“Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” —George Eliot
The unconditional love we get from animals, the simple and nonjudgmental acceptance, helps them create a special bond with humans. They are the perfect companions to accompany us through life—and that’s especially true if you are going through recovery or living a life of sobriety. Whether it is a therapy dog, a service animal or a cat that provides emotional support, animals can offer many benefits that will help people who have gone through addiction rehabilitation and want to maintain their sobriety.
What to Know About Support Animals
You’ve probably seen service animals assisting people with physical disabilities, but animals can also offer crucial support to people grappling with mental or emotional issues, which often go hand-in-hand with addiction. There are several ways animals can be incorporated into your life to help you with your sobriety.
First of all, there are garden-variety pets. That can include dogs and cats, as well as rabbits, birds, or small creatures such as hamsters or guinea pigs. There are also therapy animals, most commonly dogs and horses. These animals are often integrated into therapy sessions in order to help participants feel more at ease, and therefore more comfortable sharing and opening up about their issues. Therapy dogs have become more and more common over the years at rehabilitation homes, group meetings, and other therapy locations, as studies have shown they have a calming effect on humans. Equine therapy takes advantage of horses’ innate ability to understand basic human emotions to help people be more receptive to their own feelings in therapy. In most of these cases, interaction with the animals is limited to the therapy sessions.
Other animals maintain closer, more sustained contact with humans compared to therapy animals. Service animals stick close to their owner, and have been specifically trained to meet their needs; assistance animals will also be trained to perform specific jobs that are helpful to their human, such as offering a source of stability for someone unsteady on their feet or fetching needed objects. Just as service animals help people with physical challenges, psychological service dogs help people with mental health needs. Finally, another type of animal that could help you maintain sobriety is an emotional support animal. This can be any type of animal that provides comfort and sustenance to its owner. Emotional support animals are especially valuable in alleviating symptoms associated with issues such as depression and anxiety, which can frequently co-occur with addiction. Emotional support animals do not need special training or paperwork, although they can be registered so you have official documentation of how your animal serves you.
The Benefits Animals Offer During Recovery and Sobriety
Animals enrich our lives, whether you own one or visit with one during therapy. Even if you can’t own an animal because you are allergic or live somewhere that prohibits pets, you can still spend quality time with animals by volunteering with an animal shelter or a dog or cat rescue group. However, you do it, welcoming an animal into your world will give you untold benefits that will help your sobriety:
- – A boost to your mood. “Peanuts” had it right: Happiness is a warm puppy. Numerous studies show that dogs have a positive effect on our brains, similar to what dopamine or oxytocin would produce—kind of like the high you used to get from substances. Cats also can release serotonin in the brain for a pleasing feeling. Basically, whenever you feel down, a dog or cat can lift you up again.
- – A sense of relaxation: How calming does it feel to cuddle up with your cat or bunny on your lap, or pet your dog while you both are curled up on the couch watching TV? Just as animals can make us feel good, they can also help us to relax and de-stress. If you are struggling and worried about relapsing, spending quality time with your animal can help you take a break from the negative thoughts and get some needed clarity.
- – Less isolation Spend any time at a dog park, and you know there are usually friendly dog owners on hand to socialize with. Taking your dog out of the house can help you develop social connections, which in turn can help you feel less lonely. Even spending one-on-one time with an animal that loves you will let you know you are not alone.
- – Daily routine and responsibility: If you are looking to fill the hours you used to spend on your addiction, owning a pet is a great way to do that. Pets require a lot of work: feeding, exercising, grooming, cleaning up after them, taking them to the vet and more. The routines you and your pet establish will help keep you busy and less likely to fall back into old, negative habits. It can also help you develop self-discipline and hone coping strategies as you take on the responsibility of caring for another living being. As you do so, you can gain valuable self-esteem that comes from being a caretaker for your animal and providing it with a healthy life.
- – Physical activity: As you move from recovery into sobriety, it’s important to establish healthy lifestyle habits, and that includes exercise. Walking or running with your dog can give you a great workout, and you know you’re doing something valuable for both you and your pup’s well-being.
- – Building accountability: Accountability is important during sobriety, which you are familiar with if you are part of a support group. You develop a sense of accountability when you have a pet that is completely reliant on you. You are the one in charge of his care, and you don’t want to let down your four-legged or feathered friend.
You don’t just own a pet—you develop a cherished, long-lasting relationship that can feed your soul and bring you great comfort. If you want to learn more about tools such as therapy dogs and service animals that can help you during recovery and sobriety, contact Casa Palmera today. We are ready to help you with a wide variety of addiction rehabilitation treatment programs and services that can give you the foundation for a healthier life.