Health, home, purpose and community: these are the four major dimensions that support a person in recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Struggling with addiction can turn a person inward, causing them to be focused only on themselves and their habit. They start to withdraw from the world and society. Recovery brings new hope for a life that provides meaningful interactions and service to others. For many in recovery, this begins with community service.
Community service helps to satisfy two of the four dimensions SAMHSA has found to enhance recovery: purpose and community. Finding a purpose means engaging in activities that a person finds rewarding. Community means spending one’s time actively building healthy relationships with individuals. Through volunteering interactions, those in recovery are able to gain support and friendship through a new network of people they may never have met otherwise.
Research on Health and Volunteering
In 2013, UnitedHealth Group published updates to their large-scale study regarding volunteering and its health benefits. Titled “Doing Good Is Good for You,” the study found that all people—including those in recovery–can benefit from community service.
Some of the key findings associated with the study included:
- Volunteers reported they were more closely connected to their community and the people in it through their service.
- Volunteers were more likely to report higher levels of physical, mental and emotional health than those who did not volunteer.
- Volunteers reported they were better able to effectively manage their stress than those who did not volunteer.
When a person is in recovery, they are finally at a point where they can live well without drugs or alcohol or the stress and health woes these addictions can cause. Volunteering can be an extra mind and body benefit that contributes to recovery success.
Where to Start
Volunteering doesn’t have to be time-consuming, and it shouldn’t necessarily feel like work. Almost all non-profit organizations accept volunteers in a variety of capacities and skill levels. The first step is to think of things you enjoy doing. Perhaps this is working with children, organizing and filing or engaging in manual labor tasks, such as cleaning, painting or building. Regardless of your particular interest, there is usually a community organization that matches well with it.
Some examples of places in your community to consider volunteering include:
- Animal shelters
- Food pantries
- Non-profit organizations
Some people also choose to give back to programs that helped them while in recovery. Although you may not yet be mentally prepared to return to an addiction or rehab program, this is an option for the day when you feel stronger and wish to encourage others who are on their ways to recovery.
A Rewarding Commitment
Your commitment to recovery is a promise to live well and free from addiction. It’s an opportunity to live life as a contributing member of society who others value. Volunteering can be a rewarding part of this commitment. You don’t have to give countless hours of your time—even a few hours a month will help—but know that what you do will be beneficial to others as well as yourself.