Everyone, from Yale to jail

image credit: http://www.ed2010.com

Greater Good has a nice piece on the benefits of helping others in addiction recovery:

In recent years, a growing body of research has found that helping others brings measurable physical and psychological benefits to the helper. Building on this work, Pagano is exploring the particular and sometimes surprising benefits of altruism for people battling alcoholism and drug addiction. Her studies have shown that addicts who help others, even in small ways—such as calling other AA members to remind them about meetings or making coffee like Victor did—can significantly improve their chances of staying sober and avoiding relapse, among adults and adolescents alike.

As she learned more about the different treatments for addiction, she was surprised that there seemed to be no one looking at the role of doing service.

“It was all about what services to give these suffering patients,” she says, “and nothing about getting them active or about how their own experiences about getting sober and being sober can be useful to others.”

She decided to explore the impact that helping others could have on people in recovery. She started by looking at data from one of the largest studies of addiction to date, with 1,726 participants. Though the study, run out of the University of Connecticut, was not focused on helping behavior specifically, Pagano was able to measure it by looking at how many study participants became AA sponsors or completed the 12th step of AA, which involves helping others in recovery.

When she compared helpers to non-helpers in AA, she found that 40 percent of helpers avoided taking a drink in the 12 months following the 3-month treatment period, while only 22 percent of non-helpers stayed sober—a doubling effect rarely seen in social science research, she says.

In addition, when Pagano looked at the age, gender, income, work status, addiction severity level, and level of antisocial personality disorder of the participants in the study, she found that none of these characteristics predicted helping behavior.

“Someone from Yale to jail had an equal chance of being a helper,” she says.

I also just learned of an organization called Adversity2Advocacy whose mission is, To inspire, to educate, and to facilitate the process of turning personal challenges into service to others facing similar challenges.

Here’s a radio segment about them that includes some discussion about helping and addiction.

It’s very interesting how we’re discovering all of these lifestyle-based mechanisms of change for other problem areas and that AA has been a vehicle for these mechanisms for decades.