Addiction treatment is not an easy process. It’s typically a challenging and uncomfortable journey that can involve a lot of discomfort, both physical and emotional. It requires taking a good hard look at oneself to discover the roots of what led to substance abuse. Withdrawal itself can be incredibly trying. However, the end result of both is well worth the effort.
High dropout and relapse rates have led some addiction treatment centers to reconsider their approach and address whether there’s a better way to help people reclaim their lives. Therapy in general has become less rigid as more and more mental health professionals are becoming open to alternative treatments and treatment aids. These include therapy animals.
Animals have an incredible ability to improve human mood and uplift our spirits. Multiple studies have suggested that owning pets, particularly cats or dogs, can reduce anxiety and depression, which are strongly associated with substance abuse and addiction. For some people, the unconditional love and support of their pets is extremely important – on par with or even more important than that of human family members. And support like this is widely considered to be essential to effective addiction recovery.
The psychological benefits of pets include:
- Reduced stress
- Feelings of safety
- Reduced feelings of loneliness
- Distraction from issues like cravings
- Increase physical activity
- Physical contact that facilitates the release of beneficial brain chemicals
Pets can even improve physical health. Researchers responsible for a 10-year study found that cat owners in the sample were 30 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack than those who did not have a pet cat.
Pets in Addiction Treatment Programs
There are treatment facilities that allow clients to bring pets in with them, either for outpatient or inpatient treatment. Though most facilities are not yet set up to accommodate any animals except for government-issued therapy animals, this is becoming a more common practice.
Outpatient addiction treatment tends to be much more flexible, and individual therapists are more likely to be more open to clients bringing pets than inpatient programs. Outpatient programs allow clients to come in a few times a week for treatment, giving them the freedom to go to work, attend school, or take care of family members around their treatment schedule, and clients sleep at home. This makes bringing in a pet much less difficult, as accommodations for the animal won’t be necessary at the facility.