You’ve probably heard of peer support as something that takes place in high schools and colleges. You take kids who are older, more knowledgeable, or more experienced and allow them to counsel or help their peers with anything from school work to problems with bullying. It turns out that this model doesn’t just work for schoolchildren; it’s increasingly being used in substance abuse treatment.

Having a peer support specialist is a bit like having a sponsor in a 12 step group like Alcoholics Anonymous, with some important differences. For one thing, sponsors don’t have to be qualified in any way, besides typically having their own experience with addiction. Peer support specialists, on the other hand, are trained, certified, and paid professionals in addition to having the life experience. Many people find it easier and more productive to speak with a peer, rather than a doctor or therapist. It can be comforting to know that that the person you’re sharing with isn’t going to judge you, because they’ve been in your shoes. They also tend to be compassionate and committed, because they’re chosen their careers out of gratitude and a desire to help people.

Originally, the National Association of Peer Specialists (NAPS), founded in 2004, was a private, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peer support in mental health treatment. In 2012, NAPS, with assistance from a panel convened by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, began attempting to establish practice standards for peer support specialists, as a first step toward gaining national credentials. (A majority of states have developed their own training and certification standards.) In 2013, because the group had developed a global presence, NAPS was renamed the International Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPS). That same year, they came up with a set of guidelines and standards called National Practice Guidelines for Peer Supporters.

The following are their core values: 1. Peer support is voluntary 2. Peer supporters are hopeful 3. Peer supports are open minded 4. Peer supporters are empathetic 5. Peer supports are respectful 6. Peer supporters facilitate change 7. Peer supporters are honest and direct 8. Peer support is mutual and reciprocal 9. Peer support is equally shared power 10. Peer support is strengths-focused 11. Peer support is transparent 12. Peer support is person-driven.

Members of iNAPS publish monthly newsletters and regular news updates, share recovery and peer support information, conduct surveys, and report on the current status and trends of the peer workforce.


Medicaid started paying for peer support specialists back in 2007, although that was largely for mental health treatment. Today, Medicaid and insurance offered through the marketplace are most likely to cover peer support. Private insurance varies on the types of mental health treatment it will pay for.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.