person’s friends, family, employment, housing, dignity and feelings of self-worth. As they begin to work to recover their lives, people struggling with addiction often find themselves dealing with issues far beyond the substance or behavior they are trying to avoid. Peer-to-peer support is an important way for individuals in recovery or seeking recovery to make progress in their lives, reduce the risk of setbacks to their recovery and build community.
Previous articles in this series discussed Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), which is available to people struggling with opiate addiction; acupuncture, which can help to alleviate addiction withdrawal symptoms and cravings; and psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), in which a licensed counselor guides individual or group conversations.
Peer-to-peer support is not intended to replace any of these important supports — in fact, it may work best if used in conjunction with one or all of the above. However, peer recovery support, which can be accessed at the Turning Point Center of Addison County and other recovery centers across Vermont, can provide individuals with another valuable dimension of assistance as they walk their path to recovery.
Peer-to-peer support is non-professional help provided by someone who has had similar experiences, and can therefore relate to an individual’s struggles and can offer authentic empathy and validation. It may take the form of a formal or informal conversation, a facilitated meeting or a shared leisure activity. All activities are non-clinical, but confidentiality is still of great importance. This allows people to feel comfortable sharing their stories, getting feedback, and relaxing in a safe space. It is not uncommon for people with similar lived experiences to offer each other practical advice and suggestions for strategies that professionals may not be able to offer or even necessarily know about. This help, especially in combination with other supports, can encourage and direct people to recover their lives more quickly and more successfully.
At the Turning Point Center, there are numerous opportunities for these interactions, including 12-Step meetings, facilitated groups, fun activities and one-on-one coaching. Since all approaches to recovery are embraced, each individual can find the path that works for them and allows them to take responsibility for their own progress.
Recovery from addiction is generally regarded as a lifelong journey, and peer recovery support is an important way to help reduce the risk of setbacks on that journey. In challenging times, individuals in recovery can come to the Turning Point Center and meet with a recovery coach or a volunteer for one-on-one support and to get connected with resources that may be of assistance. They can attend meetings to get support from people who have been in similar situations, and can enjoy the feeling of being in safe place where people truly understand what they are going through.
Furthermore, friends and family members can attend support meetings and receive free doses of Narcan, the opiate overdose reversal nasal spray that could save the life of a loved one. Setbacks are a normal part of recovery, but they are still surrounded by a great deal of misunderstanding and stigma. Being part of a peer recovery community allows those in recovery to learn from each other and access resources to minimize risk and bounce back quickly when setbacks do occur.
The essence of peer-to-peer support organizations such as the Turning Point Center is the building of community around issues of health and well-being, and the community is enriched every time people connect with one another to share their experiences and their knowledge. Peer recovery support can help people not only kick their addictions, but recover happy and productive lives.
There is help for addiction here in Addison County, in the form of the many people, your peers, who have experience with recovery. To learn more about specific programs, call the Turning Point Center at 388-4249 or visit www.turningpointaddisonvt.org.
You are also welcome to drop by Turning Point’s new location at 54 Creek Road, next to CVOEO in the old Gailor School building, from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, or 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday.

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