Service to Others in Sobriety (SOS) Helps Addicts Stay Clean

In Latin America it is called a minga - a community work project. In poor Latin areas, a road or set of stairs might never be built if community members did not join together in labor to make it happen. Mingas create benefit for everyone, including the individuals who feel a positive sense of identity, ownership and community. Now researchers say that former drug users and alcoholics who reach out to help others through 12-step programs find the same kind of positive identity and reinforcement.

The Case Western Reserve study was designed to examine how the “service to others” component of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) affects recovery.  Back in 2004, a similar study by the same lead author, Dr. Pagano, discovered that alcoholics who reached out to help other alcoholics experienced a 40 percent sobriety rate during their first year out of rehab. Those not actively involved in serving others experienced just a 22 percent rate of sobriety during the same time frame.

Again in 2009 Dr. Pagano’s research demonstrated that 94 percent of those in recovery who were engaged in supporting fellow alcoholics through recovery enjoyed nearly 1.5 years of full sobriety. These same folks also demonstrated less depression compared to their fellow recovering alcoholics that were less outwardly engaged. In other words, helping others through recovery makes the individual’s own recovery much more successful and upbeat.

Part of the problem in addiction is a self-focused mentality. People caught in addiction quickly spiral into isolation, selfishness and aggravation with others for not meeting expectations.  Getting involved in helping others breaks that habit and imposes a healthier other-centered mindset. Giving attention to the success of others breeds empathy and breaks the bonds of self-pity.

Just like the minga, being involved in helping another to succeed develops a sense of community. Being a helper builds positive self-identity and gives meaning to life. It is also useful in keeping the person alert to the dangers of relapse. Helping someone else stay sober keeps the helper on his/her toes and reinforces their confidence about how far they themselves have already come.

12-step program members can support others without a lot of difficulty. Calling another member to remind them of the weekly meeting and encouraging them to come is an easy way to invest in another’s success. Helping with the physical set-up for meetings is another simple way to be a giving person. Sharing in meetings, intentionally welcoming new members and being available don’t require a great deal of time or effort, but pay big dividends in terms of self-esteem and positive mental outlook.

Loving others as ourselves is a principle that works not only for recovering alcoholics and drug users, but for people in every situation of life. Rejoining the ranks of humanity and taking on responsibility for the welfare of others is a small step that keeps people moving forward in life rather than living with eyes focused on the rearview mirror. It builds dignity, self-respect and confidence in one’s capacity to meet and overcome challenges - even past addiction.

Posted on July 7th, 2013

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