Coping Strategies and Workplace Supports for Peers with Substance Use Disorders.Subst Use Misuse. 2022; 57(12):1772-1778.SU
Introduction: Substance use disorder (SUD) peers provide support and navigation through a fragmented treatment system for people who use drugs (PWUD) and those in recovery. While barriers to peers' work are well established, from role ambiguity to stigma surrounding substance use, little research has focused on factors that facilitate peers' work. Methods: We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews (N=20) with peers as part of an evaluation of a larger project related to the opioid crisis in Western New York. Participants were recruited from a regional peer network via flyers, emails, and a brief presentation. Interviews were conducted in person or by phone, audio recorded, and transcribed. Transcripts were analyzed using thematic content analysis. Results: Peers emphasized two factors: healthy personal coping strategies and strong workplace supports. Coping strategies included a sense of community, setting appropriate boundaries, and self-care routines. At the workplace, peers valued mental and emotional support, as well as professional relationships and organizational policies that made their work easier and supported self-care. For a few peers, professional relationships included advocating on behalf of PWUD by sharing personal experiences of SUD. Conclusions: Peers valued peer colleagues and peer-led organizations, noting how shared experiences of substance use and recovery enabled a unique support system. For peers who lack such support at work, the authors suggest peer networks as an alternative. We also recommend organizational policies and practices to facilitate peers' work, such as promoting peer input and feedback, but further research is needed to measure effects on peer retention and job satisfaction.