Giving Back: Why Giving is a Great Way to Receive

Giving Back: Why Giving is a Great Way to Receive

Understanding the value of giving back and the important role service work plays in long-term sobriety can help you stay sober and rebuild your life

Developed and promoted as a safer, less stigmatized alternative to methadone, in recent years, hopes for buprenorphine as treatment for opiate addiction have been tempered. The reality is messy, as buprenorphine has become both medication and dope, according to an article printed in the New York Times[1]. Intended as a long-term treatment for people addicted to opioids — heroin as well as painkillers — buprenorphine, like methadone, is an opioid itself that can produce euphoria and cause dependency.

Overcoming buprenorphine addiction is possible with professional help. But getting sober is just the first step. To rebuild your life and learn to thrive without a chemical crutch, you need to learn to use new tools. Giving back and getting involved in community service work is one. To learn more, read on.

Serving Strengthens: Scientific Proof

Maria Pagano, an addiction researcher at Case Western University[2], thinks service to others might be the key to staying sober. In recent years, a growing body of research has found that helping others brings measurable physical and psychological benefits to the helper. Pagano’s research, which is cited by the United States Library of Medicine[3] explores the particular 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 — can significantly improve their chances of staying sober and avoiding relapse.

Help others, help yourself

For years, people have found that helping others can have a profound impact on health and happiness. According to a 2010 survey on volunteering, 68 percent of the 4,582 American adults surveyed said that volunteering made them feel physically healthier, 73 percent said it lowered their stress levels, 77 percent said it improved their emotional health, and almost all respondents said it made them happier.

Other research supports these claims. In one 1999 study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, patients suffering from multiple sclerosis were trained to provide compassionate support to other sufferers through monthly phone calls. The patients who offered this kind of support showed improvements in self-confidence and self-esteem, and had lower levels of pain and depression. The authors of the study conclude that helping others provided the MS sufferers with a sense of meaning and a stronger social identity, which made handling their own disease easier.

Benefits like these are familiar to Stephen Post, the director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University and the author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping. Post says altruism can provide helpers with a sense of gratification, agency and a feeling of inner warmth (known as the “helper’s high”), possibly because the brain releases more of the chemical dopamine. He points to research showing that when chronic pain patients serve as peer volunteers for others suffering from chronic pain, they experience lower levels of pain intensity, disability and depression.

“When you are involved in helping others, it blocks off destructive emotions and impulses,” says Post. “You can’t be ruminating or feel hostile and bitter if you’re feeling moved by helping someone else.”

Serving Equals Community Connection

Individuals overcoming addiction to buprenorphine often feel defeated. Helping others through volunteer work is one way to put the pep back in your step and realize how much you have to offer, no matter how newly sober you are. Serving members of the recovery community helps you regain a sense of personal pride. Something as simple as giving rides to members who lack transportation to meetings or offering to help clean up after the group ends can rebuild your faith in yourself.

Beyond a “feel good” benefit, volunteer work can actually pay off as relapse protection. Research shows an undeniable connection between positive community support and sobriety. For instance, data analyzed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)[4] found that individuals who reported feeling a high degree of support and acceptance by friends and family members were less likely to relapse. When they did slip back, they did so after putting together more sober days and bounced back into sobriety faster. In contrast, among people who relapse after detox and lack social support, negative peer pressure is a primary trigger. At least 24% of adults and 66% of adolescents identify it as the factor precipitating a return to drugs and alcohol, says U.S. National Library of Medicine research.

Stories: A Simple Way to Serve

Telling your personal addiction story provides myriad benefits. It’s a powerful way to raise awareness about the devastating effects of buprenorphine abuse — something about which many people are ignorant. People who hear your story may be less inclined to try buprenorphine. Sharing your story also breaks the isolation often caused by addiction, as talking about your struggles shows you, and others, that you are not alone. For people who doubt that recovery is possible, hearing about how someone overcame addiction to buprenorphine can motivate others to make positive changes in their lives.

Help for Buprenorphine Abuse

If you or someone you love struggles with buprenorphine abuse, you are not alone. Admissions coordinators at our tool free 24-hour hotline can guide you to wellness. You never have to go back to a life of addiction. Please call and start your recovery today.


[1] Addiction Treatment With a Dark Side – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[2] Addiction Psychiatry. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[3] Addiction and “Generation Me:” Narcissistic and Prosocial Behaviors of Adolescents with Substance Dependency Disorder in Comparison to Normative Adolescents. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[4] Addiction Treatment With a Dark Side – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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