The Helper Therapy Principle in action

The Helper Therapy Principle in action

January 24th, 2013


Researchers at Helping Others Live Sober, a federally-funded non-profit dedicated to helping addicts stay sober, have found that the proverbial Golden Rule applies just as well to addiction recovery as it does to any other facet of our lives. They have conducted several longitudinal studies observing the effects of the Helper Therapy Principle as it is practiced in the 12 steps programs of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

The Helper Therapy Principle states that in providing aid to others with a shared malady, the helper gains both mental and physical health benefits. This principle has been incidentally implemented into the 12th of the 12 steps of AA which asks the alcoholic to “carry this message to [other] alcoholics.” It has even been worked into the stated purpose of AA: “Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety”. Of course, many aspects of AA intuitively incorporate selflessness and altruism as tools towards sobriety. The research carried out by Helping Others Live Sober attempted to provide empirical data showing that the altruistic elements of AA tangibly affected rates of continued sobriety.

The data showed that “40% of those who helped other alcoholics avoided taking a drink in the 12 months following a 3-month chemical dependency treatment period”. This is nearly twice the rate of success of those measured over the same period (22%) who did not participate in helping other alcoholics. In a subsequent study, it was shown that “94% of alcoholics who began to help other alcoholics at any point during the 15-month study period continued their helping behaviors.” These subjects also showed drastically diminished levels of depression immediately after participating in activities that helped other alcoholics.

The data clearly substantiates the effectiveness of helping others as a means towards helping yourself. Additional research is being done on how certain activities influence sustained sobriety more effectively than others. For now just know that the adage of Do Unto Others is alive and well.