Animal-based support has been used for physical therapy for quite some time, and it is becoming a popular technique for treating a range of mental health symptoms, as well. Emotional support animals (ESA’s) are currently being used to support those suffering under a range of diagnoses, including depression; anxiety; PTSD; and schizophrenia. They have been made available to assist traumatized witnesses in court trials; to assist those with a criminal background in readjusting to society; and to provide reassurance for children who have suffered abuse.
Including these furry companions in addiction recovery is a natural extension of their range of usefulness. The experience of adjusting to a life without the influence substances can be strenuous on the body, mind, and emotions.
Recovery from addiction requires that the body relearn how to function. It requires that thoughts be adjusted toward focusing on more positive behaviors and outcomes. It requires that we learn to manage our emotions in a more productive way. Pets can assist us with each of these dynamics.
Pet Lovers Get More Physical Exercise
Adequate physical exercise is known to produce benefits such as reduced weight; decreased risk for stroke and heart attack; and increased flexibility. The habit of engaging in regular exercise is a popular choice for those seeking to replace the destructive habits of getting drunk or high, and those who have pets are known to engage in more physical exercise than those without. While providing your non-human animal friend with necessary exercise, you will be reaping the benefits, yourself.
If you are looking for a companion animal to assist you the most toward getting up and moving around, dogs are the clear choice. Studies have shown that dog owners are more likely to stay on track with their fitness routines, and are prone to gain the benefits of walking more steps per day. Interacting with a canine companion while exercising can take any drudgery out of the task.
While not as convenient to own, another animal which naturally contributes to an increase in physical exercise is a horse. Riding a horse results in cardiovascular activity; better lower back, core, and thigh strength; and better balance. If owning your own horse is out of the question, there are often local stables which will provide riding lessons and other opportunities for interaction with these majestic animals.
Pet Lovers Experience Better Mood
In addition to exercise with your pet contributing to improved physical health, simply sitting with – or petting – a companion animal releases chemicals in our brains which help us to experience positive emotions. The experience of a better mood is welcome during any type of life transition, and can provide a person in addiction recovery with some added emotional fuel toward sustaining it.
Those who have a bonded pet around them are shown to have reduced levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that is associated with stress. Cortisol is an implicator in sustaining the flight-or-fight response, which can manifest as anxiety, irritation, and anger. Reducing it can result in more feelings of peace and amicability.
Simply petting our animals also releases oxytocin into our bloodstream, which is a feel-good chemical which contributes to our feeling bonded with another entity. This hormone is the same one which is released as a parent is bonding with a new baby, or when we are cuddling up with our significant other.
With our pet interactions resulting in both a reduction in stress, and an increase in bonding hormones, pets are helping us to set the stage for improving our human interactions, as well.
Pet Lovers Have More Opportunities to Socialize
Often times, choosing a life of sobriety and recover can mean leaving the social circle that we had previously been a part of. The process of forming a new, more positive, social network can take some time, and those in addiction recovery can experience a gap in companionship which can result in loneliness.
Here, again, animal companions can come to the rescue. While it is not supported that companion animals, alone, are enough to fulfill a person’s social needs, it has been found that those with pets are more prone to find reasons to socialize.
The type of pet that you choose can open the door to interactions with like-minded individuals. Dog lovers need only to walk their pal down to the local park, and they are likely to encounter others who stop to share in some related conversation. Cat lovers also abound, and taking a glance around the office work space can often reveal a kindred soul through noticing the mugs, bumper stickers, and mouse pads which hail the benefits of cat ownership.
Those with specialty pets can often find a host of supportive groups on the internet, which can sometimes even result in local get-togethers. And, as a starting point, simply examining the different sections at a local pet store can result in striking up an interesting conversation surrounding your pet of choice.
Options for Pet Therapy During Addiction Recovery
Within the realm of addiction treatment, these pets are incorporated into treatment under the heading of Animal Assisted Therapy, or ATT. Some drug treatment programs may already include pet interaction as part of their overall therapy regimen. Other options to directly owning a pet during your process of recovery can include volunteering at a local shelter, or participating in a nonprofit organization which is dedicated to the cause of helping others through animal interaction.
When considering the addition of your own therapy pet to your recovery process, be mindful that the official laws surrounding their inclusion in public spaces are currently evolving. Be prepared with documents from your licensed therapist or physician which validate your pet as an ESA, and be likewise prepared to educate the public in regard to their function.
One should also be wary of agencies which are offering false documentation toward establishing your pet as a companion animal. These crooked agencies charge a hefty fee for what would otherwise be offered, by a therapist, with no additional charges associated.