Pets can do a world of good for someone in recovery from a substance use disorder.
For animal lovers, after all, just being around a cat, dog, or whatever kind of pet a person may prefer, it’s obvious they make a blah day better.
While a critter may not be a cure for a dependence on drugs or alcohol, they can make a fine complement to the recovery process.
The human-animal bond has long been well established. Dogs alone have served alongside their masters for thousands of years, providing protection or keeping the fox out of the henhouse.
They’ve also long been recruited for a healing assist, primarily to raise the spirits of the sick. Even Dr. Sigmund Freud found animals could help with therapy: Just the presence of his do Jo-Fi calmed many of his patients.
Today pets tend to be more pal than helper, aside from service dogs and emotional support animals, but they do provide some great benefits like increasing happiness and slashing stress. People with mental disorders like anxiety, depression, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can also benefit from interactions with animals.
Our four-legged friends can be a big help for those struggling with a substance use disorder. That is defined as an ongoing condition that continues despite harmful outcomes (like legal troubles, potential job loss or health problems). It also carries the risk of relapse, in part due to the change’s drugs (including alcohol) make on the brain.
Substance use disorders are also categorized as a mental illness.
An estimated 7.7 million adults suffer from co-occurring disorders, or when they have both a mental illness (or more than one) and substance use problem.
To get sober, professional medical help is key so a person can get through detox safely and as comfortably as possible.
Getting clean can be downright painful, with vomiting, shaking, diarrhea, pain, sweats, anxiety, cravings and more acting as roadblocks. It can take anywhere from a couple days to several weeks to get through withdrawal. There is a danger of relapse, too, which can be triggered by physical discomfort or emotional issues.
After the worst of the withdrawal is in the rearview mirror, there’s work to be done to maintain sobriety. Primarily that’s focusing on what’s at the root of the substance use problem.
Managing co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression, that’s where animals can be a big help in avoiding relapse. Some luxury treatment centers even allow people to bring their pets with them to rehab. But whether a person is in the analyst’s chair, at a recovery facility, or managing their sobriety via peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, animals can prove valuable in many ways:
● They reduce stress: Besides providing a happy distraction, the presence of an animal offers many benefits, including lowering blood pressure and elevating levels of our natural feel-good chemical’s serotonin and oxytocin. That also helps cut the cravings for drugs.
● They offer unconditional love: That’s a great way to build confidence, especially when dealing with issues like depression or anxiety.
● They hold the owner accountable by having an animal to care for, it shifts focus away from dwelling only about oneself. The result is better self-control.
All kinds of animals are used in animal-assisted therapies. Dogs are by far the most popular because of their temperaments and they’re easier to train, but cats, birds, hamsters, horses and more can all help a person work through their addiction issues, both while in rehab and long beyond.
Patrick is a writer for Sunshine Behavioral Health. Patrick writes about mental health and addiction recovery to help reduce the stigmas associated with them. When not working you can look for Patrick at your local basketball court.