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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Lending a hand in the new year can keep addictive relapse at bay

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 2nd 2009

hand in handAccording to the Alcohol and Health Research world, nearly 14 million Americans are affected by alcohol dependence and abuse and millions more are detrimentally affected by illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, stimulants, club drugs, hallucinogens, or non-pharmaceutical inhalants). Alcohol dependence and abuse alone costs America an average of $220 billion a year which is more than cancer and obesity.

Every day those who suffer from addictions search out recovery groups (e.g., Alcoholics anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous,  Lifering), go to rehab centers, or scramble for their own way to get through their triggers, urges, and cravings. During the process of trying to become sober some estimate the relapse rate to be a staggering 40-60% and other say up to 90%.

Dr. Maria Pagano, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University Medical School, wondered what effect helping behaviors or altruism has on relapse rates in those suffering with alcohol addiction. After all, the 12th step in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is to become a sponsor for another, in other words, intentionally and voluntarily giving time and experience to another.

In her study to find out the effects helping behaviors had on relapse rates,  she followed two groups of people; those who were engaged in helping behaviors and those who were not.

There were 5 elements to the altruistic behavior. The act must:

  • Benefit another person
  • Be voluntary
  • Be intentional
  • Have the primary goal of being a benefit to another
  • Give without expectation of reward

After following these participants for a year, the study found that those who elicited these helping behaviors showed only a 20% relapse rate compared with a 40% relapse rate of those who did not. This suggests that engaging in helping behaviors supported the individuals in cutting their relapse potential in half.

Whether you struggle with an addictive behavior, know someone who does, or just find this interesting ask yourself this question: In this coming year, what can I do in my daily life to integrate some more altruistic acts? It can be something as brief as a smile or saying thank you or volunteering at a place in need to benefit others. Keep those 5 elements in mind and begin to make a list below in the comment section now. Your ideas will help spur thoughts in others that could lead to a lot more altruism and recovery in our world.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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