How Support Animals Improve Recovery from Substance Use Disorders

Support Animals at Laguna Shores Recovery 

Laguna Shores Recovery is a pet-friendly addiction recovery center in Mission Viejo, California. Not only do our staff bring their dogs to work, but we encourage our clients to bring their own pets as well. We believe that the presence of a pet can be incredibly comforting and beneficial to recovery by allowing our clients to have a piece of home with them during their stay in detox or residential treatment. 

Support animals relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and provide a sense of unconditional acceptance and love that is crucial in the early stages of recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Laguna Shores Recovery incorporates various forms of therapy into our addiction treatment programs to ensure that our clients have positive memories from their time in our program. Having a pet alongside a client can help with feelings of loneliness and encourage responsibility. Animals can also bring joy and humor into the treatment environment that combats tension around stressful topics in therapy. 

What Is a Support Animal’s Job?

Horses were the first animals used for therapeutic purposes to ease physical and mental disorders in patients. As studies progressed around the positive psychological effects animals had on clients inside and outside of therapy sessions, the use of other animals like dogs and cats for emotional support became increasingly popular. Animal therapy has since expanded to include rabbits, pigs, goats, birds, and any animal that can provide positive emotions and a sense of nurturing within a client. 

The role of a support animal is pretty simple, but the positive effects on clients are immeasurable. Support animals provide consistency and require care, which can help a person struggling with addiction maintain structure and learn how to provide for another living being responsibly. Animals have been used to treat mental health disorders for decades, which is why they can also be beneficial during dual-diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders. 

How Can Support Animals Help People Through Recovery? 

Having animals present in therapy sessions has been shown to promote positive communication between the client and their physician. Many clients in addiction recovery treatment have experienced trauma and betrayal from other humans throughout their lives, which can cause them to build walls and lose trust in people. Attention and acceptance from an animal in therapy can help a client feel welcomed and free from judgment. Simply being in the presence of an animal has been proven to reduce feelings of aggression, depression, and anxiety — all feelings experienced during recovery from addiction. 

The focuses of animal therapy in recovery are:

  • Improving social skills: As mentioned, addiction can become isolating, and negative experiences can cause trust issues. Having a support animal or undergoing animal therapy can invite clients into a community of animal lovers, helping them connect to others on a deeper level.
  • Increasing motivation: Having a support animal usually requires exercise and responsibilities. It creates accountability that improves a client’s motivation to stay active in recovery and stick to a schedule.
  • Avoiding triggers: Support animals relieve stress in the moment, which helps clients avoid triggers and future relapse. Eliminating the build-up of stress that accumulates over time is key to maintaining a positive outlook.
  • Improving trust: The bond between a client and an animal in addiction recovery can be too complex to measure. Animal therapists translate this bond to a client’s relationships with people and how they can improve trust.
  • Stimulation: Abusing drugs or alcohol causes the brain to become used to intense stimulation. Without these substances, clients with a SUD have a difficult time responding to pleasing stimuli. The presence of an animal can activate the neurotransmitters in the brain affected by drugs or alcohol, speeding along the recovery process by evoking positive emotions.

Types of Animal-Assisted Therapies at Laguna Shores Recovery

Equine-Assisted Therapy

Due to a horse’s ability to read and mirror human emotions, they have been used in addiction therapy for years to encourage communication and healthy bonds in clients with their families and loved ones. In equine-assisted therapy, therapists encourage clients to read their own emotions, which builds self-awareness and honesty. This positively impacts recovery as clients learn how to read their own bodies and address their needs so they can continue to care for themselves by avoiding triggers.

Horses also take time to build trust and form bonds with humans around them. This encourages patience and determination in clients as they provide care for the horse through brushing, feeding, and riding it. Once that bond has been established, clients gain confidence and pride that their hard work has paid off. This can act as a motivator for recovery and teach clients lessons about trust, self-control, and determination. 

Canine-Assisted Therapy

Using dogs in therapy sessions has been found to reduce stress and anxiety and encourage communication between a client and their therapist. Professionals gain insight into their clients by observing the interactions between the two. Dogs have been shown to cause the release of serotonin and endorphins in humans. With this information, therapists began having dogs attend sessions to influence a positive attitude and outlook. 

Just as with horses, dogs require a certain amount of responsibility and consistency. This can improve a client’s recovery by demanding accountability. Receiving the love and affection from a dog during this crucial transition helps clients remember their time in treatment fondly. 

The use of animals in addiction therapy is beneficial to anyone with a SUD as it instills self-awareness, discipline, caretaking, and helps prevent relapse. Laguna Shores Recovery is a proud, pet-friendly facility that encourages animal therapy for both clients and staff. Call us today to learn more about alternative therapies at (954) 329-1118.