Recovery coaches

16/07/14 8:11 PM

A powerful resource in attaining stable sobriety

We have long recognized recovery coaching as a critical component in sustaining the gains made in treatment when a family member returns home after an inpatient stay.

Coaches perform a wide range of services, from assuring clients attend therapy appointments to homestays as sober companions. 

But most importantly, for recovering addicts, having the always-available, empathetic, and supportive ear of someone who is committed to their success can make all the difference in achieving a substance-free life.

In our work on behalf of families, we often include a recovery coach as part of the overall post-treatment recovery plan, along with a case manager, therapist, addiction-certified psychiatrist, and drug-testing monitor. They not only support the person in recovery but act as liaison to the case manager and family.

But now coaches are playing a new role, hired by people who want to sober up without going to inpatient treatment.

With growing self-awareness as to when drinking or prescription drug use is out of control, many are now taking action on their own to avoid major problems down the road.

Inpatient treatment not an option

A recent article in The New York Times, “A Guide’s Sobering Effect,” discusses how affluent mothers are hiring coaches as part of their efforts to stop using and stay clean.

Why this alternative to going to rehab?

  • Work demands preclude time away.
  • Fear of losing their children if they go inpatient for 28 days.
  • Reliable support to attend meetings and appointments.
  • Privacy (A.A. members gossip).
  • Protection of reputation (there still is a double standard re: women addicts).
  • Avoid building a medical or insurance record.
  • Relapse prevention after inpatient or outpatient treatment.

In short, recovery companions are “more anonymous than A.A.” and can seamlessly blend into social and professional circles, sometimes as administrative assistants, trainers, or friends.

Challenges in early recovery: thoughts, feelings, behaviors and STRESS

In early recovery, having a companion can help manage addictive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Here are three excerpts from the article:

  • “It’s not the actual substance that defines addiction, it’s the feelings underneath.”
  • “Addiction is a disease of isolation.”
  • “She taught me to write my feelings down and think things through instead of heading down the path of destructive impulses to quiet down the white noise in my head.”

An empathetic approach, guidance, and role modeling help create a positive attitude in the client and the hope that the future will be better without drugs and alcohol.

Predictors of recovery

Data shows that addressing the emotional side of recovery supports long-term abstinence. This includes:

  • Building coping skills for stress and relapse-inducing situations.
  • Identifying situations with potential for relapse. (Men report positive feelings prior to relapse, women negative emotions and interactions.)
  • Managing the environmental cues (people, places, and things) that trigger the desire to use.
  • Resisting declining motivation after inpatient treatment.
  • Helping resume normal activities within recovery and still maintaining balance.
  • Managing stress.
  • Upholding a commitment to abstinence.
  • For at least six months after treatment, attending recovery activities, limiting workload and social activities, and avoiding stressful situations.

Coaches help their clients with all of the above, which is why they are key to improving recovery rates and why we find them so valuable in our work with families.

Level of service varies

And it’s hardly a one-size-fits-all approach. The person in recovery (or the family) can choose the level of service – from once-a-day check-ins and weekly visits to 24-hour live-in company (no, they are not nannies). We see coaches play many different roles:

  • responding rapidly to client needs,
  • offering intensive support,
  • stabilizing individuals in crises,
  • helping fight the day-to-day urges,
  • handling logistics,
  • accompanying the individual through potentially stressful and unsafe situations, and
  • acting as intermediaries with family member.

Recovery companions provide both the oversight and the peer support integral to long-term success. They work collaboratively with treatment teams and are closely supervised.


What do we look for in a coach?

  1. At least five years in active recovery, vetted with background checks, and solid references. (Some recovery services will staff a recovery companion with six months or less of sobriety.)
  2. More skills than having just gone through A.A. themselves – they need to be trained in relevant educational fields.
  3. Appropriate boundaries. This is perhaps most important, as we don’t want the coach borrowing money, etc. That is one reason why they need to be well-compensated. Not only is the job demanding, but good pay reinforces the professional relationship.
  4. The coach also should have a supervisor or other professional s/he is accountable to. In other words, s/he should work for an organization either as an employee or independent contractor for oversight purposes.

Our take

It’s terrific that these women are developing a new approach to getting off alcohol and drugs – one that allows them to remain in the community and become sober. In our work with clients we find that recovery coaches are invaluable resources for sustaining abstention. They tell us what’s going on with the family member in recovery and are the first to know when there is a potential or actual relapse.

So when thinking about substance use disorder treatment, keep in mind what happens after leaving rehab and the benefits of recovery coaches.

For more information on how coaching/companion services fit into an overall post-treatment plan to improve recovery rates, check out our article, “Case Management for Families Dealing with Addiction Recovery: Dual-Track Method.”

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