Former addicted offender offers peers support

Submitted by: 12/07/2011 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Vincent J. had the choice between incarceration or substance abuse treatment offered by the Ayer Concord Drug Court Program (ACDCP). He chose treatment.  Today, after completing the program, Vincent says, he’s “in a better place in my life than I have been for the past 32 years.” He recently began a new full-time peer support position at Advocates, Inc., —the treatment agency that provides the clinical services of the ACDCP.

Vincent started using heroin at age 13. Over the course of the next 30 years, his drug use led to 32 felony convictions and five state prison sentences. When Vincent left prison in 2008, he’d stopped using heroin. But other drug use and legal troubles surfaced again. “It took me getting arrested again to see that I’d just brought my drug problem with me from prison,” says Vincent. 

Vincent was among the group of ACDCP participants who tested Addiction CHESS (A-CHESS) in a four-month pilot study that began in spring 2011. This smart-phone based relapse prevention system offers support to drug-dependent people whenever and wherever it’s needed. The application includes more than 20 features, such as online discussion groups and access to information and support from a counselor.  

“Having A-CHESS made it easier for me to maintain recovery, especially when I had a craving and could get in touch with a peer right away,” says Vincent. Reading about and listening to others’ stories and sharing his own helped him feel connected with his peers. “Communication is key,” he adds. “When you’re dealing with your problems on your own, it’s overwhelming. But support from others makes it much easier.”

Vincent also credits his family and the staff at Advocates, Inc., with helping him succeed in the drug court program. When he was recruited for the newly created peer support position at Advocates, Vincent says he was surprised at first—but extremely happy.

In this full-time position, Vincent provides the same kind of support and information that the study participants received through A-CHESS.

“I’m kind of like A-CHESS,” he says. Listening to others and letting them know they’re not alone is a big part of his role. “And the story that I like to share most with others in treatment is, “If I can do this, if I can beat this thing, you can, too.”

Helping others helps him maintain his recovery and Vincent looks forward to gaining more experience in his peer support role. He’s also thinking about eventually going back to school to become an AODA counselor. “I never dreamed it was possible for me to have a job this fulfilling,” says Vincent. 

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