Polysubstance use and lived experience: new insights into what is needed : Current Opinion in Psychiatry

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ADDICTIVE DISORDERS: Edited by John Saunders and Linda Cottler

Polysubstance use and lived experience: new insights into what is needed

Shover, Chelsea L.a; Spoliansky, Jordan G.b; Godvin, Morganc

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Current Opinion in Psychiatry 36(4):p 316-320, July 2023. | DOI: 10.1097/YCO.0000000000000876


Purpose of review 

During the current overdose crisis in the United States and Canada, both polysubstance use and interventions involving people with lived experience of substance use disorder have grown. This review investigates the intersection of these topics to recommend best practices.

Recent findings 

We identified four themes from the recent literature. These are ambivalence about the term lived experience and the practice of using private disclosure to gain rapport or credibility; efficacy of peer participation; promoting equitable participation by fairly compensating staff hired for their lived experience; challenges unique to the current polysubstance-dominated era of the overdose crisis. People with lived experience make important contributions to research and treatment, especially given the additional challenges that polysubstance use creates above and beyond single substance use disorder. The same lived experience that can make someone an excellent peer support worker also often comes with both trauma related to working with people struggling with substance use and lack of opportunities for career advancement.


Policy priorities for clinicians, researchers and organizations should include steps to foster equitable participation, such as recognizing expertise by experience with fair compensation; offering career advancement opportunities; and promoting self-determination in how people describe themselves.

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