Tag Archives: Palmer Drug Abuse Center

Alternative Peer Groups, Successful Recovery Model


PDAP: Help and HopeOur guest for Eye On Addiction Radio’s March 10th show is Trish Frye, Program Director for PDAP San Antonio. Below is an article written about the very successful model used by PDAP. As stated on PDAP’s website:

Our mission is to help teens, young adults, and their families overcome the effects of mind-changing chemicals while assisting the community through partnerships in education and prevention.  We are a 12 step, faith-based program that offers group meetings, individual and family counseling, and fun activities that focus on healthy relationships and building life skills. In addition to recovery services for substance abuse and drug addiction, we provide prevention and life skills education. We also work with students in middle schools, high schools, and alternative schools in the greater SA area to help promote prevention.

One of our core competencies is our Family Group services. The family members go through a program just like their kids. They learn from other families by listening to what works and what doesn’t work. They also get to learn from our counselors how to deal with issues that are specific or unique to their situation. The odds for success increase when the family is involved in their kid’s recovery.

Our services are FREE. We are supported by churches, businesses, foundations, United Way-SA / Bexar County, members, and individuals from the greater San Antonio area. We do not accept government funding.


The Alternative Peer Group:
A Recovery Model for Teens and Young Adults

~ by Crystal Morrison & Caitlin Bailey

Adolescence is an important developmental phase marked by a multitude of significant psychological, social, and physical changes. These changes can affect adolescent’s emotional and subjective well being and often cause a tremendous amount of stress. Often times, teens fall victim to peer pressure and experiment with alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with their stress. Unfortunately, many of those teens quickly develop dependencies which may have lasting effects in their growing brains. According to Joseph Califano of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teenagers who abuse substances are much more susceptible to developing chronic substance abuse problems later in life. Thus, swift treatment of adolescent alcohol and drug abuse is of the utmost importance. However, there has been much debate about the best way to treat adolescent substance abuse and dependency.

The Alternative Peer Group (APG) model encompasses the necessary ingredients for successful treatment of adolescents struggling with substance abuse or drug addictions. This model was created in Houston, Texas about forty years ago. Alternative Peer Groups were created to address the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social needs of teens struggling with substance abuse.

The APG model integrates important peer connections with clinical practice through intervention, support, education, and parent involvement. The foundation of this model is the basic assumption that peer relationships, much like the ones that initiate and support drug and alcohol use, are necessary to facilitate recovery. The ultimate goal is to remove the teen from a negatively pressured environment and offer them a new group of friends that exert positive peer pressure and provide support for the necessary changes they need to make in order to recover.

Several key factors inherent in the APG model contribute to the recovering adolescent’s success. The first is the fun factor. While enrolled in an APG, the adolescent still gets to be a kid. They are encouraged to learn how to have as much sober fun as possible within healthy boundaries. Alternative Peer Groups strive to develop healthy decision making through fun and challenging activities. The APG incorporates a variety of weekday and weekend social activities into the recovery process so that adolescents can learn how to have fun while remaining sober. Recovery has to be as much fun if not more than using drugs in order to get adolescents “hooked”.

In this model, APG faculty and youth staff reward adolescents for sobriety, honesty, and integrity with fun, sober activities. Staff create safe, loving environments while demanding accountability and enforcing consequences. In this way, the APG environment offers a healthy balance of love and limits.

Unlike other adolescent rehabilitation models, in APGs parents are strongly encouraged to attend their own recovery meetings and help support their teen’s recovery by creating their own program of accountability. The APGs help parents normalize the events and situations they are going through while assisting them to examine any behaviors, patterns, or interactions that could possibly be exacerbating the situation. The APGs not only help change an adolescent’s behavior, but they also offer parents suggestions on how to change problem behaviors within the family in order to best support their teenager in recovery. Thus, changes in the family system help sustain the adolescent’s long-term recovery.

The Houston Alternative Peer Group community offers a variety of services that help aid an adolescent’s recovery. The APGs hold weekly twelve-step meetings for teens and their parents. Individual counseling is often provided to help teens with any specific issues they may be encountering. APGs also encompass the idea that family counseling is a critical component in an adolescent’s recovery. The APGs also provide supportive and intensive outpatient therapy. All of the Houston APGs work closely with residential treatment programs, psychiatrists, school counselors and other mental health professionals to provide the best overall treatment that a teen can get.

History of the APG Model

The APG model was created in 1971 at the Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas for a group of young people struggling with alcohol and other substance abuse problems. The model was replicated and new alternative peer group communities sprang up. Currently, there are six alternative peer groups in the greater Houston area for teens and young adults. Although each APG differs in format, location, and cost, they all follow the model’s basic principle: that peer relationships and peer support are key factors for effective adolescent and young adult recovery from substance abuse and dependence.

Following PDAP (Palmer Drug Abuse Program), Lifeway International was founded in 1985. In 2004, Lifeway created Three Oaks Academy, a sober high school that provides a safe and sober educational component for the effective intervention, recovery, and support of young people in early and ongoing recovery. As the movement grew, mental health professionals who wanted to combine the strengths of the APG model with evidence based counseling approaches created Cornerstone Recovery in 1999. In 2002, Teen and Family Services collaborated with Chapelwood United Methodist Church famous for their recovery services known as Mercy Street, to offer alternative peer group services to West Houston and The Villages. To fill the need for continuing care, APG, Inc. began serving young adults ages 18 to 26 in 2007. These communities paved the way for Hope for Today to emerge in 2010, the newest APG in Katy, Texas.

Together, these six APG groups provide the foundation for a network of recovery services for adolescents and young adults in the greater Houston area such as Archway Academy. Established in 2003 and located in the Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, Archway Academy is an official Recovery High School and member of the National Association of Recovery Schools. In addition, the APG and recovery school network collaborates closely with other community agencies like The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston that provide assessments for adolescents and venue space for symposiums and Sober Prom (SPROM). On January 28, 2011, The Council hosted the Teens and High Risk Symposium with keynote speaker Joseph Califano, the Founder and Chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The first of an annual symposium series showcased Houston’s sober schools and APG community.

Data Supporting Alternative Peer Groups

Dr. Scott Basinger of Baylor College of Medicine has been studying the outcomes of alternative peer groups and recently presented his data at the Teens and High Risk Symposium. He compared the national rates of teen relapse to the rates of teens enrolled in local APGs. The national relapse rate for teens in recovery is between 50-90% (Basinger & Edens, in press). In Houston, for those adolescents participating in APGs between January 2007 and 2010, the relapse rates were between 8%-11% (Basinger & Edens, in press). Overall, since APGs have been in existence, they have a recovery rate greater than 85% versus a nationwide recovery rate of around 30% (Basinger & Edens, in press).

Addiction professionals are aware that one of the toughest populations to treat is adolescent substance abusers. While the initial studies yield positive numbers, finding the right APG and achieving success may take time as well as trial and error. Additionally, this model may not be appropriate for all levels of abuse such as experimentation. However, for those teens who are surrounded by using peers, the Alternative Peer Group model offers recovering teens and young adults an excellent chance at a successful recovery. The APG model surrounds the young person with sober support and accountability in a socially reinforcing environment that allows for skills acquisition and resiliency training. In the words of one APG client, “It’s so much fun!”


PDAP: “An Instant Army, of Love and Support”

Powerless to Prevent:
Trish Frye, Program Director of Palmer Drug Abuse Program, spoke at the funeral of “Brittany” on February 11, 2012.

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Alternative Peer Groups, APG, Successful Recovery Model



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