Helping Others
Stephen Post

The “Helping Others” project is well described at The project Principal Investigator is Maria I. Pagano, Ph.D., Associate professor in the Department of Child Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University. The research team is studying the impact that pro-social helping activities has in the recovery of adolescents with substance abuse problems who have been referred for treatments at New Directions, which provides quality life-transforming treatment to chemically dependent adolescents and their families. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, new Directions is a provider of choice for adolescents, developing innovative approaches and evidence-based assessments.

“Helping Others” emanates from the emphasis on service that has long been a core aspect of recovery in the context of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). Dr. Post has long been interested in the ways in which pro-social giving impacts emotional and physical health, gives meaning and purpose to life, and enhances both coping and post-traumatic growth. This general area of what has come to be known as the “helper therapy principle” is a vital step in recovery. Using data from Project MATCH, one the largest clinical trials in alcohol research, Pagano and colleagues found that alcoholics who helped others during chemical dependency treatment were more likely to be sober in the following twelve months. Specifically, 40% of those who helped other alcoholics avoided taking a drink in the twelve months that followed a three-month chemical dependency treatment period, in comparison to 22% of those not helping. Further, in a second investigation in Project MATCH, Pagano and colleagues demonstrated that 94% of alcoholics who began to help other alcoholics at any point in time during the 15-month study period, continued to help. Thus, helping others tends to be sustained. Further, once engaged in helping, depression levels in alcoholic helpers significantly diminished. In sum, AA-related helping appears to bestow upon the alcoholic helper the gift of sobriety and reduced depression. Helpers were not limited to certain socio-economic classes, or by gender, age, education, marital status, race or religious background. The New Directions project focuses on adolescents, and considers the extent to which the benefits of “helping others” is as significant in youth as in the general population. Renown scientists, theologians, and AA veterans from across the nation have convened to discuss our topic in an integrative manner.

“Helping Others” is a project supported in part by the John Templeton Foundation.