We all know that volunteering is easier said than done, especially when time and energy are foundational to recovery from a substance use disorder.
But volunteering can simultaneously benefit others and yourself greatly, which is why it’s healthy to volunteer any time of the year and at any stage of your life–even during addiction treatment.
From a medical perspective, volunteering is beneficial to your physical and mental health, which can be game-changing during the recovery process. Organizations like Create the Good, Random Acts of Kindness, and Addiction Professional explain just a few of the ways that volunteering can help you while you help others:
Increased lifespan: Volunteering individuals age 55 and older are proven to have a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying early, showing that volunteering is even more effective at maintaining health into old age “than exercising four times a week or going to church” (RAK). This benefit is especially important for those who are recovering from substance use, as addiction can unfortunately cause physical damage that affects longevity. Additionally, after achieving sobriety, many people feel as if they have been given a second chance at life and want to be able to enjoy it for as long as they can.
Improved mental health: Volunteering post-recovery can reinforce all that you have accomplished by leading to an inner sense of purpose and fulfillment–a calling to help others.
Volunteering has also been proven to reduce stress levels by giving people a “sense of meaning and appreciation—both given and received—which can be calming” (Create the Good). Finally, the act of volunteering can also release dopamine at similar levels to what is released by an intense workout.
Social advantages: Many aspects of volunteering can boost your communication skills, give you confidence in social situations, and expand your social network! Because volunteering is something that anyone can do, it is likely that you will meet a diverse range of people from all different walks of life. This can help you grow more comfortable in non-regulated, natural social settings to test out the skills that you have picked up during recovery (AddictionPro).
Acquiring social confidence in varying situations when interacting with strangers is invaluable in gaining personal confidence in your recovery and sobriety. Not only can volunteering improve your individual social abilities, but it can also improve the relationships that you have with others by expanding your social network and support system. Get to know the people that you are volunteering with; you already share similar values and interests of helping others and prioritizing the giving of your time and energy (Create the Good).
More benefits specific to recovery and sober living: The ability to give your time and energy to others in need is a tangible sign of improvement in regards to recovery and emotional, mental, and physical health. Acknowledge and reflect on this growth by helping others who are in similar situations but who have not made it as far as you have. In other words, capitalize on your improvement by assisting others who are in the recovery process and by being an example and proof that sobriety is possible for them.
Another way that volunteering can assist you post-recovery is by giving you the opportunity to use your time productively. If you are trying to go back to work after recovery, the process of job hunting and waiting can feel a bit discouraging or daunting; for some, during this period of inactivity “emotional distress and social pressures can quickly fuel the temptation to use, or to give up on further efforts at securing employment” (Addiction Pro).
Volunteering can help you during this job application process by being a healthy and constructive use of your time and by expanding your resume and skills. It can help “get a foot in the door at an institution broadly aligned with [your] value system,” and teach beneficial skills that might not have been taught at a recovery center, skills such as time management, communication, and empathy (Addiction Pro).
So how can you volunteer?
Luckily, there are many websites that can instantly connect you with volunteer organizations or opportunities that are entirely tailored to you. For example, here are a couple specific to the Kirkwood and St. Louis area:
All of these websites allow you to narrow the options and customize your search so that you can volunteer in a way that is realistic for you. What is especially important about this customization is finding a cause that you are passionate and motivated about. Find a volunteer opportunity that you know will feel meaningful and rewarding to you.