Partnering with persons in long-term recovery from substance use disorder: experiences from a collaborative research project
Background: Traditional research about substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is considered, among an increasing number of service users, to be disempowering and poorly reflective of their priorities. Thus, this methodological article sought to examine the experiences of a peer research group (PRG), whose four members were in long-term SUD recovery, and a principal investigator (PI), when collaborating on a study of SUD recovery. This article has also aspired to discern the influence of peer researcher participation on the research process. The purpose of the qualitative research project that formed the basis of this methodological study was to examine the reasons provided and strategies employed for abstaining from problematic substance use among persons with SUDs.
Methods: The project took place from 2015 to 2018, during which time individual interviews were conducted with 18 persons in recovery from SUDs. The PRG contributed to all parts of the project and worked alongside the PI in preparing the study, during early stages of data analysis, and while writing up the findings. In total, ten group discussions were held over the course of three years.
Results: The study showed that the PRG offered important contributions with respect to developing the interview guide, preunderstanding among the PRG members, and discussing alternative forms of data collection. Key findings about how this collaborative research process was experienced relate to three matters: the group aspect of participation, the value of predictable routines and clear expectations, and the open sharing of private matters. The PI experienced the research process as having been enriched by alternative ways of asking questions and interpreting findings, and as an interactive arena for reciprocal social and professional support.
Conclusions: When establishing a peer research group while studying recovery processes, it can be advantageous to include several peer researchers with diverse lived experiences concerning substance use, treatment, and recovery. If possible, at least one peer researcher with formal training or qualitative research experience might be included. The PI should be trained in collaborating with peer researchers, or should be part of a research environment in which it is possible to discuss methodological challenges with other researchers.