The role of pets in drug rehab

Have you ever experienced drug rehab? Animals are much more than our furry companions, they can help people in addiction recovery and even save lives. It’s hard not to love animals. In fact, many people experience a calming effect when petting a cat, dog or other furry friend. Studies have shown that pets help reduce anxiety and promote well being and confidence on residential patients suffering from drug induced depression or even those that have an underlying mental issue. You might be surprised to learn that it is common practice these days for drug and alcohol rehab counselors and recovery coaches to incorporate Animal-Assisted Therapy into the recovery programs of their patients. The healing and comfort that animals provide can be invaluable during treatment.

Human beings are a pack animal by nature, which is why co-existing with animals comes so naturally to us. This is the reason there are so many benefits to caring for and spending time with an animal. Evaluated research has recognised that animals have an extremely therapeutic benefit in addiction treatment. Several studies have proven that animal assisted therapy in conjunction with evidence based therapy enhances the recovery of the addicted patients greatly. The idea behind animal-assisted therapy is that it’s not just about taking care of another living creature, but also about entering into a beneficial reciprocal relationship. It’s in this type of relationship where an addict is rewarded for their care of an animals with happiness, a sense of purpose and a general wellbeing.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy is a form of medical care that uses animals to help patients heal, both mentally, emotionally and physically. Sometimes the animal is trained for a specific type of condition, however, in most cases it is simply just the presence of the animal which can relieve anxiety for the patient and give them a sense of security. It is important to discern the difference between animal-assisted therapy and companion animals or service animals within a recovery setting.

Animal-assisted addiction therapy sessions are guided by a licensed therapist in drug and alcohol addiction who is able to handle a particular species that they are using in their program. The most common animals involved in addiction treatment are dogs and horses as these are usually the easiest for clinics and centres to host. These animals are kept by their handlers and only interact with patients for a brief period each day. Companion animals, on the other hand, are animals that are kept by the patient who care for them and use them as a tool for comfort and support. In this instance, there usually is not a therapist involved in the process. These animals are selected because they are good pets, not necessarily therapy animals.

What are the benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy?

For most people, leaving drug and alcohol rehab can be intimidating and scary. One moment you’re in a safe and controlled environment surrounded by people who genuinely understand you; the next, you’re right back in the real world where you have to face temptation and judgment from society. Although many people can appreciate someone trying to get their life back on track, the reality is that not everyone will be compassionate towards you. One of the most amazing qualities about owning your own pet is that they are completely non-judgmental. Regardless of what mistakes you have made in the past, all of this is irrelevant to your pet as they only see you as their companion and savior. They will be by your side the moment you need them and will always give you the benefit of the doubt. The truth is that even if your furry companion did know everything about your past, they wouldn’t care and would still continue to show you unconditional love and loyalty.

For most individuals, the first year of addiction recovery is an unstable and emotional period as it usually takes significant lengths of time for the mind to heal. People in recovery are usually trying to get themselves back into a normal routine and owning a pet can be a big help in doing so. It might be tempting to go back to sleeping all day but if you have a dog that needs to be walked then you’re obligated to set an alarm early and start your day on time. It’s a rewarding way to wake up, and this can give you the chance of aligning the rest of your schedule with your pet so you can reap further benefits as well. For example, if in the past you had a tendency to skip dinner, then getting into the habit of feeding your pet before cooking can allow you to make a simple transition from feeding him to preparing a quick meal for yourself.

Regaining Social skills

But what about regaining some of the social skills that you once had before the addiction took place? Perhaps one of the most common challenges of sobriety is learning how to socialise again. For many people in the early stages of recovery, it’s tough to open up and trust people again. Overcoming those challenges and learning a new way of managing relationships takes time and practice. The simple act of owning and interacting with a pet can also help build those skills. Pets can ease the pressure of interacting with others by acting as an easy icebreaker. For example, going to the dog park and chatting with the owner of the other golden retriever your dog is playing with is low-pressure and easy engagement.

Caring for a living creature is also important as it gives people in recovery a sense of purpose. People in recovery might feel a sense of unfulfillment and may be having trouble getting settled back into work or are unable to make meaningful connections with people. Owning a pet can give recovering addicts a reason to get up in the morning and something to look forward to at the end of the day. Your pet looks to you for his food, water, and shelter; he trusts you implicitly to care for his every need. Your furry companion also serves as an ever-ready exercise buddy which is a healthy way to boost your body’s natural production of endorphins and increase your self-esteem and overall mental well-being.

How to Know if Animal-Assisted Therapy or animal companionship Is the right choice?

Ultimately, whether or not animal-assisted therapy or animal companionship is a good choice comes down to the unique needs of the patient in recovery. If a patient is already an animal person and has experience interacting with pets, the chances are high that he will benefit from it. Of course, it has to be considered that not everyone likes animals, and not everyone might benefit from animal-assisted therapy. If some people find animals distracting and have trouble showing compassion towards them, then it might be best to consider other  therapy options. Obviously, a person who is afraid of dogs would not benefit from having one in their recovery setting. For people who love animals, it’s easy to see why non-human companions have become so popular in therapy. For these people, having this nonjudgmental, accepting companion along the path to recovery can mean the difference between frustration and hope.

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