How Pets can be Therapeutic in Addiction Recovery

“The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).”

Addiction is isolating and for those who suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as PTSD or depression, the feelings of loneliness can be amplified. For the best success in recovery, it is recommended you stay away from old friends who use drugs or alcohol and make lifestyle changes. Pets can be beneficial and therapeutic in addiction recovery.

How dogs benefit recovery

Recovery is a lifelong process. Throughout recovery, we can face many challenges mentally, physically, and emotionally. Fortunately, when we are in recovery from addiction, we can find alternative methods of stimulating receptors in the brain, safely and naturally through emotional support animals, animal-assisted therapy, and service dogs. These animals can also help recovery in other ways, such as establishing daily routines, forming healthy bonds, and providing loyal companionship and support.

Companion animals and mental health

Oxytocin is a receptor in the brain that causes a cascade of physiological changes. It can slow heart rate and breathing, reduce blood pressure, and activate the production of stress hormones, creating a profound sense of calm, comfort, and focus. Companion animals cause oxytocin and other neurotransmitters to be released from our brains.

Interacting with companion animals not only increases blood levels of oxytocin, but it also boosts levels of beta-endorphins, which are natural painkillers associated with “runners high” and dopamine, the “reward” hormone. These neurochemicals are essential to our sense of well-being (Sy Montgomery, Boston Globe, 2015).

Interacting with and petting animals creates a hormonal response in humans that can help fight depression. Petting dogs caused a spike in people’s serotonin, the neurotransmitter that most antidepressants attempt to elevate.

In an article for News Medical Life Sciences, Interacting and petting animals creates a hormonal response in humans that can help fight depression, (2004), Rebecca Johnson, MU professor of nursing and veterinary medicine states, “Our preliminary results indicate that levels of serotonin, a hormone in humans that helps fight depression, rise dramatically after interaction with live animals, specifically dogs. This hormone is critical in the psychological well-being of an individual.”

Pets and self-care

Pets can help us focus on developing healthier habits as we adjust to a new sober lifestyle. They help us stick to a routine and re-learn responsibility. Caring for a pet means we must also care for ourselves. Self-care is an important part of addiction recovery.

Addiction can make us feel ashamed, guilty, and worthless. Companion animals expose us to a completely new perspective on life. As we care for our pets, we are responsible for their basic needs such as food, shelter, grooming, and exercise. This contributes to a feeling of self-worth and importance in the animal’s well-being and survival. The daily routine of caring for a pet will boost confidence and encourage self-care.

Getting help

Addiction and mental health are treatable and there is hope in recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and a mental health condition, get help today. Do not let the stigma prevent you from getting the help you need. Asking for help is the first step to a healthy, meaningful, and fulfilling life.

Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Valiant Living offers “Expanded Recovery” to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Valiant fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463