Benefits of Helping Others

Years of addiction can take a huge toll on confidence and self-esteem. Helping others may sound like a simplistic strategy for coping with painful feelings of regret, shame and guilt, but giving back is actually a powerful strategy that builds self-worth and significantly reduces the risk of relapse. One study suggests that charitable work may increase maintaining long-term sobriety by as much as 50 percent.

A growing body of research indicates that volunteering provides a number of social and psychological benefits. Giving back isn’t only a huge psychological mood-lifter; helping others also benefits physical health by keeping the heart healthier.

Forbes Magazine recently reported on a study suggesting that charitable work strengthens the heart and adds years to life. People who participate in volunteer activities after a heart attack enjoyed marked improvements in mental and physical health and reduction in depression and anxiety.

Helping others may also provide the following benefits:

  • Creates positive social connections, a strong sense of belonging and a powerful network of sober friends.
  • Keeps you busy when the days feel long and empty during the early days of recovery. Boredom is a dangerous trigger for relapse.
  • Helps replace negative thoughts with feelings of gratitude.
  • Prevents feelings of loneliness and isolation that often occur as a result of giving up old friends who still use drugs and alcohol.
  • Provides a sense of accomplishment, direction and purpose.
  • Offers a welcome distraction from your own problems and offers a new perspective on life.

Giving Back: Tips on Getting Started

It’s important that volunteerism is something you look forward to – not something that feels like drudgery. Think about types of charitable work that you will enjoy.

The time you dedicate to volunteering should also work for you and your schedule. Start small but be flexible; you can always increase the time if things are going well.

If the first attempt at giving back doesn’t work, try something different until you find a good fit. Don’t hesitate to ask plenty of questions before you jump in. Don’t hesitate to request help or training if necessary.

If you participate in a 12-Step or other type of support group, you can always work within the recovery community. Otherwise, you can volunteer for something entirely different. Possibilities include animal shelters, food pantries, museums, art galleries, community gardens, nursing homes or senior centers. If you like kids, consider volunteering at a school, library or youth sports organization.

Many addicts have problems with social anxiety. If this is the case, it’s fine to work quietly behind the scenes and leave the spotlight to others.

Most importantly, don’t view volunteerism as something you are required to do. Look at volunteering as an opportunity to have fun while you meet new friends and explore new interests. The more you volunteer, the easier it gets.

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