“If It Wasn’t for Him, I Wouldn’t Have Talked to Them”: Qualitative Study of Addiction Peer Mentorship in the Hospital

Devin Collins, Juliet Alla, Christina Nicolaidis, Jessica Gregg, Deborah Jane Gullickson, Alisa Patten, Honora Englander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Background: Hospitalizations related to substance use disorders (SUD) are skyrocketing. Hospital providers commonly feel unprepared to care for patients with SUD and patients with SUD commonly feel discriminated against by hospital staff. This tension can lead to provider burnout and poor patient outcomes. Research in ambulatory settings suggests that peer mentors (PMs) can improve substance use outcomes and patient experience. However, no study has examined the role of peer mentorship for patients with SUD in hospitals. Objective: Understand how peer mentorship affects care for hospitalized patients with SUD, and how working in a hospital affects PMs’ sense of professional identity. Design: Qualitative study utilizing participant observation, individual interviews, and focus groups related to the PM component of the Improving Addiction Care Team (IMPACT), a hospital-based interprofessional addiction medicine consult service. Participants: IMPACT providers, patients seen by IMPACT, PMs, and a PM supervisor. Approach: Qualitative thematic analysis. Key Results: PMs occupy a unique space in the hospital and are able to form meaningful relationships with hospitalized patients based on trust and shared lived experiences. PMs facilitate patient care by contextualizing patient experiences to teams and providers. Reciprocally, PMs “translate” provider recommendations to patients in ways that patients can hear. Respondents described PMs as “cultural brokers” who have the potential to transfer trust that they have earned with patients to providers and systems who may otherwise be viewed as untrustworthy. While PMs felt their role led to professional and personal development, the intensity of the role in the hospital setting also put them at risk for emotional drain and stress. Conclusions: While integrating PMs into hospital care presents substantial challenges, PMs may act as a “secret weapon” to engage often marginalized hospitalized patients with SUD and improve patient and provider experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2019


  • hospital
  • peer recovery
  • physician-patient relations
  • qualitative research
  • substance-related disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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