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Kindness and Substance Abuse Recovery

Kindness and Substance Abuse Recovery

The world needs kindness now more than ever. Being kind improves physical and mental health and positively impacts substance abuse recovery. Read how.

With COVID-19 rates increasing in California and across the nation, restrictions could increase again. We’ve recently discussed the effects of COVID on mental health. To sum up: the country is in a mental health crisis. Those already suffering from addiction and other co-occurring disorders are especially at risk. In short, what the world could use is a little extra kindness right now. Luckily, practicing kindness benefits your mental health, personal growth, and substance abuse recovery.  

Here are some ways that spreading the love benefits you:

Mind-Body Health

Kindness has a demonstrable effect on physical and mental health. For example, studies show that giving back halves your likelihood of experiencing a major illness.

Being kind also increases your lifespan. One study found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die during the studied period. This is after any controlling for contributing factors like level of exercise, income level, race, and current health.

Volunteering increases longevity, regardless of your circumstance, partially because performing acts of kindness releases oxytocin, improving any number of physical health markers.

The notable caveat research offers is that we cannot reap the physical benefit of kindness without prioritizing self-care. We do not benefit from kindness if we help others at the expense of our own mental health and stress levels. (Post, 2005)

Otherwise, the data is clear: being kind to others literally improves your physical health, significantly reduces the incidence of illness, and increases the amount of time you could live.

Physical health, as we all know, is not the full story. However, kindness improves mental health as well. In fact, aiding others is more associated with good mental health than receiving help. Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety and lower rates of substance abuse disorders are found among those who are actively volunteering.

Volunteers can also expect to sleep better and to experience a greater sense of control over chronic conditions such as addiction. (Post, 2014)

Being kind makes you a physically and mentally healthier person with a longer life expectancy.


Any treatment program will tell you that community is essential in maintaining sobriety. Avoiding alcohol or drugs is easier when you spend your time with others who are making the right decisions. A strong support network and community of friends and family to lean on helps in a myriad of ways.

Addiction is a destroyer of relationships. It not only destroys the lives of those who are directly suffering but the lives of families and friends. Being kind and showing the ways you are growing and giving back is one way to repair some of the damage that addiction has done to your community.

Volunteering ensures that you align yourself with like-minded people in the cause of your choice. It is a great way to build a network of kind-hearted, passionate people to replace some of the less supportive connections you may have lost along your journey to recovery.

There is also a high chance that your act of kindness will inspire kindness in others, further benefiting your community. A study on the “pay it forward” phenomena found that the majority of kind act receivers were likely to go on to pay forward the kind act. 40% indicated that they already had by the time researchers followed up.


We’ve already addressed the ways kindness improves your overall health and helps to build and improve a great sober community. In addition to building a great life overall, these are all factors that contribute to successful sobriety in powerful, interconnected ways.  

Being kind has also been found to directly impact your likelihood of continued sobriety. Helping others in any context can help to maintain sobriety, and the effects are increased when you specifically help others who are recovering. A study on the effects of volunteering focused on alcoholism and found that “helping others doubles the likelihood of recovery from alcoholism in a one year period.” (Post, 2014, p. 6)

Volunteerism Vs. Pay It Forward Kindness

If volunteerism feels like too much of a commitment, brief acts of kindness have also been shown to help your longevity, happiness, and physical health. (Pressman & Cross, 2015)

If you have six minutes, check out this Ted Talk on how kindness changed Mark Kelly’s life.

Our favorite quote from Kelly:

I’m actually not doing [acts of kindness] for them, I’m doing it for me. It’s actually the most selfish thing you can do, and it made me feel really good.

We know what you’re thinking: everyone is in a bit of a tight position lately, the economy is just crawling back, and we are told to stay away from everyone. How can we volunteer and be kind to others when the world is shut down?

Try VolunteerMatch, which allows you to filter by location (remote is an option), cause, and much more. Hours are typically flexible and helping these organizations to change the world is free.

If you’re interested in directly benefiting the substance abuse recovery community, please check out The Solace Foundation of Orange County, which helps with naloxone education and distribution.


Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 66-77.

Post, S. G. (2014). It’s Good To Be Good: 2014 Biennial Scientific Report on Health, Happiness, Longevity and Helping Others. 1-53.

Pressman, S. D., & Cross, T. L. (2015). It’s Good to Do Good and Receive Good: The Impact of a ‘Pay It Forward’ Style Kindness Intervention on Giver and Receiver Well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 293-302.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery


August 18, 2021