8 Amazing Ways You Can Help Others in Addiction Recovery
Being in addiction recovery is an ongoing process of transformation that is not just about changing yourself, but also about helping other people in recovery transform their own lives. Alcoholics Anonymous and other peer support groups that follow the 12 steps have a history of helping people help one another in addiction recovery. In fact, doing so is actually in writing as step number 12. Giving back to other recovering addicts will not only make you feel good, numerous studies have shown that it actually improves your own recovery outcomes. Two of these studies found that alcoholics who helped other alcoholics were almost twice as likely to stay sober in their first 12 months out of addiction treatment than those who did not help others, and furthermore, 94% of the alcoholics who did help others experienced less depression at the same time.
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The History of Helping Others in Recovery
Step 12 in Alcoholics Anonymous (and in adapted form in Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and so on) is, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
After working through steps one through 11, a person following the 12 steps path to addiction recovery has built a strong foundation of sobriety, and has acquired a big toolbox full of coping techniques and experience. Giving back to other recovering addicts at this point is a natural next step to take. Not only do you have so much to give, giving in this way allows you to act on all that you have learned, thereby cementing the truth of it in your life.
The Big Book of AA states that the twelfth step is “the kind of giving that asks no rewards,” and yet giving to others without expecting anything in return is nevertheless very rewarding. Being at a place in addiction recovery where you recognize that you are able to help someone else along their path and then acting on that ability allows you to deeply experience how far you’ve come. It also allows you to pay forward all the strength, advice, and experience that you received from other recovering addicts who gave to you without expecting anything in return. Besides, as the Big Book says: “Practically every A.A. member declares that no satisfaction has been deeper and no joy greater than in a Twelfth Step job well done.”
How Can Helping Others Help Me?
Research has shown, over and over, that helping other people with substance use disorder will help your own addiction recovery journey. A 2015 study at Brown University Medical School found that recovering alcoholics who helped other alcoholics had significantly lower rates of relapse in the year after being released from treatment, regardless of how many AA meetings they attended. The study investigators concluded that clinicians in the field of addiction treatment should encourage their patients to give help and support to other recovering alcoholics as a way of maintaining long term sobriety. This benefit holds true no matter what kind of substance use disorder you have, and no matter what substance the person you help is struggling with.
Offering service to other people in recovery provides many benefits:
- Helping can remind you of how much negativity you’ve shed and how much positivity you’ve gained thanks to your addiction recovery.
- It can boost your self-esteem, making you feel better about yourself.
- It can show you that it’s possible to make a difference in the world, which can give you hope for the future.
- Boredom is a frequent stumbling block in addiction recovery, and helping people is a positive way to utilize the extra time and energy you have after giving up drugs and alcohol.
- Self-obsession is a common problem for people with substance use disorders, and focusing on the needs of others can help you take the focus off yourself.
- People with substance use disorder also often struggle with feeling distant from other people, or like the world is against them; developing empathy for other recovering addicts and acting on that empathy can help you stay connected to others in a healthy way while also helping you to be kinder and more understanding towards yourself.
- Most of all, giving back allows you to be an active part of the addiction recovery community, reminding you that you are never alone and there is always someone to turn to in times of need.
8 Amazing Ways You Can Help Others in Addiction Recovery
1. Listen, and I Mean Really Listen
Active listening is a very important skill to learn. Not only is it one of the best ways that you can help others in addiction recovery, learning how to be an active listener can help you overcome intimacy issues and rebuild trust and closeness with the people you care about most. The majority of people with addiction issues used to struggle with real, dynamic listening in their past because they felt at odds with others and because substance use and addiction forces you into a selfish way of being. However, this struggle can be over once you are in addiction recovery. In sobriety, active listening is a skill that you can develop with effort and practice.
To be an active listener, you need to put the person speaking so much at the center of your attention that the rest of the world falls away. Whether you know the person well, or they’re a stranger you’re seeing for the first time in a meeting, you need to let go of the feeling of separateness between you and the speaker to merge with who they are and what they are saying. Try to do this without judging the person speaking, and without planning a witty response or coming up with a great anecdote to share when they stop talking. Listen without any intention other than staying present and soaking up what is being said. Without saying a word, you can give someone enormous strength and profound relief by truly seeing and hearing them in this way. And if you do decide to respond to the speaker, you will be able to do so with the kind of unselfish honesty and compassion that has real impact.
