young man picking up litter with group

In the earliest stages of recovery, it’s best to focus solely on self-care.

However, once you’ve gone through withdrawal and built a foundation for sobriety, it’s time to start thinking about how you can give back to others.

Benefits of Giving Back in Recovery

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “For it is in giving that we receive.” This sentiment is true under any circumstance, but especially appropriate for people in recovery from a substance use disorder. Giving to others offers benefits such as:

  • Boosting feelings of empowerment
  • Providing hope for the future
  • Preventing the victim mentality that keeps people in recovery from reaching their full potential
  • Enhancing feelings of gratitude
  • Building a sense of empathy towards those who are less fortunate
  • Staying busy to reduce the risk of relapse due to boredom
  • Making social connections with people who can help expand your sober support network

How to Start Giving Back

Giving back can take many forms, depending upon your personal circumstances. Possibilities include:

  • Making an effort to be kind and positive to the people around you
  • Donating money or tangible goods
  • Performing services and donating your time to those in need
  • Sharing your recovery story to inspire others to seek treatment or to help fight addiction stigma

Engage in Random Acts of Kindness

Random acts of kindness are small acts of goodwill given without the expectation of something in return. If you’re just starting to focus your attention on helping others, this approach is an accessible way to begin making a difference.

Some potential random acts of kindness include:

  • Challenge yourself to compliment at least five people per day
  • Pay for a stranger’s coffee
  • Help an elderly person with yard work or other household chores that may be physically difficult
  • Leave a generous tip for your waiter or waitress
  • Bake cookies for your coworkers
  • Give away your unwanted or unneeded items to someone who can make use of them
  • Make a kit of essentials such as snacks, clean socks, and personal hygiene items to keep in your car for the next homeless person you see
  • Write a heartfelt letter of appreciation to someone who helped you in your recovery journey

The Random Acts of Kindness nonprofit organization has a website full of suggestions for how you can help others.


Volunteering is a wonderful way to make a difference. Community charities and nonprofit organizations of all types rely on dedicated volunteers to fulfill their missions. You can help the homeless, support victims of domestic violence, care for abandoned animals, provide companionship for the elderly, or maintain a community garden that donates fresh produce to low-income families. In most cases, volunteers do not need any special experience or training. All that’s necessary is a desire to help.

Faith-based groups often have a number of volunteer opportunities available, so it’s a good idea to check your place of worship to seek what community service projects are of interest. You may find yourself building houses for Habitat for Humanity, collecting canned goods for a local food bank, or singing for elderly nursing home residents.

If you’re currently job hunting or thinking about changing careers, volunteering can help you boost your professional network. Offering professional skills such as bookkeeping or web design to a charity or community-based nonprofit gives you a chance to make connections who may be able to serve as references for new employment. Serving as an assistant in a business you’re interested in learning more about may also be an option.

Although volunteering face-to-face is ideal, there are a number of virtual positions available for people who have transportation barriers or scheduling issues that limit their ability to commit to more traditional opportunities. The Virtual Volunteer and Volunteer Match websites both have searchable databases of volunteer opportunities that can done from home.

Be a Sponsor

If you’ve been sober for a minimum of one year and value the contributions your 12-Step sponsor made to your recovery, becoming a sponsor can be an excellent way to give back. There’s no formal job description of a sponsor, but a sponsor is typically someone who:

  • Is a positive role model for how recovery can change a person’s life
  • Uses their personal experience and knowledge to help a newcomer get and stay sober
  • Explains what the 12-Step program involves and why it’s important to stay committed to working the steps
  • Guides the newcomer through the 12-Steps as they relate to challenges within the early stages of recovery

AA and other 12-Step groups generally recommend that sponsors only work with people of the gender they are not sexually attracted to. The nature of the sponsor relationship involves sharing a great deal of personal information, which is why it’s not wise to introduce the possibility of an intimate relationship into the equation.

Making the Most of Your Recovery Journey

Recovery is an ongoing process, with each day bringing new challenges and opportunities. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we are committed to helping you embrace the full potential of a sober, wellness-focused lifestyle.

To learn more about SJI inpatient alcohol treatment in Pennsylvania, and our programs, please contact us at (888) 352-3297.