Pets can be a powerful part of your recovery journey. Scientific journals are full of studies that show the physical and emotional health benefits that animals provide, and there are countless personal accounts of the role animals play in treatment and other difficult times in life.
Pets are not only wonderful, they’re wonderful for us too.
Pets are good for our physical and mental health. Studies show that pets:
- Reduce stress levels
- Strengthen immune systems
- Improve blood pressure and cardiovascular health
- Reduce fatigue and chronic pain levels
- They even diminish depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms.
Besides all the medical reasons, people love their pets. They make us happy and give us joy, and that’s incredibly important as you begin your recovery.
4 Ways Your Pet Helps You as You Recover
Addiction takes over your life. It isolates you from your friends and family, draining your ability to find happiness anywhere except in your substance of choice--and as you build up tolerance, even that goes away too.
In the midst of addiction, it’s easy to feel like you have nothing left. Yet through it all, your pet has been there with you.
1. Pets show us ourselves
Jackson Galaxy, host of the Animal Planet series My Cat from Hell, tells us the story about meeting his cat, Benny:
“She said he was an ‘unbondable’ cat. When she used that word I realized that that’s me.
“...I’m driving him to the hospital to get him patched back up, I looked into the carrier and it was one of those moments when I realized how broken I was by looking at how broken he was.”
He goes on: “He was a really challenging cat, very difficult, but it kept me humble. In a way he was sort of a symbol. He saved me...I know so many addicts who came back because they thought, ‘Who’s going to take care of my dog?’ It’s the only shred of connection to the world that we have left.”
2. Pets love us unconditionally
The unconditional love of an animal is a powerful thing. Whether we’re talking about horses, dogs, cats, or whatever else, animals do not judge. For many addicts, their pets are what keeps them going.
Pets share hope when it’s hard to find any in ourselves. Even at our most isolated, they can keep us from feeling truly alone. They even know when we’re intoxicated or sick, yet they still love us. They give us a secure base--they need us. That holds us to reality.
3. Pets provide real physiological benefits
A study done in 2016 by Washington State University found that teenage boys who played with shelter dogs every week experienced less anger and sadness compared to the boys who didn’t.
Animals raise dopamine and oxytocin levels in your brain that are responsible for your pleasure responses. Addictive substances lower your ability to make those yourself. Dopamine is made when you anticipate pleasure--when you think something good is about to happen. Oxytocin is also known as “the love hormone.” When you are giving and receiving love, your brain is making oxytocin.
Pets also lower your cortisol levels. Cortisol is responsible for stress--the fight or flight response. When cortisol levels are high, you feel agitated or anxious: your pet helps keep that under control.
4. Pets can go on the recovery journey with you
Bringing your pet with you into inpatient treatment means you don’t have to leave everything behind. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to worry about how your pet is doing without you.
But Sparky or Mittens will have a legitimate role in the recovery team, and they bring their own skill set. Your pet will be there to:
- Help you feel less lonely and homesick.
- Rewire your brain: Because they help the brain create dopamine, oxytocin, cortisol, and other neurotransmitters, they are actually playing an active role in helping your brain recover.
- Give you opportunities to connect with other people and bond over animals. Talking about your pet is an easy conversation starter.
- Let you keep some of your routines. Even when you’re not hungry, they know when it’s time to eat.
Incorporating Your Pet into the Team: Part of the Whole Experience
Here at Spring Gardens Recovery, we treat the whole person, and that includes offering Pet Therapy. We strive to make everyone comfortable and welcome, furry friends included. You’ll work hard at healing, but you have a say in the road you take. There’s no reason why you can’t walk your dog (or cat) down that road.
At Spring Gardens, we create an environment full of healing influences:
- Flexible treatment programs where we partner with you to find the right answers.
- Spiritual influences based on your personal beliefs.
- Organic foods (we’re working to get closer to a farm-to-table model in the next year or so).
- Massage, sauna, and lounges that help your body heal.
- And more…
We want to work with you to ensure success in this first part of your recovery. If your pet helps you do that, then your pet belongs here with you.
Interested? Read more:
Magdalena Horn is a writer and equestrian. She has worked with horses for several years and has assisted with equine therapy for children with developmental challenges and executive functioning issues.