For many, volunteering with a nonprofit or charity is a way of giving meaning to downtime. Most people who volunteer work fulltime jobs, have children, take care of other family members, or go to school; essentially, they have something already taking up most of their time during the day. However, they want their lives to be meaningful, and they want to give back to the community, so they find an organization they love and spend a few hours a week working for free.

People who are recovering from substance abuse also need ways to create meaning in their lives, and volunteering is a way to begin this process without increasing stress in the person’s life. Because volunteering is not a paid job, volunteers can sign up for a small number of hours and keep scheduling flexibility so they can focus on other aspects of their recovery.

Post Treatment: Volunteering

The Importance of Volunteering

During the time a person is in detox and rehabilitation, they may need to take a leave of absence from their job, or they may not be able to maintain employment. This is especially true for people whose employment suffered before entering a rehabilitation program or for those who need inpatient treatment.

When they graduate from these programs after at least 90 days, according to standards from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people enter the recovery phase. They no longer have the highly structured support of a rehabilitation program, which requires attendance at therapy sessions for a specific number of hours, to continue to change the person’s behavior. People in recovery should attend a support group and consider ongoing one-on-one therapy to maintain the progress they gained in structured rehab. There are also other ways to reinforce sober habits and make new friends, and volunteering with an organization is a satisfying way to maintain abstinence and reinforce behavioral changes.

Here are 10 reasons volunteering is a great idea, for anyone, including those recovering from addiction:

  1. Volunteering reduces stress by focusing attention on issues outside one’s personal life and health.
  2. Working with others for positive change improves mood naturally.
  3. It is a great way to make new friends who will respect and support abstinence.
  4. It improves self-esteem with positive feedback.
  5. Volunteers often discover passions and skills they did not know they had.
  6. Volunteers have a stronger sense of community and worth because they create and strengthen their community.
  7. It is a way to test out a new career path or gather skills in a specific field.
  8. Volunteers have a better understanding of resources available in the community, which can be helpful in times of crisis, like a potential relapse.
  9. Better mental health and less stress mean improved physical health.
  10. Volunteering fosters empathy and self-efficacy.

Why Volunteer during Recovery?

People who struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol alter their brain chemistry, and this may be an attempt at self-medicating a mental illness, like depression or anxiety. Drugs release neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, temporarily alleviating low mood or stress. While drugs and alcohol make these conditions worse in the long run, the immediate effects can become a focus of compulsive behaviors.

When that person works hard to end their addiction and enters the recovery stage after rehabilitation, they still need to deal with their mental health. Therapy is the best way to do this, but volunteering with an organization that is important to that individual can also release neurotransmitters by alleviating stress and making the person feel that they are doing something worthwhile. This is referred to as the happiness effect.

Finding new ways to occupy one’s time also keeps people away from environments, including their home, that might trigger a relapse. Reinforcing sobriety in new, regular routines, including occasional volunteer work, is a way for a person to continue learning better ways of living in a community without drinking or abusing drugs. In fact, the final step in the 12-Step program involves sponsoring a new Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) member, as a way to give back to the community and improve the lives of others.

Finally, for people who may have struggled with school or work because of substance abuse, volunteering is a way to gain new skills that can translate into a great new job. While this is not the only benefit of volunteer work, it may be a motivating reason for many people whose employment has suffered because of their addiction. Just like for students, finding volunteer work in a potential career field is a way to build new skills and meet people who are working in the industry.

Places to Volunteer in Rhode Island and Make a Difference

Those who are recovering from addiction in Rhode Island have many fantastic opportunities to give back to the community in various ways. While each one has a different philosophy and distinct causes that drive them, here are some suggestions of organizations to help in Rhode Island.

  • American Red Cross: The Red Cross has a long history of helping people whose basic needs, like clothing and medicine, are not being met. While entering a location hit by a disaster may not be appropriate for those recovering from substance abuse due to the high-stress situation, there are other opportunities to help, such as food and clothing drives and other fundraising efforts.
  • Salvation Army: This organization famously began as a temperance movement in the 19th century, and it still maintains ties to helping people end addiction. Volunteer opportunities with this organization will help an individual stay in a sober, supportive environment as they give back to the community in all kinds of ways.
  • Habitat for Humanity: People who struggle with substance abuse often also struggle with finances, and they can end up homeless because they are not able to pay their mortgage or rent. A person in recovery who has experienced this struggle may find meaning working with Habitat for Humanity, which helps to create affordable housing for those in need.
  • Rhode Island Dream Center: Food insecurity is another problem plaguing those who struggle with addiction and their families. Helping to feed the homeless or underprivileged can be a fantastic way to give back.
  • Animal Rescue Rhode Island: Animal lovers in recovery may find comfort working with a shelter to rehabilitate and rehome animals in need.
  • John’s Providence Brighton Center for Recovery: People who have gone through detox and rehabilitation may find a great deal of meaning working with those who are experiencing similar hardship. Turning around and working with others who need help overcoming addiction reinforces sober behaviors, and it can feel like a direct way for people to give back.
  • RICares: This is another low-stress option to help others going through the addiction recovery process. It involves light office work or fundraising help.
  • Art Connection Rhode Island: Art lovers, and people who have been helped with art therapy, may find meaning by raising money for charities through art sales. This is also a terrific way to learn skills that could translate into a job later.
  • Rally4Recovery: Helping people find and manage resources for their own recovery is a way to give back. Rally4Recovery’s all-day event needs volunteer support to run its info booths and games for families.