Get Help Now 760-492-6385

Many people consider pets family members and form deep bonds with them. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.” In addition, “Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.” West Coast Recovery Centers encourages clients to spend time with pets in addiction recovery.

The Value of Owning Pets in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery is a process, and people respond more positively when they have companions to emotionally support them during the journey. Pets provide a nonjudgmental source of emotional support. According to BMC Psychiatry, in multiple research studies related to mental health, “[p]ets were able to provide unique emotional support as a result of their ability to respond to their owners in an intuitive way, especially in times of crisis and periods of active symptoms.” People in recovery may feel isolated from others due to their condition. Pets improve confidence and reduce feelings of social isolation. 

People often spend time with their pets as a form of self-care. A few of the ways pets help people heal from substance abuse include: 

  • Increasing self-awareness and mindfulness in everyday activities
  • Improving self-accountability
  • Reducing overall stress 
  • Making it easier to set small, realistic goals to accomplish each day (e.g., walking a dog, feeding or grooming a pet, etc.) 
  • Improving general health by increasing physical activity 

Pets also motivate people to make essential lifestyle changes necessary for long-term sobriety. West Coast Recovery Centers provides clients with resources to ensure they know how best to support their recovery while caring for a pet.

Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Pets

Pets provide people with structure, balance, and accountability. For example, pets must be fed, watered, walked, played with, and cared for each day to ensure they remain healthy and happy. The responsibility can help some people feel motivated to stay sober and look after their own well-being. A person may not feel the need to get healthy for themselves, but they may choose to start exercising and eating right to ensure their pet has a more nurturing home environment. 

Some of the physical and emotional benefits of owning a pet include: 

  • Reduced blood pressure 
  • Lowered stress levels 
  • Decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety 
  • Improved emotional control 
  • Decreased mood swings 

Pets often stabilize people recovering from mental and physical health issues. In addition, physically interacting with pets can increase certain hormones. According to Frontiers in Psychology, the “interaction between humans and dogs, which include pleasant non-noxious sensory stimulation, can induce oxytocin release in both humans and dogs and generate effects such as decreased cortisol levels and blood pressure.” Oxytocin increases a person’s pain threshold, promotes trust, and reduces social anxiety. 

How Do People Balance Personal Responsibilities and Caring for Pets in Addiction Recovery?

Caring for a pet involves many daily tasks. Some pets may need more hands-on care, while others may only need to be fed or monitored once a day. Fish, reptiles, and birds are often easier to care for day-to-day than dogs or cats. Bigger animals frequently take more time and money to care for. People must be mindful of the advantages and disadvantages of various animals to ensure they choose a pet within their physical, emotional, and financial limits. 

Individuals in recovery have a lot of responsibilities to balance, including: 

  • Making necessary lifestyle changes 
  • Improving overall health 
  • Repairing damaged relationships 
  • Building positive social connections 
  • Practicing self-care and coping techniques 
  • Returning to work or school 

Pets add one more responsibility to the list. For some people, pets are a distraction from the more mundane or distressing aspects of daily life. Pet care is often seen as something people enjoy rather than a chore. Interaction with pets reduces loneliness and increases self-awareness by making people think about caring for something else. Pets take time, money, and energy while providing nonjudgmental love and acceptance. The trade-off is often worth it for individuals in recovery.

When Should People Avoid Emotional Support Pets in Addiction Recovery

Some people believe service animals or emotional support animals (ESAs) can “cure” anxiety, depression, and other symptoms related to SUD. However, pets don’t cause symptoms to magically disappear. Instead, they provide a grounding presence and healthy distraction, making symptoms easier to manage. In addition, hormonal changes caused by positive pet interactions may reduce the severity of some symptoms. Despite their multiple health benefits, not everyone benefits from owning pets.

Individuals with severe physical or mental disabilities may struggle to care for a pet and experience increased anxiety. Before getting a pet, people must also consider the financial and emotional burden of that specific animal. Many people compare caring for pets with raising small children. Individuals who struggle to function day-to-day may not benefit from owning a pet until they establish a healthier lifestyle. West Coast Recovery Centers help clients determine if pets will aid their recovery. 

Pets provide people with structure, accountability, and nonjudgmental emotional support. Individuals who want to use pets as a form of emotional support must keep in mind the responsibilities they are taking on by making that choice. People with pets must provide for them physically and emotionally, which may be difficult for some individuals in early recovery. West Coast Recovery Centers supports clients who want to incorporate their pets into their self-care routines. Often, individuals in recovery report multiple health benefits from spending quality time with pets. Animals reduce stress and help people manage symptoms related to substance use disorder. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at (760) 492-6509.