(Wo) Man’s Best Friend? How Owning a Pet Can Be Vital to Your Addiction Recovery

Most of us know the familiar, happy wag of a dog’s tail upon seeing his or her owner, or the way a cat slinks around the ankles of someone it loves and trusts. Even if you’ve never owned a pet yourself, it is likely that you know someone who cherishes his or her own–and you recognize that on a whole they can bring light to the lives of humans around them. While owning a pet may not be for everyone, a furry companion like a dog or cat, or even other common pets like fish and birds, could truly make a difference in your life as you navigate the addiction recovery process.

Dogs especially are touted for their therapeutic effects, companionship, and service to the humans that care for them. Already known to be effective with children who have faced premature trauma, mental health patients, and in nursing homes, studies are also finding that the same benefits dogs have on these demographics can be seen when used in substance-abuse centers. Over sixty-four percent of rehabilitation clients who participated in a recent study experienced an increase in happiness after exposure and interaction with three trained rescue dogs.[1. http://www.tdi-dog.org/images/SubstanceAbuseStudy.pdf] Though dogs seem to be the most prevalent pet used in varying therapies and addiction treatment centers, caring for and committing to any animal can provide great benefits to those who are trekking the road to recovery.

They help build responsibility


Taking care of a living thing can sometimes be a lot of work–but that can be a good thing. Struggling with addiction can result in feelings of shame, unworthiness, and distrust in one’s self because of past decisions and experiences. When you make the commitment to care for an animal and keep it healthy, you are making a choice to be disciplined and challenge those very same beliefs about yourself. Pets can be demanding, but when you are able to meet the challenge and receive love in return, it can help you begin to redeem the negative image you have of yourself, and boost your self-esteem.

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Natural stress relievers


It has been proven time and time again that humans thrive with healthy physical contact as a part of their lifestyle. Just as a good hug from a good friend can send a wave of relief and comfort through you, petting a dog or cat, among other animals, can have the same effect.[2. http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/pets-depression] Not only does a little time spent with a fluffy rabbit or even a feathered parrot reduce your heart rate and help regulate breathing, but bonding with an animal can also increase feel-good chemicals in the brain, like serotonin and dopamine. Equine therapy is a unique treatment option at Alta Mira, which gives you the opportunity to both connect with one of nature’s most majestic animals and with your peaceful inner self.

Fun with furry friends


Battling addiction is not fun or easy–but pet interaction and ownership can challenge you to see the jovial, bright side of life as you continue into recovery. A British survey found that over forty percent of struggling pet owners who were polled after spending time with a pet were more “positive” in their outlook on life, and also reported feeling less anxious about their current problems or unfavorable circumstances.[4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1299743/Why-petting-dog-best-form-stress-release.html] Because animals are naturally good-natured, their general positive and loving demeanors can elevate happiness in the same ways that alcohol or drugs once did. If you’re already a dog owner and can’t bear to leave your pal behind in order to begin treatment, it is definitely worth noting that Alta Mira allows residents to bring their canines along for love and support during treatment.

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Unconditional love at its best


Humans are complex, imperfect, and emotionally variant–meaning that as much as we can try to unconditionally love others, sometimes our natural tendencies get in the way. Because pets depend on compassion and care from their human parent/s in order to thrive, they will respond to your affections in an equally touching and compelling way–without judgment or fear.[5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/4-lessons-our-pets-can-teach-us_n_4466050.html] This type of stable, reliable, and heart-warming relationship can be exactly what you might need in order to recognize that you are worthy of such love not only from your pet, but from yourself.

While owning a pet and interacting with animals may not be for everyone, it may simply be that you’ve never had such an opportunity to bond with a furry, feathered, or friendly member of nature. Your family and friend’s support throughout your treatment is essential, but sometimes those relationships can seem less than enough until you become healthier and more stabilized in your recovery–and having a friend who loves you no matter what you’ve done, are doing, or will do can empower you to both make healthy decisions and love yourself in the very same way.

 

Love and compassion is essential to your battle with addiction–and pets can help provide that as you commit to becoming a healthy version of yourself. Alta Mira provides quality treatment at the hands of trained professionals to support you on your road to recovery. If you or someone you know struggles with addiction or substance abuse, please contact us as soon as possible.