Anyone who has ever had a pet, whether it be a dog, cat, horse, etc., can be the first to tell others that their animal is a part of their family. When someone is struggling with addiction and is in recovery, they often can feel alone and as if they are lacking the basic support to be successful in recovery. This is what makes an animal the perfect companion for someone in addiction recovery .
They provide unconditional love and support to their owner. Getting a pet, specifically an emotional support animal or service animal, can do so much more for someone than just provide support during a hard time. These animals help in providing daily routines and forming healthy relationships, which are essential functions in the everyday life of most individuals. Substance abuse recovery is hard, but without the help of someone else, it can be even harder.
Five Benefits of Owning A Pet
As already discussed, pets can provide unconditional love and support, but they also give so much more. Imagine being at the lowest point in your life and connecting with someone or something that only wants your love and attention at all times. This is exactly what a person who is struggling with addiction needs because it provides structure that is needed to care for oneself and someone else. The following includes five benefits of owning a pet when struggling with substance abuse.
1. They Help You Learn About Yourself
All animals display their emotions with complete and total honesty. They will not shy away from showing their owner when they are scared, happy, angry, or relaxed. The main benefit from this is that when struggling with addiction, an individual uses drugs and alcohol to numb the emotions and pain he or she might be having. The emotional honesty that animals give forces people to relearn how to express and use theirs. Animals will also reflect the emotions their owners show, which can help those in recovery realize what their emotional state is like.
2. Pets Help Relieve Stress
This is a major benefit for anyone, but especially someone in recovery for substance abuse. Stress is the main cause of relapse and finding a healthy way to cope with stress is the best way to avoid relapsing. Pets can reduce oxytocin levels which can help one feel calmer, relaxed, and less stressed. According to different research, playing with and stroking an animal’s fur has been proven to reduce stress and even lower blood pressure levels.
3. More Exercise
Exercise is an important aspect of addiction recovery and studies show that those who own an animal exercise more often than those that do not own one. Owning an animal, such as a dog, requires a lot of time, energy, and dogs themselves need lots of exercise every day. This can be motivation for someone struggling with addiction to begin exercising because they have to take their own pet out to play and out for walks. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins otherwise known as the “happy chemical” which leave us less vulnerable to relapse.
4. Pets Create Happiness and End Loneliness
Having an animal can make us feel the same way we would if we were to see a baby smile or do something cute. Our pets will often time make us smile and laugh because of their cute nature when doing things. In fact, the small, simple act of just smiling will help us feel better and boost our moods because of the chemicals our brain releases when we do so. The playful and cuddly attitude of pets almost eliminate all feelings of loneliness because they will always need their owners.
5. Pets Give Us Responsibility
Just like having a child, owning a pet is a major responsibility because we are taking care of someone else’s life. They add a financial and emotional responsibility to our lives and that is why it is important to make sure we can handle it before adopting, especially if struggling with addiction. When caring for another life, looking past our own needs and wants is important for the survival of our pet. Since a pet relies on its owner, the choices the owner makes is what determines the pet’s livelihood. This means that the better choices made as an owner the more the pet will depend on and trust us, making us feel responsible and trustworthy. This will help us become better people and help us overcome substance abuse addiction.
How Can Service Animals Help with Addiction
While there are a few different types of service animals, choosing the right one for you can tremendously help with your addiction battle because of the different things they provide. While most service animals are typically dogs, different animals can also be registered to help people cope with things. While most service animals are chosen based off of a certain disability one may have, an individual can also have an emotional support animal . While they both provide support, one is specifically trained to help in certain situations while the other is used more for loneliness and emotional dependency. For example, some service animals, such as dogs, can be trained to:
- Help with diabetes and detect when the owner might need help.
- Answer the door for the owner.
- Helps their owner move around and get from place to place.
- Helps balance their owner.
- Carry medicine and other items for its owner.
- Bring a phone to its owner to dial 911.
- Bark at a speakerphone to signal an emergency.
- Can interrupt and help its owner during a seizure.
- Alert others when its owner is in distress.
- Alert its owner in case of a fire or emergency.
This list is small compared to the things animals can be trained to do in today’s world. When someone is struggling with substance abuse, having service animals, emotional support animal, or going to animal-assisted therapy has been proven to keep people from relapsing. According to a scientific study, bringing different therapy dogs into a rehab facility helping doctors learn more about the interaction between animals and people struggling with addiction.
For example, if the animal that was brought in was not friendly enough right from the start, the patients tended to shy away and not want anything to do with it. This showed doctors how patients would typically react when put into different relationships. Not only will animals help people struggling with substance abuse from alcohol, but it will also help people struggling with substance abuse from all different drugs.
A study found that people who became addicted to different painkillers due to chronic pain can benefit tremendously from working with pets. A study found that in under twelve minutes, studies showed evidence that visits from service dogs reduced fatigue, self-reported pain, and emotional stress. It has also been shown that therapy dogs also help to:
- Decrease heart rate
- Decrease blood pressure
- Decrease breathing rate
- Reduce the hormone cortisol that is related to stress.
- Boost endorphins
- Benefit the immune system
While there have already been great reasons discussed as to why someone should get a pet, choosing to get a service animal of some kind can be extremely beneficial to the everyday life of someone in addiction recovery.
When going through something as hard on the mind and body as substance abuse recovery, the mental and emotional state is at all time lows. In fact, some people even consider and attempt suicide, or they relapse and end up overdosing. Having an animal trained to help you in situations of distress like a relapse, overdosing, or suicide could potentially save the life of the person struggling.
The bond that is built between an owner and their pet is indescribable and irreplaceable. Most pets are adopted and chosen during a time that the owner needs love and support more than ever. When struggling to maintain sobriety, a pet is there to be cried on, yelled at, and is even there to celebrate each milestone and victory in the long journey of sobriety.
Just as humans, pets do not live forever, but more than likely the owner will be there for most of, if not all of their pet’s life. This means that pets are for life and are not disposable. It is important to understand that owning an animal is a huge responsibility that is dealt with every day just like addiction.
While most people greatly benefit from having an animal when struggling with addiction, it needs to be understood that it is another life. Just like caring for a child, animals cannot do everything on their own and need help from their owners to maintain a healthy life.
Almost as if it is being balanced out, the owner will depend on the animal just as much as the animal will depend on its owner. Choosing a pet to help with addiction recovery could be the life changing breakthrough that is needed to keep from relapsing and staying on a straight an narrow road to sobriety.