Just as therapy dogs help certain patients recover from various medical conditions, animals can provide therapy in the recovery process for substance abuse. While animal-assisted treatment is not for everyone, its capacity for healing should not be overlooked — it can be very beneficial for some. For those who have a special place in their heart for animals, including them in the recovery process can be very rewarding.
Research continues to demonstrate that animals:
- help foster a calming effect
- reduce blood pressure and anxiety
- make one feel less lonely
- bring out positive social characteristics
Many hospitals and nursing homes also use animal-assisted therapy programs to help reduce feelings of depression and isolation in their patients, as well as stimulating mental activity through interaction with the animal.
Horses exude a gentle strength that can resonate in their riders; equine therapy is one of the most popular forms of treatment that involves animals. For years, horses have been used to help people with muscle control problems, to help children with autism and to help adults with various mental and physical disorders. Those with substance abuse problems who ride horses or interact with horses during their recovery experience a calming feeling and stronger inner strength.
The benefits of pets
Some treatment facilities allow a patient to bring their beloved pet; having an existing, readily-available connection to an animal can provide an irreplaceable benefit. To some people, dogs and cats are part of the family, and to be able to recover with that pet, to sit and interact with them through the process can be very therapeutic, and only up the chances for maximum success with lifelong recovery.
A person whose pet is not officially a part of the recovery plan can still benefit from having an animal with them during recovery. When it’s time to enter back into “normal life” after living in residential treatment, bringing a new pet into the home is a great way to ease the mind off of the substance. Pets don’t judge, they love unconditionally and they’re dependent on their owners. Many people in recovery find these aspects to be just what they need to help focus on recovery, rather than on the old way of life.