The road to recovery from a substance abuse addiction is often a difficult one. Having loved ones participate in the recovery process is important, but a history of distrust and conflict can make the road more challenging. Bringing a pet into the dynamic can be an effective form of therapy, lessening stress, easing depression, and giving the recovering addict something to focus on other than themselves.
Advantages of Pet Ownership
The advantages of having a pet as a companion have long been documented, even among those who are not recovering from an addiction. Studies indicate that even the simple act of petting a dog or a cat can lower blood pressure, calm nerves, and provide a greater sense of wellbeing.
Additionally, pet owners typically have increased opportunities to exercise, get out in the world, and engage with other people. Walking a dog or playing with a cat is more conductive to an active, healthy lifestyle than watching TV or scrolling through a phone to check social media posts. In addition, pets are great conversation-starters, giving recovering addicts who otherwise might be alone a chance to socialize and connect with other people.
How Pets Help Recovering Addicts
Many recovering addicts have a tough time adjusting to a life without the crutch of alcohol of drug use. They may be experiencing a sense of loss, knowing they can no longer go to bars or parties where they previously abused drugs or alcohol.
Recovering addicts also may be experiencing a loss of human connections — perhaps because they need to stay away from friends who previously enabled their substance abuse or, even more sadly, because their addiction has led to a divorce or the loss of a relationship that was important to them.
Caring for a pet can fill the void left by such departures from their lives, giving the recovering addict a renewed sense of purpose and fulfillment. The mere act of going to the store to buy pet food, chew toys, a leash, a collar, bedding, litter box, or other supplies can signal the start of a new chapter in the person’s life. A dog needs to be walked, a cat needs its litter box changed, even fish need their aquarium cleaned — and all of them need to be fed. These activities can energize an individual who otherwise might be unmotivated to move off the couch and do something for another living being.
Pets also provide the addicted individual with the benefit of unconditional love. Dogs are unaware of your personal history and will greet you at the door with a wagging tail, no matter what. Cats will snuggle on your lap without any sort of agenda. Receiving such displays of affection from an animal can give a boost of self-esteem to an addict at a time when they’re otherwise feeling pretty low.
Recovering addicts who are hoping to reconnect with their families may be more successful with the addition of a pet into the home environment. Most children love dogs or cats, and often pets can be a stabilizing force that signals the willingness of the addicted parent to be more involved in family life. In fact, owning a pet can be a family project in which everyone has a role in caring for the dog or cat, bringing everyone closer together.
Often pet owners develop a strong bond with their animals. Pets bring joy and happiness into people’s lives, which can be especially important for a recovering addict who otherwise may be feeling sad, lonely, or depressed. When they come home at night, their first thought is not going to be about wishing they could have a drink or head out to a party. Instead they’ll be greeted by a pet that needs them — and they, in turn, need their pet as well.
Beachside Rehab understands how making a connection with other living beings can help patients on their path to recovery. Our equine therapy treatment offers patients a horse’s companionship, allowing them to bond emotionally, gain a sense of responsibility, and forge trust. If you’d like to learn more, contact our trained admissions counselors at 866-349-1770 for details.