Companion Animals and Pets can be Therapeutic in Addiction Recovery

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Addiction is isolating and for those who suffer with a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as PTSD or depression, the feelings of loneliness can be devastating. For the best success in recovery, it is recommended you stay away from old friends who use drugs or alcohol and make many lifestyle changes. Companion animals and pets can be beneficial and therapeutic in addiction recovery.

The Role of Dogs in Addiction Recovery

Recovery is a lifelong process. Throughout recovery, we can face many challenges. Fortunately, when we are in recovery from addiction, we can find alternative methods of stimulating receptors in the brain, safely and naturally through emotional support animals, animal-assisted therapy, and service dogs. These animals can also help recovery in other ways, such as establishing daily routines and structure, forming healthy bonds, and providing loyal companionship and support.

Lack of self-confidence is a cause and effect of addiction. Animals do not judge. They can offer a distraction, ease anxiety, and give us a sense of security. Sometimes the animal is trained specifically for therapy. In other cases, even if the animal is not trained, its presence in the room helps the person in recovery.

Benefits of Therapy Dogs

Companion Animals and Mental Health

Oxytocin is a receptor in the brain that causes a cascade of physiological changes. It can slow heart rate and breathing, reduce blood pressure, and activate the production of stress hormones, creating a profound sense of calm, comfort, and focus. Companion animals cause oxytocin and other neurotransmitters to be released from our brains.

Interacting with companion animals not only increases blood levels of oxytocin, it also boosts levels of beta endorphins, which are natural painkillers associated with “runners high” and dopamine, the “reward” hormone. These neurochemicals are essential to our sense of well-being (Sy Montgomery, Boston Globe, 2015).

Interacting with and petting animals creates a hormonal response in humans that can help fight depression. Petting dogs caused a spike in people’s serotonin, the neurotransmitter that most antidepressants attempt to elevate.

In an article for News Medical Life Sciences, Interacting and petting animals creates a hormonal response in humans that can help fight depression, (2004), Rebecca Johnson, MU professor of nursing and veterinary medicine states, “Our preliminary results indicate that levels of serotonin, a hormone in humans that helps fight depression, rise dramatically after interaction with live animals, specifically dogs. This hormone is critical in the psychological well-being of an individual.”

Pets and Self-care

Pets can help us focus on developing healthier habits as we adjust to a new sober lifestyle. They help us stick to a routine and re-learn responsibility. Caring for a pet means we must also care for ourselves. Self-care is an important part of addiction recovery.

Addiction can make us feel ashamed, guilty, and worthless. Companion animals expose us to a completely new perspective on life. As we care for our pets, we are responsible for their basic needs such as food, shelter, grooming, and exercise. This contributes to a feeling of self-worth and importance in the animal’s well-being and survival. The daily routine of caring for a pet will boost confidence and encourage self-care.

Treatment for Addiction, Substance Use Disorders, and Mental Health

Asking for help can be difficult when we are in the throes of addiction. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Addiction is isolating, but you are not alone. Often, people who suffer from addiction or substance use disorder also live with an underlying mental health condition. Do not let the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction stop you from getting help. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental health condition and a substance use disorder or addiction, get help now. Mental health, substance use disorders, and addiction are treatable and there is hope in recovery.

If you are seeking help for a mental health disorder and addiction, both conditions must be treated simultaneously as a dual diagnosis for the best results in recovery. Treatment is tailored to each individual’s unique needs. Make the life-saving decision to get help today. While there is no cure for addiction, it is treatable and recovery is possible.

“Sometimes you just have to make peace with your past in order to keep your future from becoming a constant battle.” ~ Susan Gale


Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.