Think of your worst possible day—not for too long, but just think about what it might look like for a second. Had enough? Now think about that day, but picture your pet being there at the end of it. Much better, right? We thought so.
It’s not just instinct to believe that pets have a tremendous positive impact on mental health. A recent comprehensive study from Mental Health America indicates that 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership. Not only that but others can see it too — over 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved because of the pets in their lives, and over 95% of pet owners can’t imagine giving up their pets for any reason.
Pets have been known to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Interactions with animals can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions.
When we consider the tremendous emotional and logistical turbulence that a person experiences when they enter treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, it’s easy to see how pets can ease this transition, but let’s take a more specific look at two big ways pets can help during treatment and the early stages of addiction recovery.
The first, and perhaps most obvious, benefit of having your pet with you during treatment is receiving unconditional love, which is something everyone in the early stages of recovery needs. Alcohol and drug abuse often take people to dangerous and undignified places and compels them to make mistakes that can alienate them from the people who care about them the most.
At a time when people are often at odds with their friends, families, colleagues and everyone else in their lives, they can turn to their pets for acceptance and love. They don’t care about their mistakes, their debts or what they’ve done to others. This is critically important when a person feels like they’re alone and that nobody cares about them. There’s a lot more than just cute eyes in that adorable, furry face!
Another undeniable benefit of having your pet with you during addiction treatment is that they give you an anchor when it’s critically important to have stability and routine. They provide something to take care of, which both increases accountability and improves confidence when you need it most. It’s the perfect opportunity to focus on something other than yourself.
Responsibility, accountability and routine are core tenets of the recovery experience, and pets provide the perfect opportunity to cultivate or relearn these attributes in sobriety. Whether you have a dog, cat, bird, lizard or any other animal that needs looking after, being the best “pet parent” you can be will help you get the most out of the recovery experience.
One of the other many important benefits of bringing your pet to treatment is that it takes the worry out of finding someone to look after them when you’re getting help. Some treatment centers, including Recovery Unplugged, even allow clients to bring pets to treatment, so make sure to ask to bring your pet to the facility you’re using if you need your furry friend as a support system.
About the Author
Dominic Nicosia is a New Jersey-based journalist and content writer covering addiction care and mental health. He currently serves as Senior Content Writer for Recovery Unplugged Treatment Centers, a national addiction treatment organization that offers a full continuum of care and uses music to help people more readily embrace the treatment process.