Is Recovery Coaching Effective?

20150609_223702 (2)Treatment professionals and researchers are calling for a change in the treatment model for substance use disorders (SUD). This change calls for shedding the acute care model (28 days of SUD treatment will fix you) to a continuum of care models, similar to how chronic diseases like diabetes or arthritis are treated. (Humphreys & Tucker, 2002; Institute of Medicine, 2005; McLellan et al., 2000; White, Boyle, Loveland, & Corrington, 2005).

At the same time, the mental health and the substance abuse treatment fields have merged, creating the behavioral health field. With this merger, the recovery-oriented systems of care model (ROSC) has become the accepted approach to treatment for those with mental and substance use disorders. This holistic approach, rather than focusing on the addiction, considers the whole person and how they interact in real life. ROSC emphasizes that recovery depends on the connection of mind, body, and spirit, motivating addicts to choose to improve their mental health, their physical health, and to embrace a spiritual component of their recovery (SAMHSA, 2011). This multi-system approach has ROSC counselors encouraging visits to the general practitioner, the OBGyn and the dentist. They assess for co-occurring disorders and embrace one-on-one therapeutic treatment and group therapy. And ROSC practitioners embrace mutual support programs, such as AA, NA or even nontraditional mutual support groups like SOS, or Women for Sobriety. A spiritual program is also encouraged. Lastly, the newest introduction to the treatment field is the recovery coach.

As mental health and addiction treatment services are adopting this recovery-oriented approach, the emphasis on incorporating various forms of recovery coaching or peer-based recovery support into treatment services is growing rapidly. Peer-based recovery support services are defined as

“the process of giving and receiving nonprofessional, nonclinical assistance to achieve long-term recovery from mental health and substance use disorders” (Borkman, 1999)

This support is provided by “peers,” “peer-recovery support specialists,” “recovery coaches,” “peer mentors,” or “peer support specialists” who have lived and experienced personal recovery (Borkman, 1999). The peers assist others in initiating, maintaining and embracing recovery from their mental health or substance use disorders.

As recovery coaches and peers begin to infiltrate treatment centers and recovery support, community organizations, there is a needling question that arises: are recovery coaches effective in the recovery process?

Studies have been completed on the effectiveness of recovery coaches aiding in individuals achieving long-term recovery since 2005. Many were small studies, some were not exactly scientific, nor could other studies stand up to researcher’s scrutiny. None of the studies had the critical mass to come to a clear conclusion. Ellen L. Bassuk, M.D., Justine Hanson, Ph.D., R. Neil Greene, M.A., Molly Richard, B.A., and Alexandre Laudet, PhD began examining the 1,221 studies that analyze the effectiveness of peer-delivered, recovery support services for individuals in recovery. They wrote a systematic review called Peer Delivered Recovery Support Services for Addictions in the United States: A Systematic Review.

This compilation of all the current studies is to create an appraisal, and summarization of the success of peer-delivered, recovery support services, using strict scientific criteria. As part of their review process, the 1,221 studies were screened, but only nine studies were deemed to meet the strict review requirements.

The nine studies examined the effectiveness of recovery support services that were delivered by a peer using a wide range of interventions and models. These studies also examined the variety of locations that offered peer support, including peer-run, drop-in centers (Ja et al., 2009), peer-run, recovery community organizations (Kamon & Turner, 2013), and Veteran’s Administration medical outpatient clinics (Bernstein et al., 2005).

This review showed peer-delivered recovery support services accomplished the following successful outcomes:

  1. Decreased alcohol use
  2. Decreased drinking to intoxication by reducing the odds of drinking to intoxication by 2.9 percent (Smelson et al. 2013)
  3. Peer participation lowered re-hospitalization rates, meaning only 62 percent of participants from the peer based support group were re-hospitalized compared to 73 percent of those not receiving peer based support (Min et al. (2007)
  4. Increased post-discharge sobriety time was achieved by the individuals receiving the peer intervention (O’Connell et al. 2014)
  5. If peers led groups in life-skills training, those participants had 14.8 fewer days drinking
  6. Peer recovery support affected those discharged from inpatient treatment by maintaining a post-discharge sobriety rate of 43 percent to 48 percent as compared to 33 percent sobriety for those not receiving peer based support (Tracy et al. 2011)

Overall, the review of these studies indicate that peers involved in recovery support interventions have beneficial effects on participants. While the reviewers can conclude that there is evidence supporting the effectiveness of peer-delivered, recovery support services, they acknowledge that additional research is necessary to determine the usefulness of peer support services. While this knowledge is encouraging, research in this area is just emerging, and there is a strong need to improve outcomes by completing future studies.


  1. Humphreys, K., & Tucker, J. (2002). Toward more responsive and effective intervention systems for alcohol-related problems. Addiction, 97(2), 126–132.
  2. Institute of Medicine (2005). Improving the quality of health care for mental and substance use conditions. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  3. McLellan, A. T., Lewis, D. C., O’Brien, C. P., & Kleber, H. D. (2000). Drug dependence, a chronic medical illness: Implications for treatment, insurance, and outcomes evaluation. JAMA, 284(13), 1689–1695.
  4. White, W., Boyle, M., Loveland, D., & Corrington, P. (2005). What is behavioral health recovery management? A brief primer. (Retrieved from
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2011). SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery. (Retrieved from
  6. Borkman, T. (1999). Understanding self-help/mutual aid: Experiential learning in the commons. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
  7. Borkman, T. (1999). Understanding self-help/mutual aid: Experiential learning in the commons. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
  8. Ja, D. Y., Gee, M., Savolainen, J.,Wu, S., & Forghani, S. (2009). Peers Reaching Out Supporting Peers to Embrace Recovery (PROPSPER): A final evaluation report. San Francisco, CA: DYJ, Inc. for Walden House, Inc. and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Retrieved from http://www.dyja./com/sites/default/files/u24/PROSPER%20Final%20Evaluation%20Report.pdf).
  9. Kamon, J., & Turner,W. (2013). Recovery coaching in recovery centers: What the initial data suggest: A brief report from the Vermont Recovery Network. Montpelier, Vermont Evidence-Based Solutions (Retrieved form
  10. Bernstein, E., Bernstein, J., Tassiopoulos, K., Heeren, T., Levenson, S., & Hingson, R. (2005). Brief motivational intervention at a clinic visit reduces cocaine and heroin use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 77, 49–59
  11. Smelson, D. A., Kline, A., Kuhn, J., Rodrigues, S., O’Connor, K., Fisher, W. Kane, V. (2013). A wraparound treatment engagement intervention for homeless veterans with co-occurring disorders. Psychological Services, 10(2), 161–167.
  12. Min, S. Y., Whitecraft, E., Rothbard, A. B., & Salzer, M. S. (2007). Peer support for persons with co-occurring disorders and community tenure: A survival analysis. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 30(3), 207–213.
  13. O’Connell, M. J., Flanagan, E., Delphin, M., & Davidson, L. (2014). Enhancing outcomes for persons with co-occurring disorders through skills training and peer recovery supports. Unpublished manuscript.
  14. Tracy, K., Burton, M., Nich, C., & Rounsaville, B. (2011). Utilizing peer mentorship to engage high recidivism substance-abusing patients in treatment. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 37(6), 525–531
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2 Responses to Is Recovery Coaching Effective?

  1. Mike says:

    I have nothing but respect for the Recovery Coaches and Peers Support Specialists that I have had the privilege to work alongside.

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