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Service to Other Recovering Alcoholics Linked with Longer Rates of Sobriety

New research suggests that when people recovering from alcohol addictions roll up their sleeves and get involved in someone else’s similar battle, they may have a higher chance of staying sober and could even thwart off depression.

Published in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, researchers strengthened one of the core beliefs of the global alcoholism group recovery organization Alcohol Anonymous: serving others is a key to long-term recovery. The study, conducted by researchers at the School of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, suggests that the benefits of community service, long promoted by Alcoholics Anonymous chapters, can help not just people suffering from alcoholism to recover, but also people suffering from drug addiction as well.

Service is a type of therapy, says Researcher Maria Pagano, that seems to unite people with addictions and can be referred to as the helper therapy principle, or HTP. At the core of the effectiveness of HTP, say experts, is the ability of service to take the focus off of the self and onto helping someone else — an act that actually promotes the helper’s success as well.

Pagano, in several data reviews, cites the positive outcomes of serving others and uses data from a large-scale alcoholism clinical trial, Project MATCH, which explores how involvement between patients makes an impact on their recovery. Reviewers learned that many more recovering alcoholics who participated in service to others on the road to recovery held on to their sobriety, as compared to those who didn’t include service in the recovery.

In fact, a 2004 study from Pagano and peers says that 40 percent of the alcoholics who got involved in someone else’s recovery, and who completed a 12-week treatment program to address chemical dependency, did not return to drinking within one year. In comparison, less than one-fourth – only 22 percent – of alcoholics who did not get involved in someone else’s journey to sobriety were able to remain sober for the same timeframe.

Five years later, in 2009, reviewers looked again at Project MATCH data and concluded even stronger results for the link between helping someone else and staying sober – as well as a connection to warding off depression. Results from this review showed that nearly all of people in alcohol recovery who got involved in other alcoholics’ sobriety, or 94 percent, remained committed to the service element as a part of their recovery and showed lesser effects from depression.

Other studies of people struggling with alcoholism who also have mental disorders related to obsessive preoccupation with their own physical imperfections showed similar results. Of this group of alcoholics, those who reached out to others had higher sobriety
Researchers hope studies like these that highlight the important role service to others can play in long-term sobriety, as well as mental wellness, may encourage addiction specialists and patients to weave this component of recovery into treatment options.
 

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