Volunteer in Drug & Alcohol Recovery Abroad

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A Guide to Volunteering Abroad in Rehabilitation

Addiction is a disease that afflicts people in every corner of the globe. Just last year, over 3 million people died from alcohol addiction and injection drug use was reported from almost 150 different countries, making substance abuse a truly global issue that is in desperate need of a solution. Luckily, for those interested in donating their time and efforts, programs are available for volunteering in drug and alcohol rehabilitation all over the world.

Why Volunteer Abroad in Rehabilitation

Drug and alcohol addiction is simultaneously very similar and very different from many other social issues addressed by volunteers around the world. On one hand, it is an issue often bred by other problems within the society, such as poverty or widespread disease, making the  problem almost impossible to fully correct without some kind of change to the current state of affairs. On the other had, addiction is a disease in itself and volunteers working to assist those afflicted by it are making a huge difference in the lives of the people they are working with. 

Regardless of the social, political, or economic status of the country one is volunteering abroad in, addiction is a barrier to the success of the individual afflicted and their condition will almost certainly never improve without some kind of help. Many times the target population of drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs would never receive the treatment they need due to an inability to afford treatment or the simple fact that treatment programs do not exist where they live.

Volunteering abroad in rehabilitation programs is a way to provide people with the opportunity for a cure they otherwise would likely never receive, making this type of volunteer program crucially important in the lives of those being treated. 


Unfortunately, addiction is not a disease that harms just a single population. Rather, it has the potential to destroy the life of essentially any human being on Earth given the right circumstances. Due to this, the possible destinations for volunteering in drug and alcohol rehabilitation abroad are almost endless. The following countries are some of the hardest hit, but keep in mind that these are just examples. Prospective volunteers are encouraged to research any country they are interested in to find the volunteer programs that suit them best. 

Russia. In just the past 15 years, the amount of alcohol consumed by the average Russian citizen has tripled, leading to a dramatic decline in life expectancy in the nation. With consumption so high, alcohol addiction rates continue to be sky high as well, meaning that Russia is a prime location for volunteering in alcohol rehabilitation. It is possible to find organizations to work with all over the country, but some of the most well-established programs will be found in the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Teaching skills may be a plus for volunteers in Russia, as many programs will include a language component, offering recovering addicts the opportunity to learn a new skill while working to maintain their sobriety.

South Africa. South Africa is a prime example of the wide-reaching impacts of drug and alcohol abuse within a society. While many separate factors are certainly at play, injection drug use is a primary driver of the unprecedented epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the country. Add to this the fact that South Africa also sees one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world and you have a prime destination for drug and alcohol rehabilitation volunteering abroad. Major volunteer programs are available in Cape Town, most of which will emphasize balancing alcohol and drug rehabilitation with managing life with HIV/AIDS.

Cambodia. Cambodia is a nation that sees many of its issues with drugs and alcohol born from poverty, as opposed to widespread disease. Some advances are being made, but poverty rates in Cambodia (especially in the rural regions of the country) remain alarmingly high and often come paired with alcohol and drug abuse as well. Rehabilitation volunteer programs in Cambodia will likely have their headquarters in the capital, Phnom Penh, with the opportunity to actually work in more rural regions. Cambodia may be a great choice for those looking for a more rural experience as a volunteer abroad in rehabilitation.

Volunteer Abroad in Rehabilitation

Drug and alcohol addiction can impact just about anyone, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what their social status may be. This means that volunteer work in drug and alcohol rehabilitation in a general population can expose volunteers to people from all walks of life, and this is certainly the type of experience one can expect in many countries around the world.

However, because drug and alcohol abuse tend to go hand in hand with other issues related to health,as well as socioeconomic status, the opportunity for working with a specific subset of a nation’s population is very common as well. Within these more focused populations, issues that tend to accompany drug and alcohol abuse will likely be targeted simultaneously.

Rehabilitation volunteer programs in areas with high poverty rates will likely include efforts to empower local people and to create sustainable commerce among those being treated. Another major issue linked with substance abuse is HIV/AIDS. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation volunteer programs in Asia and Africa will likely focus heavily on approaches that impact both of these serious issues at the same time, meaning that volunteers will typically get a double dose of experience in combating these different but closely linked issues.

Day-to-day tasks and the required time committment for those that want to volunteer abroad in rehabilitation programs can vary pretty widely. Volunteer placements with smaller-scale organizations will tend to be more lenient with regards to total volunteering time, but with a shorter time frame will likely come less responsibility and simpler tasks as well.

Larger organizations tend to ask volunteers to stay for a minimum of several weeks and a maximum of 12 months, but with the extended time on site will often come more specialized tasks and more in-depth activities in the treatment of patients. Longer term volunteers can expect to work hands-on with patients in counseling or educational roles, providing valuable experience that could be applicable in a future career.

GoAbroad Insider Tips

Direct Impact. Working as a volunteer abroad in rehabilitation programs will allow volunteers to have a direct impact on the lives of seriously ill people in any region of the world they choose. Substance abuse issues plague even the most well-established and advanced societies on earth, so the opportunities for making a difference are plentiful.

Helping Social Systems. Volunteers will gain valuable experience not only in rehabilitation work, but also in related fields, like social work and infectious disease control, and forever altering lives in the process. If drug and alcohol rehabilitation is anywhere on your future career radar, then an international volunteer program in the field is the perfect way to add professional experience to your resume while simultaneously helping people who desperately need it.

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A Guide To
Volunteering Abroad in Rehabilitation


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