The Benefits of Community Service During Addiction Recovery

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
  • Hospitals
  • Libraries
  • Museums
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Schools

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.

  1. I really like that you mentioned that there’s usually a community organization that matches an individual’s interests. A friend of mine is a recovering addict, and I’ve been letting him stay with me on the condition that he works to overcome his addiction. I’ve been looking for different things I can do to help him as well. Community service sounds like something he would really enjoy doing because he’s a very talented and sociable person so he can fit in well anywhere.

  2. It makes me happy knowing that people who volunteer can handle stress and are able to better recover from addiction than those who don’t. My friend has been trying to stop doing drugs for years now. She keeps relapsing but maybe if she volunteered ore often she’d be able to overcome it a lot more easily.

    • Service Work – That’s the greatest gift of the 12th Step. We carry the message to those by being of service. Bill W. said when all else fails….talk to another Alcoholic!

  3. I like that you mentioned that volunteering in an animal shelter can also be a good option in supplementing an addiction recovery program. I have a friend whose sister is currently dealing with substance abuse problems. I’d like to help her out in getting better eventually because she seems to need all the help that she could get right now.

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