The use of a pet therapy program in addiction recovery is becoming more common. It has also proven to be very effective in helping individuals overcoming substance abuse stay sober and avoid relapse.
The Benefits of a Pet Therapy Program in Recovery
Pet therapy provides many physical as well as psychological benefits and is considered both a learning and healing experience. One of the reasons for the success of a pet therapy program in addiction recovery is that for most people, pets are a large part of their life. Many recovery programs isolate the patient from all outside contact. However, in substance abuse recovery programs that implement contact with loved ones and incorporate contact with animals, the recovery process is more complete.
Not only does interacting with animals reduce blood pressure and heart rate, but it also increases the hormone (beta-endorphin) produced in the central nervous system (CNS) and brain that reduces pain; something that is very beneficial to chronic pain sufferers. A pet therapy program can also work to reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompany the recovery process. For example, there is an increase in self-esteem and confidence and there is an exchange of trust and encouragement between the animal and the individual.
Supported by Research
In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Prof Andera Beetz of the University of Rostock in Germany looked into the evidence of the physiological and psychological benefits of animal and human interactions. Dr. Beetz discovered that in 69 cases, the increase in the “bonding hormone” oxytocin was attributed to the interacting. The hormone increase affected mood, fear and anxiety, and impacted cardiovascular disease.
The long-term benefits of focusing on something else other than their own situation proved to be extremely productive especially in addiction recovery. The process of caring for animals offers many in recovery, something to live for, adding meaning and purpose to a life that was once dominated by drugs and alcohol.
How Pet Therapy Works
Pet therapy in addiction recovery is not about what the animal can do for the individual. Instead, it’s what the human can do for the animal. Moreover, those in the recovery program will provide care for the animal, nurturing the relationship between human and animal. In turn, this helps the recovering addict deal with their substance abuse.
Most of the animals used in a pet therapy program come from shelters, animal rescues, the humane society and other organizations that provide a safe haven for unwanted, homeless and abused animals. The animals receive much needed care and companionship. Additionally, it really is a win-win situation for both the animal and the person recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.