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May 14, 2019
Volunteering is time given to a cause or organisation without financial gain, with an aim to social improvement.1 This can include activities related to arts and culture, animal welfare, emergency services, the environment, political issues, welfare or health services, sports and recreation, among others.
Evidence demonstrates that community engagement is a protective factor, that it reduces the likelihood of substance use.2 3 One valuable way of increasing community engagement and reducing the risks of drug and alcohol use is to volunteer.
We know that there are many influences that are likely to prevent or reduce the likelihood of alcohol or other drug use for a person – these are called protective factors.
Protective factors that can reduce the risk of substance use or dependency include social and emotional capability, positive family relationships, parental communication and attitudes towards alcohol and drugs, educational attainment, employment, participation in sports and recreation.2
In addition to benefitting to the community, volunteering has many advantages for volunteers.4 It provides volunteers with opportunities to meet people, establish new friendships, gain work experience and develop professional networks.5 Volunteering can also allow volunteers to learn new skills or knowledge and provides people with a sense of purpose and community connectivity.6
The benefits of volunteering have been shown to act as protective factors for individuals primarily because it increases their community engagement.
Studies show that volunteers are happier and healthier.7 Volunteers are up to 42% more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than non-volunteers.8 According to the United Nations Volunteers Programme, 76% of people who volunteered in the last twelve months believed that they were healthier as a result.9 People with healthier lifestyles and positive mental health are less likely to use substances. 2 10 11 12
Volunteering provides valuable opportunities to gain new skills and knowledge.6 There is considerable evidence that developing new life skills is a protective factor against substance use, as it improves self-confidence, encourages healthier lifestyles and provides people with more positive stress management strategies.13 14
Volunteering can increase the likelihood of employment.15 Employment and socioeconomic status can affect individual health outcomes, including drug and alcohol use. This means access to secure employment and income can reduce the likelihood of drug- and alcohol-related harms. 16 17
There is evidence that volunteering works as a diversionary activity. This means that it provides a positive alternative to substance use. It has been found that individuals involved in diversionary hobbies or activities, such as youth groups and sports clubs, are less likely to engage in substance use, particularly frequent or heavy alcohol consumption.18 19 20 21
In Australia, both state and federal governments fund many community-based projects to divert youth from substance use, as part of the National Binge Drinking Strategy.22 This includes The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Local Drug Action Team program and the Good Sports program.