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UAB Addiction Recovery Program Adds Peer Support Specialists

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The UAB Medicine Addiction Recovery Program recently added peer recovery support specialists to its lineup of services for people dealing with substance use disorders.

Peer recovery support specialists meet with patients being evaluated for transfer to the detoxification unit, whether they are in the Emergency Department, UAB Hospital, UAB Hospital-Highlands, or anywhere else throughout the UAB Medicine system. They talk with patients about their history in trying to recover, discuss what treatment options may be right for them, and consider what types of support they may need once discharged. They also lead sessions for patients in the Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient rehab programs and host meetings for patients new to recovery.

“We are thrilled to add this level of ongoing support to our already robust offerings in therapy, counseling, and detox services,” says Bronwyn McInturff, director of the UAB Addiction Recovery Program, which is part of the UAB Center for Psychiatric Medicine. “Increasing our ability to reach out to people in the Emergency Department is just the tip of the iceberg of peer services we are now offering to our patients.”

Other specialized services are being rolled out in UAB Medicine areas where substance use disorder is a factor in patient treatment. Peer specialists are following patients waiting to get on the liver transplant list, as well as indigent patients in the Heart Failure Transitional Care Services for Adults (HRTSA) Clinic. Services for the UAB Women and Infants Center and for patients with diabetes are coming soon. Peer support specialists are present in the hospital from 10 am to 10 pm seven days a week, and they can be paged when needed in the ED or elsewhere.

Peers Understand

Peer specialists are people in long-term recovery, meaning that it’s been at least three years since using their substance of choice. A peer certification program for substance use disorder was created over a decade ago, bringing research-backed clinical methods to peer training. They undergo a 40-hour training program offered by the Alabama Department of Mental Health, which teaches them proven skills in cognitive behavior therapy and psychotherapy and educates them on all pathways to recovery. These pathways include programs based on the Twelve Steps (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.); programs such as Celebrate Recovery and Recovery Dharma; and medication-assisted treatment, which includes Suboxone and Vivitrol to support abstinence and reduce cravings.

Recovery messaging also is addressed, since how we talk about recovery sends subtle messages to the people dealing with it about their likelihood of recovery. Peers come as “hope dealers,” with the understanding that anyone can recover with the right support, effort, and circumstances.

“Our goal is improve their chances once they return to society,” says peer support specialist Alvin Cotton. “We want to find the sober living or treatment program and support that are right for them, to set them up with a better chance of success. Often, a person in long-term recovery can see recovery in our peers before they can. We need to nurture that and help them with the support and confidence they need to be successful.”

Peer support is on the leading edge of treatment for people dealing with substance use disorders. It is based on the principle developed in Alcoholics Anonymous over 70 years ago — that a person who has successfully dealt with addiction has a deeper understanding of the physical, psychological, and spiritual challenges that people in similar circumstances face. Some of the earliest peer training was conducted by people with lived experience in mental health areas, and today peers are being trained to work with people being released from prison and young people dealing with difficult home situations.

Click here to learn more about the UAB Addiction Recovery Program.