Helping Others Can Be Beneficial to Overcoming Addiction
Much of mental health treatment focuses on the root causes underneath the fruit of poor behaviors. After all, actions don’t originate from thin air. What if part of the root problem is too much self-focus? What if people struggling with addictions were encouraged to focus more attention on the needs of others? What if helping my neighbor ended up being a way to help myself?
A recent longitudinal/observational study conducted through Case Western Reserve University examined that very question. Researchers conducting the study interviewed 195 teens ages 14-18 who had been directed by the court to undergo 12 step treatment for substance abuse in an Ohio residential facility. Of the 195 teens interviewed, 102 were females and 93 were males. Most of the teens (92 percent) were addicted to marijuana and 60 percent of the young people also habitually abused alcohol. The young people were interviewed within days of their admittance to the treatment facility and then again two months later at the time of their discharge.
These adolescents were given the opportunity to be involved in helping others as part of their treatment and then researchers looked to see if there was any difference in outcomes/results between youths who reached out and those who did not. The researchers were careful to use controls which factored out the clinical severity of addiction as well as background characteristics. Assessments of outcomes were determined through urine testing, clinical characteristics, gauging drug or alcohol cravings and psychosocial functioning.
The researchers found that health outcomes were best among those teens who decided to help others during their treatment. In fact, four out of seven criteria showed improvement within that subgroup: narcissistic or self-centered entitlement was lower, two measurable symptoms of craving were reduced, and psychosocial function was healthier. Researchers further determined that teens with a history of religious practice were more likely to reach out to others and therefore were the most likely to experience improved outcomes.
These findings mirrored results from similar adult studies. In both studies, people with religious backgrounds were more willing to participate in service and made advances which reduced their likelihood for experiencing relapse.
Now, concrete research demonstrates that having an outward focus is not only good for our fellow man, it is good for us as well.