Why You Should Volunteer During Treatment and Recovery

Why You Should Volunteer During Treatment and Recovery

Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community and help others. It's especially rewarding when you're in recovery from addiction, as it helps increase feelings of gratitude and happiness that help prevent relapse. There are many ways to volunteer, depending on what you're passionate about – from packing food at food banks, to serving homeless shelters, to helping other people achieve recovery in your community.

At Enlightened Solutions, we firmly believe that volunteering is integral to the recovery process. You help yourself in significant ways when you spend time helping others.

The Many Benefits of Volunteering

It's a given that volunteering helps others, but did you know there are other benefits as well? Here are just a few of them to consider.

Form Healthier Connections

Substance abuse and addiction thrive in isolation. They draw people away from their families and friends, which is required to keep drug or alcohol use a secret. Isolation also occurs as a result of the deep shame that is associated with addiction.

Volunteering is a great way to draw you out of that isolation and form a healthy support network. You can meet new people and learn from those whose lives and circumstances differ from yours. This exposure is part of being a more open-minded, well-rounded individual. It may require leaving your comfort zone, especially if you have an introverted personality, but that kind of discomfort is occasionally good and healthy for us.

Improve Your Self-Esteem

The cycle of shame from addiction can understandably impact self-image and self-esteem. You may think that addiction makes you weak-willed, even though it's a disease that requires treatment like any other. When you serve others through volunteering, you can start to see yourself in a more positive light – as someone who cares and wants to give back. These feelings can help rebuild a brain that has been damaged by prolonged substance use, in which the only way to feel good about anything was to get drunk or high.

Volunteering can teach your mind to feel good with natural feel-good hormones, and you can access these by helping other people. As you start to rebuild your confidence, you'll find that you don't need substances anymore.

Manage Your Recovery Time Better

What will you do with your time now that you're no longer getting drunk or high? Perhaps you're looking for positive, healthier ways to keep busy and avoid relapse. Volunteering can help you with developing healthier time management skills. Whether serving on a local school board, attending community support meetings, or assisting with local blood drives, there are endless ways to fill your time. The less idle time you have, the better your chances of staying sober.

Improve Your Mental Health

Many people with substance use disorder (SUD) struggle with co-occurring disorders. This is when substance abuse occurs alongside a mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety. Often, these conditions fuel each other, or one causes the other (the scientific consensus is unclear).

However it happens, one way to manage the symptoms is to look beyond yourself and focus on others. Volunteering helps accomplish that task. In addition to helping others, which floods the brain's pleasure center with dopamine, you are building healthy, long-lasting connections with others.

Help Others in Need

While there are many personal gains in volunteering, the main point is to help others. It's about giving back to the community that helped you get sober. It's also about providing access to resources for others who may be struggling in the same way you once struggled. If someone helped you at some point during your recovery, at no benefit to themselves, paying it forward is the best way to pay them back.

Develop a Sense of Purpose

The world can feel like a big, aimless place when you are newly sober and struggling to find your place within it once again. Perhaps you struggle to fill your time productively now that you're no longer using substances or hanging out with people who do. Filling that time with volunteering can help you feel needed and useful. Taking the focus off yourself and directing it toward others will also help you stay sober. When people are counting on you to show up and fulfill certain responsibilities, there is an additional layer of accountability that can keep you grounded and resist the temptation to use.

Learn New Skills and Gain Experience

Many people have trouble getting their lives back on track after struggling with addiction. Perhaps they lost their job and need help getting back on their feet. If that's you, volunteering is a great way to help you develop the skills and experience necessary to one day get a job in that field.

Volunteering is a two-fold process that helps the people being served as much as the people serving them. When you volunteer for a cause you're passionate about, you can network with like-minded people and be able to ask for references from people you volunteer with.

The skills learned in substance abuse treatment can serve you well in the world of volunteering. Not sure where to get started? Think about the causes you're passionate about, and see what opportunities are available in your community. The right opportunities are out there, waiting to be discovered.

At Enlightened Solutions, we believe that giving back to the community is a vital part of the addiction recovery process. There are many ways we recommend our clients do this. Whether it's making coffee or setting up chairs for 12-Step group meetings or serving as mentors for other people in need of accountability, we can help you find volunteer work in a setting you're passionate about. Not only will volunteering help take the focus away from yourself and allow you to help others, but it can also lead to opportunities for rebuilding a life that has been negatively impacted by drug or alcohol use. To learn more about our programs, call us today at (833) 801-LIVE.


