Animal-assisted therapy is becoming more common when helping people with drug and alcohol addiction. Although it is still not widely known, it does have an extensive history, and it has been proven that humans experience positive changes mentally and physically when interacting with animals.
Animals are natural healers, so it is no surprise that their loyal and loving ways can in fact make them the best rehabilitation partners. The recovery journey can be long and difficult, but whatever path chosen, it can be made easier by having a companion.
So how do animals have such a positive effect when it comes to alcohol rehab and cocaine treatment?
Spending time with an animal can lower blood pressure and heart rate, decrease stress levels, reduce feelings of anger and anxiety, increase self-esteem, encourage responsibility and improve social functioning.
Building good personal relationships is very important for patients during recovery. This doesn’t just have to be with humans. Animals are unconditionally supportive, and unlike humans they will never get angry or annoyed for no reason. A stable and reliable relationship like this is ideal for an addict undergoing a drug or alcohol detox.
Animals encourage the patient to keep active too. Physical activities release the same feel-good chemicals once enhanced by drugs or alcohol. By improving the patient’s mood through exercise, it will also encourage them to relax, which is beneficial throughout treatment.
As pet owners will know, looking after a pet is a huge responsibility. Being responsible for another life gives the patient the self-control needed to fight addiction. The responsibility of looking after an animal makes the patient feel needed and as if they have a purpose. Not everybody has the facilities to take on the responsibility of owning a pet, however there are ways in which they can experience the benefit without having to bring the pet home.
Stress and addiction are normally linked, so battling one generally means battling the other. Stress is a big factor when it comes to relapse. It is important for the patient to keep calm and stress-free always. A British survey found that more than half of dog owners were more relaxed after spending time with their pet. Stroking and cuddling an animal instantly helps you calm down by lowering your pulse and heart rate. The rhythmic stroking of an animal is comforting.
Animals aren’t very good at hiding their feelings, so you always know if they are happy, sad, fearful etc. They also tend to mirror emotions shown by the person handling them. This mirroring effect can help patients to acknowledge their own emotional state, in turn encouraging them to relax.
When trying to overcome drug and alcohol addiction, it is very important to let go of toxic relationships and start building new ones. However, it is not always easy to build new relationships with humans. Forming a bond with an animal is a lot easier, and is a great start when helping to form new sober friendships.
An animal’s role in helping fight addiction can be hugely beneficial. Animals help the patient build trust again. Not only can this be beneficial during treatment, but these relationships can also reduce the risk of relapse too.