Pet-friendly sober living homes allow you to step down from residential rehab or to engage with outpatient treatment if your living environment is unsupportive and you have a pet you need to bring with you.
Animal-assisted therapy for addiction, when used in combination with evidence-based treatment, can help many people break the cycle of substance abuse.
Why is this, though?
Well, sustained substance abuse brings about changes to the structure and functioning of the brain. While people abuse many different substances, some legal and some illegal, they all share the ability to interfere with the brain’s reward center. When you use substances, your brain is flooded with neurotransmitters like dopamine. Over time, you’ll be unable to feel pleasure without using the substance in question, as your brain starts producing less dopamine.
In recovery, then, addiction therapy animals can help you to stimulate the receptors in your brain naturally and safely.
A recovery support animal can also help in other core areas like establishing regular routines, forming healthy relationships, and providing unconditional and unwavering support.
Do Recovery Support Animals Help?
A recovery support dog might seem like a relatively new phenomenon, but animals have played a role in healing for centuries.
The ancient Greeks used horses to perk up the spirits of the sick. Animals were used in therapeutic settings back in medieval times throughout Europe, and the famous Dr Sigmund Freud found his pet dog had a calming effect on some patients.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) was first formalized in the early 1960s. Dr Boris Levinson presented this paper at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Meeting in 1961. In the paper, Dr Levinson outlines how pets helped both adult and child patients in psychotherapy sessions.
AAT benefits can be felt in the following areas:
- Medical problems
- Emotional well-being
- Behavioral challenges
- Autism-spectrum disorder
It is now widely accepted that animals can be used beneficially in a variety of therapeutic settings, including addiction therapy.
Patients hospitalized with psychiatric disorders have been shown to experience reduced levels of anxiety during AAT sessions. Pain-related symptoms and pain are also reduced when patients meet therapy animals.
Therapy animals have been shown to reduce loneliness, depression, and anxiety in military veterans diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
There is less evidence backing the utility of pets for treating addiction, and in part this is due to the lack of a clear-cut cause for substance use disorder. With no unifying cause underpinning addiction, there is not a single boilerplate form of treatment that works in all cases either.
Nevertheless, there are five key areas where therapy animals can be useful for many people in recovery from addiction:
- Giving you a renewed sense of purpose
- Reducing your levels of stress and anxiety
- Strengthening your physical health
- Reducing loneliness
- Helping you get in touch with your emotions more freely
1) Giving you a renewed sense of purpose
In the early phases in recovery, especially once the structured days of treatment are behind you, you may find yourself struggling to fill your days. You may even find yourself questioning what your purpose is in life.
A pet during recovery can help you to shape your days, even simply fulfilling his daily needs. From grooming and feeding to walking, you’ll need to put your pet’s needs uppermost, and you can do this without jeopardizing your recovery.
Your pet can also act as a powerful motivator not to relapse: he needs you.
2) Reducing your levels of stress and anxiety
Support animals can reduce stress and anxiety. You’ll feel naturally calmed when you pet your animal and when you play around with him.
Stress is a major trigger for relapse, so do everything you can do to avoid it.
3) Strengthening your physical health
Exercising for thirty minutes each day delivers many proven health benefits, as well as lifting your mood. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to get up and running.
If you have a support animal, you’ll feel compelled to hit the road each day, even if you don’t feel up to it.
Exercising will help lower your blood pressure, and you’ll also trigger the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine.
4) Reducing loneliness
Recovery from addiction can feel lonely at times. The more you feel that nobody understands what you’re going through, the more tempting it is to withdraw from others, worsening feelings of loneliness, and possibly leading to depression.
With a pet at home or in your pet-friendly sober living community, you’ll always have a friendly face looking up at you. As an inbuilt kicker, you’ll also find walking with a pet increases your social interaction with other pet owners.
5) Helping you get in touch with your emotions more freely
The more you bond with your pet, the more you’ll become aware of your emotions, moods, and emotional responses.
Animal-Assisted Therapy for Addiction
People often turn to drugs because they feel that something is missing from their lives. An emotional support animal can provide that missing link during the recovery process.
Those who turn to substance abuse due to chronic pain can also benefit significantly from working with emotional support animals. Visits with therapy dogs reduced self-reported fatigue, pain, and emotional distress.
According to the National Institutes of Health, interacting with animals has been shown to:
- Lower blood pressure
- Help manage pain
- Decrease levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress
- Teach awareness and mindfulness
The District’s Sober Living Homes
Here at The District Recovery Community, we appreciate that not everyone who wants to engage with addiction treatment has a home environment conducive to recovery. That’s where a sober living home comes in.
In a sober living home, you’ll be surrounded by others in recovery from alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, and co-occurring disorder. You’ll benefit from a substance-free environment with staff on hand to help with any pressing concerns. We can help you locate a pet-friendly sober living home near you. From here, you can engage with our outpatient programs for addiction, including both IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs).
Our personalized treatment programs give you access to both medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). You will also have both individual and group counseling sessions, as well as the ability to engage with holistic therapies and vocational development programs.
We can help you here at TDRC, regardless of the scope and severity of your addiction. To get things started, call the friendly admissions team right now at 844.287.8506.