2. Offer Honest Advice
When you speak up in a meeting, or while having coffee with a fellow person in recovery, offer them honest advice from a genuine desire to help. Repeating a quote you often see on Instagram or frequently hear in meetings because doing so is easy or because you don’t have confidence in your own words won’t help them or you, and neither will telling the person what you think they want to hear. Filter these ideas through your own experience and compassion. Addiction recovery begins with being honest with yourself and moves forward with being honest with others. Honesty can be difficult because of the way it often exposes your own vulnerabilities, but being honest, genuine, and helpful can also make a major difference in someone else’s life—and your own.
3. Provide Networking Opportunities
Connecting people in addiction recovery to sober events, or to local 12 steps meetings or other peer support groups and gatherings will allow them to connect with the recovery community and build up a sober support network to keep them happy and healthy. The stronger support network you have, the more you improve your recovery odds, and being a part of someone else’s support network, or connecting them to the people and events they need to create that support network, will strengthen them and you at the same time.
4. Assist with Daily Tasks
Some of the most impactful forms of help you can give someone in early recovery is practical help. At the start of addiction recovery, people are often overwhelmed, and may have difficulty balancing treatment and recovery work with their day to day responsibilities. A kind and thoughtful helping hand at this time can often make the difference between relapse and continued commitment to recovery. Doubling a recipe and bringing half over to someone’s house will provide them with healthy food, much needed rest, and the confirmation that other people see them and care. People in early recovery may also need rides to treatment because they lost their driver’s license or had to sell their car for financial reasons. Any practical way that you can lighten someone’s heavy load will give them the extra strength they need to focus on addiction recovery.
Helping with tasks at a 12 step meeting is a less direct but still important way to give back to other people in recovery. Even if you don’t feel able to make a speech or take charge of an activity at a meeting, you can help make that meeting better by taking on jobs such as getting and setting up refreshments, or unfolding and arranging chairs.
5. Volunteer at an Addiction Recovery Hotline
If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up in a group, or even offering advice face to face, you may find it easier to give support to others over the phone. Volunteering at an addiction recovery hotline gives you the chance to help people move through a crisis situation and either stay on track, or get the professional help they need. At an addiction recovery hotline, you can make a real difference to other people right when they need help the most, and over time, you may just build up the confidence to start offering similar help to people you meet in person.
6. Spread Awareness in Your Community
Awareness is one of the best weapons we have against substance use disorder. Increasing people’s understanding of this disease works to fight addiction in a number of ways. Understanding the mechanisms behind addiction and how easy it can be to develop a substance use disorder can help prevent new addictions. Explaining about available treatment options and the different ways to pay for addiction rehab can help people understand that treatment is possible and practical for anyone who needs it. Last but not least, educating the public about the disease of addiction and how it impacts the brain can help reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorders so that people with addiction can let go of shame and feel more comfortable getting help, and so people without addiction issues can be more supportive of people who do struggle with them.
7. Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Choices
Addiction recovery isn’t just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, or about getting counseling and mental health treatment, it is also about building a healthy lifestyle. Another of the many great ways to help other people in recovery is to help them understand how vital physical health is for mental health. Feeling bad physically drags down your mood and makes you more vulnerable to relapse, while feeling good lifts you up and strengthens your resolve. Furthermore, your brain simply can’t heal from the damage done by chronic substance use if you don’t provide your body with good sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Just try not to lecture people about healthy lifestyle choices in a condescending way. Offering to share a nutritious recipe or go with someone on a walk or to an exercise class is both kinder, and more effective.
8. Lead by Example
Giving advice is great, but showing others that addiction recovery is possible can often be even more powerful. It’s good to be open and share what you are doing to stay strong in your recovery, but simply keeping up the good work will naturally provide others with an example of what is possible when you build a healthy life that supports your overall wellbeing. Being a good example not only shows that you “practice what you preach,” it motivates others by giving them real-life proof of what they can overcome and achieve in their own lives.