May 14, 2019

Volunteering makes people happier and healthier

Volunteering makes people happier and healthier

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.

What are protective factors?

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

Why is volunteering beneficial?

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

How volunteering works as a protective factor

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.

To find volunteering opportunities in your local community, visit Go Volunteer. For information on volunteering in community alcohol and drug prevention, contact your Local Drug Action Team.

  1. Volunteering Australia. (2015, July 23). The Review of the Definition of Volunteering. Retrieved May 2, 2019
  2. Loxley, W., Toumbourou, J. W., Stockwell, T., Haines, B., Scott, K., Godfrey, C., . . . Williams, J. (2004). The Prevention of Substance Use, Risk and Harm in Australia: a review of the evidence. Canberra: The National Drug Research Centre and the Centre for Adolescent Health.
  3. Communities That Care. (2019). Risk and Protective Factors. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  4. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2017). How’s Life? 2017: Measuring Well-being. Paris: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Publishing.
  5. Volunteering Victoria. (2019). How does volunteering benefit our community? Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  6. The Centre for Volunteering. (2019). Steps to Volunteering: Why Volunteer? Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  7. Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, 31(1), 87-96. doi:10.1037%2Fa0025226
  8. The University of Sydney. (2017, May 3). 7 surprising benefits of volunteering. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  9. Leigh, R., Horton Smith, D., Giesing, C., Leon, M. J., Haski-Leventhal, D., Lough, B. J., . . . Strassburg, S. (2011). 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report: Universal Values for Global Well-being. Geneva: United Nations Volunteers. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  10. Degenhardt, L., Sana, S., Lim, C. C., Aguilar‐Gaxiola, S., Al‐Hamzawi , A., Alonso, J., . . . Caldas‐de‐Almeida, J. M. (2017, December 28). The associations between psychotic experiences and substance use and substance use disorders: findings from the World Health Organization World Mental Health surveys. Addiction, 113, 924-934. doi:10.1111/add.14145
  11. Bond, L., Toumbourou, J. W., Thomas, L., Catalano, R. F., & Patton, G. (2005, June). Individual, Family, School, and Community Risk and Protective Factors for Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents: A Comparison of Risk Profiles for Substance Use and Depressive Symptoms. Prevention Science, 6(2), 73-88.
  12. Shelton, M. (2017). Fundamentals of LGBT substance use disorders: Multiple identities, multiple challenges. New York: Harrington Park Press.
  13. Moshki, M., Hassanzade, T., & Taymoori, P. (2014, May 5). Effect of Life Skills Training on Drug Abuse Preventive Behaviors among University Students. International Journal of Preventative Medicine, 5(5), 577-583. Retrieved May 2, 2019
  14. Sancassiani, F., Pintus, E., Holte, A., Paulus, P., Moro, M. F., Cossu, G., . . . Lindert, J. (2015). Enhancing the emotional and social skills of the youth to promote their wellbeing and positive development: a systematic review of universal school-based randomized controlled trials. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health, 11, 21.
  15. Spera, C., Ghertner, R., Nerino, A., & DiTommaso, A. (2013). Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment: Does Volunteering Increase Odds of Finding a Job for the Out of Work? Washington DC: The Corporation for National and Community Service.
  16. Katikireddi, S. V., Whitley, E., Lewsey, J., Gray, L., & Leyland, A. H. (2017, June 1). Socioeconomic status as an effect modifier of alcohol consumption and harm: analysis of linked cohort data. The Lancet Public Health, 2(6), 267-276. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30078-6
  17. Erskine, S., Maheswaran, R., Pearson, T., & Gleeson, D. (2010, February 25). Socioeconomic deprivation, urban-rural location and alcohol-related mortality in England and Wales. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 99. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-99
  18. Eisman AB, Lee DB, Hsieh HF, Stoddard SA, Zimmerman MA. More than just keeping busy: the protective effects of organized activity participation on violence and substance use among urban youth. Journal of youth and adolescence. 2018 Oct 1;47(10):2231-42.
  19. Wade-Mdivanian R, Anderson-Butcher D, Newman TJ, Ruderman DE, Smock J, Christie S. Exploring the Long-Term Impact of a Positive Youth Development-Based Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention Program. Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education. 2016 Dec 1;60(3):67.
  20. Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2006, July). Is extracurricular participation associated with beneficial outcomes? Concurrent and longitudinal relations. Developmental psychology, 42(4), 698. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.42.4.698
  21. Australian Government Department of Health. (2013, January 22). National Binge Drinking Strategy. Retrieved May 3, 2019.