Many people keep pets because they enjoy animals’ cuteness, fun, and companionship. But did you know that animals can also provide extra support to those recovering from substance use disorder (SUD)? Emotional support animals can help decrease stress and isolation while boosting physical health and emotional comfort. Below are 5five ways animals can help you recover from SUD.
#1. Pets Help You Cope With Stress in Recovery
People who suffer from SUD may have chronic stress symptoms. The correlation between stress and addiction is complex. On the one hand, stress is a well-known risk factor for developing addiction in the first place. On the other hand, people often turn to substances such as drugs and alcohol to self-soothe.
On the other hand, long-term use of substances can change the brain’s neurological pathways associated with emotional regulation. These may lead to compulsive behaviors and maladaptations in stress regulation. Because substance addiction also disrupts family life and relationships, people may experience additional stressors in their daily lives resulting from substance abuse.
During detox and rehab, a person’s stress level may be impacted by withdrawal symptoms. For example, sudden abstinence from alcohol or drugs is associated with physiological stress responses caused by changes in the sympathetic and parasympathetic neurological systems. Therefore, recovering individuals must find ways to manage stress from initial sobriety and relapse prevention.
Emotional support animals are one such avenue for stress relief. For example, when an individual takes care of a pet or has some playtime with the animal, they are provided with a calming experience. This can be a healthy coping mechanism to reduce stress.
#2. Pets Help You Manage Emotions
Emotional support animals can be trained to stay in touch with one’s emotions. Pets can sense humans’ moods and needs in a unique way. As a result, they may initiate bonding with individuals and respond actively when they need support. This is especially helpful for recovering individuals, particularly if they have co-occurring disorders like anxiety or depression.
Some animals are bundles of cuteness, and observing them can be healing. Seeing something cute can bring a natural surge of joy and comfort. Other animals are gifted in reflecting an individual’s emotions to them. For example, equine-assisted therapy sessions may use the instinct of horses to help participants increase emotional awareness. Many pet owners talk to their animal companions, helping them verbalize emotions and externalize thoughts. This is also a form of social interaction that effectively combats isolation.
#3. Keeping Pets Help You Rebuild Health Habits and Self-Care Skills
Walking a dog or riding a horse can get you outside more and encourage regular exercise. Most animals also thrive best when following a regular schedule. This gives people a reason to get out of bed to feed or walk their pet. It also gives them the responsibility of repeatedly providing their pet care throughout the day, which can keep the individual regulated and engaged in their daily lives.
Caring for a pet also reminds individuals that they must care for themselves. For example, people participating in equine-assisted therapy by caring for a horse may be reminded to practice self-care. Pets can be an example that living beings are at their best when they get regular attention and care. Pet owners can observe this and extend care toward themselves to thrive in recovery.
#4. Emotional Support Animals Ease Isolation and Loneliness During Recovery
Addiction treatment and transitioning to a home environment can be lonely and isolating. Health professionals advise individuals not to socialize with old friends who use substances. This may leave them without a proper social group.
Keeping a pet can provide a friendly presence to come home to at the end of the day. Pets are usually joyful when they see their owner and show unconditional love and loyalty when the owner is around. Most importantly, they are not judgmental about a recovering individual’s condition.
Keeping pets may also help one’s social interactions with others. Individuals may get to know other pet owners and spur conversations about their animal companions. Pets can also be a safe conversation starter with family and friends with whom individuals may have strained relationships.
#5. Pets Increase Your Sense of Responsibility and Purpose
Pets have everyday needs that individuals must attend to every day. This gives them extra responsibility apart from taking care of themselves. Emotional support animals provide a structure and daily responsibility. Even when a pet’s owner is not at their best, the pet needs care, which may serve as a distraction and give the owner purpose and motivation to keep going.
The act of caretaking has mental health benefits. Being in service to others, even if it is just a pet, can bring a sense of purpose to one’s life. Unlike caring for a child or family member, caring for a pet requires minimal effort and less emotional stress. Succeeding at caretaking also boosts self-esteem, which is very important for people in recovery.
Emotional support animals offer amazing quasi-therapy benefits to their owners. They help their owners avoid relapse because they recognize that the pet depends on them. This provides responsibility and accountability. Animals also help reduce stress and offer emotional support. Laguna Shores Recovery in Mission Viejo uses emotional support animals to help people through their addiction treatment. At Laguna Shores, our experienced mental health professionals and compassionate staff understand the science behind stress management and recovery. In addition, many of our team have personal experience with the benefits of pets on recovery outcomes.
Additionally, our facility is pet friendly, so we often let clients bring pets to treatment with them. Call us today to discover how we can help you recover and discover self-care strategies for relapse prevention. For more information on our programs, call Laguna Shores Recovery at (954) 329-1118 today.