“Service keeps you sober.”
As soon as we walk into the rooms, we will begin hearing hackneyed slogans such as ‘stick with the winners’, ‘easy does it’, and ‘service keeps you sober’. The reason why these catchy and well-worn phrases have been passed down through generations of recovery is simply because there is ample truth to them. They work. They are exceedingly valuable in their simplicity, and ‘keeping it simple’ is one of the best ways to stay sober ‘one day at a time’. Today, let us take a closer look at service work, and how engaging in selfless acts of altruism can contribute to the quality of overall sobriety.
There are few things more personally rewarding than helping out a fellow man in need. Over the course of the past several years, a growing body of research has discovered that there is ample scientific evidence behind the psychological and physical benefits of service work. Maria Pagano, an addiction researcher at Case Western University, has devoted ample time to researching the importance of social support, spirituality, and service work in the lives of recovering addicts and alcoholics. She has since discovered that there are many benefits to regularly engaging in small acts of altruism, especially for those battling substance abuse disorders. Even seemingly slight altruistic gestures, such as calling up an acquaintance to remind them of a meeting or picking up cigarette butts outside of a church, can significantly improve chances of maintaining long-term sobriety.
The Importance of Service Work
The majority of addicts and alcoholics who undergo intensive inpatient treatment will relapse within the first 90 days of being discharged. Over the course of the past several years, drug-related deaths have more than doubled amongst certain demographics (such as young, middle-class white males). In light of the recent increase of fatalities and relapses following treatment, addiction specialists have been frantically searching for more effective treatment strategies. According to the research done by Maria Pagano and other experts in the field, increased service work might just be the answer we have been searching for. Pagano reviewed a study conducted by the University of Connecticut, which involved 1,726 participants and explored the role that service work played in maintained sobriety. She took a closer look at those participants who had finished all 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and immediately began helping others. She found that 40 percent of men and women who began sponsoring stayed sober, while only 22 percent of men and women who did not begin sponsoring stayed sober.
Pagano received funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and conducted a study of her own regarding the effects of service work on long-term recovery. She closely monitored 200 adolescent drug addicts and alcoholics, all undergoing treatment for substance abuse disorders in Northern Ohio. She found that those who engaged in regular service work had lower cravings, reduced feelings of self-pity and entitlement, and better overall performance in areas such as academics and relational functioning. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous have long-since understood the profound benefits of helping others – but not until recently was this mentality and belief backed by ample scientific evidence.
Service at Next Chapter
We at Next Chapter understand the immense benefits of service and altruism, and we require all of our patients to participate in regular acts of selflessness. Our patients volunteer at a rescue shelter several times per month, and partake in weekly beach and park clean-ups. We encourage all of our patients to work alongside a sponsor, and begin sponsoring men themselves as soon as they are able. We have found that active and regular participation in acts of altruism and service not only work to facilitate long-term, fulfilled recovery, but that such acts help our patients overcome emotional hurdles such as depression and social anxiety as well. The time-worn AA slogan ‘service keeps you sober’ does, in fact, bear a great amount of truth – and service has proven to have many additional benefits as well! To learn more about the role of service and volunteer work in the Next Chapter program of addiction recovery, please feel free to contact us today.