Everyone who has owned a pet understands what we get from this wonderful source of comfort. When it comes to substance abuse recovery, there’s no downside in measuring the beneficial effects of animal therapy and pet therapy. Whether it’s a service dog for anxiety or some other animal therapy for alcohol recovery, they provide one of the most immediate feel-good paths to recovery.
That’s why, for many years, service animals (or more appropriately, therapy or emotional support dogs) have been welcomed in hospitals or after the trauma of mass casualty events. But you may be surprised to know that these animals provide much more than comfort during recovery.
Clinical studies have shown that pets have many positive effects on the human body, including decreased heart rates, lower blood pressure and slower breathing rates. Additionally, there is direct link to reduced levels of stress hormones, increased endorphins (often associated with “runner’s high), and strengthened immune systems. While animal therapy doesn’t replace medical intervention or counseling, it’s proof of the power of the mind-body connection in substance abuse recovery. But so much for the medical side, let’s look at the other hidden benefits of animal therapy.
As humans, we have expectations of others and ourselves. When these expectations fall short, as they so often do, we experience stress or even depression. This can be devastating for anyone with mental illness or in substance abuse recovery. Pets demand little, but they show us that we are needed, wanted and loved. They can serve as emotional anchors as we go though recovery. They can be a safety net for relapse.
Part of your program of substance abuse recovery should include stress relief strategies. Exercise is certainly one of those strategies. So is having a service a dog for anxiety… cuddled up beside you, gently stroking his fur. As we noted earlier, there is a direct relationship with this simple activity and the control of power chemicals in the brain that help you counteract stress.
How we interact with therapy dogs or other service animals tells us – and others –who we are and what we need, as we work through alcohol recovery or substance abuse recovery. These animals are a reflection of how we treat them. Unlike humans who may be difficult to read (intentionally or otherwise), pets openly react to fear, joy and contentment. They signal our own behaviors and can help change them.
We have often talked about the need for people in recovery to assess their social situation. That may mean abandoning an old circle of friends that enables addiction rather than stopping it. Pets can be great social companions. They’ll listen to you tirelessly without judgment. A pet can also be a new source of socialization. It’s amazing how many people begin relationships through their pets. Just going for a walk is good for the body and soul – plus you never know whom you might meet along the way.
Pets don’t demand a lot, but they do need the basics: good food, a clean and comfortable spot to sleep and a place to go when nature calls. Like infants, pets rely on you. You’ve got to be there for them – on their schedule, not yours. If you backslide, go on a binge and don’t get back on time for a walk, they suffer. If you’re not ready for this level of commitment, then you could still benefit from interaction with a friend’s or family’s dog, or animal therapy.
At Cornerstone Recovery Center, we help you develop strategies that help you make good choices for life. If you or someone you care about needs help with alcohol recovery or substance abuse recovery, please contact our admissions counselor online or call 888-711-0354 today. All communications with our staff are confidential.