The Role of Emotional Pet Support in Addiction Recovery

The Role of Emotional Pet Support in Addiction Recovery

The road to recovery is no walk in the park. In fact, it’s one of the most challenging and strength-consuming endeavors a human being can face. Walking alone through the darkest night of the soul can be a daunting experience for many of us. Hence, the four-legged cavalry. Pathologically loyal and devoted, pets become our go-to fountain of unconditional support when there’s no silver lining in sight. They can, indeed, pick us up. The healing benefits of owning a pet are that much broader and more potent when we’re in addiction recovery. Emotional pet support can make a tremendous difference, encompassing all aspects of one’s well-being, from physical and mental to the emotional plane. Let’s talk about addiction recovery and the impact our pets can have on our journey. We don’t have to walk alone.

Emotional support animals

ESA (emotional support animal) is any pet that provides a specific therapeutic benefit (such as companionship, emotional support, and comfort) to a person with a particular mental health issue. A therapist usually recommends ESA for helping the person with emotional issues. Emotional support animals differ from service animals, as the latter are professionally trained to help with specific disabilities. Unlike service pets, ESAs are not trained for a particular purpose. Still, they are there to soothe and regulate physical and mental symptoms in an individual, such as depression, anxiety, blood pressure, etc. Emotional support animals are becoming a growing resource for veterans, as well as individuals in addiction recovery.

Free Soldier and Black Dog Cuddling Stock Photo

The role of emotional pet support

When we enroll in an addiction treatment program (outpatient and inpatient alike), various techniques and types of therapies are suggested and used for coping with recovery steps. Although seemingly insignificant, the holistic approach is exceptionally important in recovery; that’s exactly why individuals are motivated to give various approaches a go – whether it be art therapy, music therapy, yoga, or, in this case, animal-assisted therapy. For example, if we’re looking for residential addiction treatment in Florida, we should first find the right facility that could suit all of our individual needs – emotional support animals included.

Animal-assisted therapy and its healing benefits are more than versatile; medical professionals use it to ease the symptoms of various mental health disorders: from autism to Alzheimer’s.

Research has shown that emotional pet support can help significantly reduce anxiety and depression. Furthermore, having a pet around can also decrease aggression; that’s precisely why therapy dog programs are being implemented in prisons. Emotional support animals are also known to reduce emotional and physical pain.

Benefits of emotional support animals

  • For the ones in addiction recovery, owning a pet can reduce the reflex resistance to substance abuse treatment.
  • Animal-human interaction invites nothing but happy hormones; known to reduce heaps of cortisol, pets can also encourage our brain’s natural release of the good stuff, such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
  • Emotional support pets can also help people with a substance abuse history open up; being a traumatic experience, talking about the addiction can be exceptionally hard. Pets offer unconditional support.
  • Pets are known to increase mental stimulation.
  • Another, if not the most crucial, benefit of having an emotional support pet in recovery is that they can actually “talk us out” of relapsing. Their presence works wonders for the person’s cravings and potential triggers.

man sitting on rolling chair holding dog

Ease the loneliness

As we all know, recovery is no stranger to lonesome affairs. For many, their social life organically defragments upon taking the sobriety road. And, it’s only natural. The “Win some, lose some” equation is inevitable. Sobriety often invites loneliness and self-imposed isolation. But that’s where our emotional support pets come in. – To save the day. Someone to come home to, that’s all we need. Instead of echoing walls, we find our four-legged yoyos of childlike delight, personified bouncy castles whose only focus and purpose is: loving us unconditionally and making us smile. Additionally, spurring casual conversations with absolute strangers becomes an everyday thing. Pets can, indeed, improve our social life and our (potentially struggling) relationships.

Elevated self-awareness

Unlike human beings, animals have no issues tapping into their emotional apparatus; it’s inherent. This particular virtue is why they are so good at “feeling the room”, i.e., their owners. Emotional support animals instinctively sense the mood as well as their owner’s needs. However, their innate talent also benefits those in recovery, as the bonding invites self-reflection. For example, suppose we’re feeling anxious. In that case, our dog will sense the mood swing and instinctively try to de-escalate the potentially disruptive narrative – by giving us kisses and wanting to snuggle. In that sense, emotional support pets are considered vessels for the growth of our self-awareness.

woman and dog on seashore

You find purpose

Being autodestructive is easy when you have no one to look after. Right? When in recovery, the mere idea of taking someone or something under our wing sounds anything but plausible. “Me? Taking care of someone else? I’m barely keeping my weary existence afloat.” But, surprise, surprise. Saying yes to being held responsible can give us meaning and purpose. Emotional support pets, as recognized by Archstone Behavioral Health, play a crucial role in providing structure. This acknowledgment from a reputable source highlights that we have no choice but to take on the responsibility, as it can help us thrive. Daily walks, playtime, feeding, grooming – and plenty of snuggling – give our life a higher purpose. Why? Because it’s not about us. We’re there to serve and protect, and vice versa. A perfect kind of healing symbiosis. A healthy type of addiction.

Final words

If you don’t feel you’re open to having a dog as an emotional pet support, other low-maintenance options could be just as fulfilling. From cats and parrots to rodents! Whatever you choose, please remember: owning a pet keeps your sobriety on track. Support animals can prevent relapse and help you stay sober.