Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction

Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2016 Sep 29;7:143-154. doi: 10.2147/SAR.S81535. eCollection 2016.


Objective: Peer support can be defined as the process of giving and receiving nonprofessional, nonclinical assistance from individuals with similar conditions or circumstances to achieve long-term recovery from psychiatric, alcohol, and/or other drug-related problems. Recently, there has been a dramatic rise in the adoption of alternative forms of peer support services to assist recovery from substance use disorders; however, often peer support has not been separated out as a formalized intervention component and rigorously empirically tested, making it difficult to determine its effects. This article reports the results of a literature review that was undertaken to assess the effects of peer support groups, one aspect of peer support services, in the treatment of addiction.

Methods: The authors of this article searched electronic databases of relevant peer-reviewed research literature including PubMed and MedLINE.

Results: Ten studies met our minimum inclusion criteria, including randomized controlled trials or pre-/post-data studies, adult participants, inclusion of group format, substance use-related, and US-conducted studies published in 1999 or later. Studies demonstrated associated benefits in the following areas: 1) substance use, 2) treatment engagement, 3) human immunodeficiency virus/hepatitis C virus risk behaviors, and 4) secondary substance-related behaviors such as craving and self-efficacy. Limitations were noted on the relative lack of rigorously tested empirical studies within the literature and inability to disentangle the effects of the group treatment that is often included as a component of other services.

Conclusion: Peer support groups included in addiction treatment shows much promise; however, the limited data relevant to this topic diminish the ability to draw definitive conclusions. More rigorous research is needed in this area to further expand on this important line of research.

Keywords: alcohol; behavioral treatment; drugs; mentorship; recovery; substance use.

Publication types

  • Review