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The Power of Volunteering in Recovery

Action precedes motivation. Fake it till you make it. Just do it.

These sayings all point to the power of action--of doing something--whether you feel like it or not. Have you ever had a project looming on the horizon that seemed insurmountable? Did you build it up into a huge thing in your head? Were you afraid to start? Once you did start, did you wonder why you had waited so long to do it?

Are you waiting for the motivation to start an exercise routine? Most fitness experts will tell you that if you wait until you are motivated to work out, you will wait a long, long time. Once you do begin working out, you may wonder why it took you so long to start.

How does this apply to recovering from addiction or coping with depression? Simple. Treatment plans for both issues encourage volunteering or doing service work, whether you feel ready or not.

Depression and Volunteering

An article published in Psychology Today in 2016 discussed the value of volunteering when you are depressed and described the benefits to you. When you are depressed, the last thing you want to do is get up and volunteer. Just getting out of bed can seem like an enormous effort. But if you get up, take a shower, dress in something presentable, and show up, you may very well feel better.

When you are volunteering, you are committing to be at a certain place at a certain time and perform a task, whether it is picking up trash on the beach, walking dogs at a shelter, or leading tours through a museum. You are accountable to the organization and they are depending on you.

When you volunteer, you will gain a sense of purpose and accomplishment. You will feel needed and appreciated, you can learn new skills, and develop new relationships with people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to think about something other than your situation and someone other than yourself and can make your own problems seem more manageable. 

Being with people is also important when dealing with depression. When you are depressed, you may have a tendency to isolate yourself, which can make your depression worse. Being with other people can make you feel better.

Volunteering or Service Work and Addiction Recovery

Volunteering and being of service to others is a part of most recovery programs, including 12-Step programs. Being of service in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)--or any of the other groups patterned after these--can be something as simple as coming 15 minutes early to set up chairs, serving as a facilitator for your meeting, or serving in the larger organization. SMART Recovery also relies on volunteers to serve as meeting hosts and facilitators both in-person and online and uses volunteers to manage message boards and chat rooms.

There are many benefits to service work during your recovery. Performing acts of service for your AA group gives you a way to make amends. You may have hurt some people while you were drinking or using, and helping with your meeting gives you a practical way to be of service--not necessarily to the people you hurt, but to other people. It’s a way of “paying it forward.” Doing volunteer work forges bonds with other people in the group you are working for. If you are volunteering in your 12-Step or SMART Recovery meeting, serving as a volunteer means that you have made a commitment beyond just attending the meeting and can keep you going to meetings even when you don’t feel like it. In addition, volunteering can keep you in the right mindset and keeps you busy in a meaningful way.

The Science of Doing Good

We know that volunteer work helps the organization, but doing service work can also improve the physical and mental health of the volunteer. When you do something for someone else, you have an increased level of oxytocin in your system. This has been shown to increase self-esteem and optimism. Also, higher levels of oxytocin are connected to lower blood pressure and overall improved cardiovascular health. Levels of serotonin are also increased by volunteering, which improves sleep and reduces depression and anxiety. Endorphin levels are boosted, which reduces the sensations of pain and decreases anxiety. Finally, cortisol levels are lowered which results in less stress, which in turn leads to better overall health and is thought to slow the aging process.

Tips to Get Started

If you are in recovery or struggling with depression, finding a volunteer outlet will do you a lot of good. Start out slowly: volunteer to spend two hours a week stuffing envelopes for a non-profit organization in your area or make coffee for your AA meeting. Gradually increase the time that you spend volunteering or take on a different volunteer role. 

The opportunities for volunteering are endless. Find an organization that uses volunteer help and get involved. You’ll be glad you did.

The physical and mental health benefits of performing volunteer or service work are numerous and well-documented. Because of this, many opportunities to be of service are incorporated into the treatment offered at Enlightened Solutions, a substance abuse treatment center located on the New Jersey shore. Patients there work together to maintain the facility and have the opportunity to work on the center’s organic farm, which provides much of the food that they then use to prepare meals. Enlightened Solutions focuses on treating the whole person, not just the addiction, and develops a unique treatment program for each patient based on their needs and their goals for recovery. In addition to psychotherapy, the center offers many holistic treatment modalities including music and art therapy, yoga and meditation, sound therapy, equine therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic work, and family constellation therapy. If you are ready to be free from addiction, call (833) 801-5483.