Benefits of Volunteer Work for Addiction Recovery

Volunteer work benefits recovery from addiction in several ways, including helping to stay busy, which is particularly important in the early weeks and months of solo recovery. Staying busy with a volunteer job helps keep your mind off using, and it gives life a sense of purpose.

How to Start Volunteering 

To help you secure volunteer work that you’ll find important and meaningful, it helps to identify your strengths and values. Knowing what you’re good at and what you stand for can help guide your search for an ideal volunteer opportunity.

Identify Your Strengths

Your strengths are your skills, talents, knowledge and abilities. When you’re using your strengths, you feel a sense of engagement and energy, and quickly learn new approaches and information. Identifying your strengths can help you find volunteer work that’s meaningful to you. Meaningful work means that even if you’re tired, you will want to continue doing it. To identify your strengths, ask yourself:

  • What am I good at?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What activities make me feel energetic?
  • What subjects do I enjoy talking or reading about?

Identify Your Values

When you’re engaging in activities and making decisions according to the ideas and beliefs you value, you’re more likely to be content and satisfied with your life and feel like your “real” self. When you’re not living according to your values, poor decisions can lead to unhappiness. Identifying your values can help you find a volunteer position that honors your values, gives you a strong sense of purpose and makes you feel authentic. To identify your values, ask yourself:

  • What qualities do I value in others?
  • What standards do I hold myself to?
  • What makes me feel proud of myself?
  • What brings me fulfillment?

12 Benefits of Volunteer Work  

Staying busy isn’t the only benefit of volunteering your time. As it turns out, there are many volunteer work benefits that can make a big difference in recovery. Here are a dozen of them.

1. Increase Feelings of Community and Belonging

When you volunteer, you’re working with other like-minded people to improve the world in some large or small way. This creates a keen sense of purpose and community with other volunteers, and it creates feelings of belonging. Social isolation is an important relapse trigger, and according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it increases your risk for becoming ill. 1 Increased social connectedness, on the other hand, works at the cellular level to help improve health and well-being.

2. Help you Develop a Recovery Identity

A study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that feeling estranged from others makes it difficult to develop a “recovery identity,” or a self-identity that centers around something besides using drugs or alcohol. 2 Volunteer work helps in developing an identity that centers, at least in part, around helping others.

3. Help Show a Bigger Picture

Giving back to the community through volunteering gives a sense of being part of something larger than yourself. It helps you find purpose and meaning in life. It also helps to show a brighter future where you can make a difference. Seeing a bigger picture outside of yourself helps you stay focused on what’s truly important in your life, which is a boost to recovery.

4. Fatten your Resume

Volunteer work benefits you in practical ways, too. Through volunteering, you’ll learn new skills that you can put on your resume. Volunteering itself looks great on a resume, too, showing a potential employer that you value helping others.

5. Increase Feelings of Self-worth and Self-esteem

A study published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review found that people who are involved in personally rewarding pursuits, including helping others, improve their self-esteem and self-worth. 3 Altruistic and spiritual activities, including helping others, are healing in nature, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and they go a long way toward promoting long-term recovery.

6. Broaden Social Support Networks

Volunteer work benefits include giving you the opportunity to meet a variety of people with similar interests. This opens the door to beneficial personal and professional relationships. The larger support network you have, the better your chances for long-term recovery.

7. Develop Friendships

Developing new, healthy friendships is an important focus in early recovery. Friendships reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and promote feelings of love and belonging. Volunteering puts you in close proximity to other people who have similar interests, and sometimes, getting to know others through volunteer work can lead to true friendships.

8. Hone Relationship and Social Skills

Relationship and social skills often suffer during an active addiction. Developing healthy, functional relationships requires good social skills, such as listening, cooperating and compromising. Volunteer work provides opportunity to practice these essential skills as you work with others to make a positive difference.

9. Relieve Stress

Keeping stress under control is essential for successful recovery, since high stress levels can quickly hijack the brain and lead back to using. Being an active member of a supportive community reduces stress, and so does the state of flow, which occurs when you’re engaged in an activity you find personally rewarding. Volunteering provides this type of experience and can help you reduce your stress.

10. Improve Mood

Helping others shifts focus away from your own worries and problems. This, along with the enjoyment you get from volunteering and the relationships you develop while doing it, improves overall mood. Research from the Yale University School of Medicine shows that doing even small things for others reduces negative emotions, increases daily positive emotions and improves overall mental health. 4

11. Feel a Sense of Purpose and Meaning

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cites purpose as one of the four pillars of successful recovery. One of the best volunteer work benefits for people in recovery is a sense of purpose and meaning, which reduces the need to find these things through drugs or alcohol. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that participants who engaged in selfless behaviors like volunteering reported a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives than those who didn’t. 5

12. Expand Interests and Knowledge

Volunteering helps to expand horizons. Through volunteer work, you learn more about yourself and your cause, and this opens the door to develop other interests. Expanding your interests and knowledge can lead to exciting opportunities down the road.

Where to Find Volunteer Opportunities 

Once you have an idea of the types of opportunities you might be interested in, start looking for positions. If you know the organization you want to volunteer for, look on their website or call them to learn about opportunities near you.

Organizations that are always looking for volunteers include:

  • Animal Shelters
  • Community Non-Profits
  • Community Theaters
  • Downtown Development Authorities
  • Educational Organizations & Schools
  • Food Banks
  • Housing Agencies and Homeless Shelters
  • Historical Societies
  • Nature Conservation Efforts

If you’re not sure whether an organization you like has volunteer positions, call and ask. Maybe they’ll create one for you.

Several national organizations offer resources to help people find local organizations looking for volunteers. These include:

  • Idealist, which lists opportunities in your area and lets you search by type. 6
  • VolunteerMatch, which can put you in touch with national organizations looking for volunteers in your community.7
  • HandsOn Network, the volunteer arm of the Points of Light Institute, a large non-profit, can match you to volunteer opportunities in your city.8

Opportunities for volunteering are endless. No matter what your interests are, chances are, you’ll be able to find a related volunteer position. Volunteer work benefits sobriety in a number of ways, including helping you find purpose, meaning, enjoyment and community in a life free from substances.