In Cincinnati’s West End, people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction find comfort in regular visits from a local therapy dog. This heartwarming program is more than a feel-good story; in some cases, interaction with pets provides an effective source of inspiration and hope for people struggling with addiction issues. Pet therapy can be helpful for anyone in addiction recovery, in and outside of Ohio.
Pet therapy is usually provided by volunteers who bring their pets to a medical or recovery facility for loosely structured interaction with residents or patients. Animal-assisted therapy is a more structured version of these efforts that utilized trained animals. Pet therapies are effective in multiple medical and psychological programs and are now widely used in hospitals, nursing homes and mental health facilities.
Is Pet Therapy Effective?
Pet therapy can provide multiple kinds of care for people in addiction recovery. Some people have to leave their pets to attend residential addiction treatment programs, which can be painful. Seeing pets helps them feel connected and motivates them to successfully return home to their own furry family members.
Animal therapy in elder, juvenile and mental health care is valuable in that it helps people maintain:
- Increased social behaviors
- Reduced incidences of behavioral issues
- Reduced anxiety levels
In addition to its social and psychological factors, animal therapy with dogs has other benefits, too. The Mayo Clinic cites multiple surprising benefits, going so far as to call animals “healers.” In their studies, the Mayo Clinic has seen that pet therapy can benefit a variety of people with acute physical conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Cancer patients
Additionally, Harvard Medical School cites studies that dog ownership and interaction can lower blood pressure and even lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Since the 1980s, the medical community has been aware of the benefits of animal interaction. In a journal published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that talking to a dog lowered blood pressure and heart rate more than talking to a human.
There are several reasons that animal interaction provides unique health benefits for people in medical and addiction recovery, including:
- Animals are non-threatening: People in addiction recovery and other forms of medical distress are uniquely vulnerable. Especially in addiction recovery, mental health is interwoven with physical recovery and can present challenges to social interaction. Socializing with an animal provides a warm, safe and positive interaction that can be a relief from the unknown of human interactions.
- Animals are not judgmental: Addiction is a nuanced and often stigmatized condition that can complicate family and home relationships. People who face addiction may be physically removed from their home environment in a treatment center. The stress of being in addiction treatment can be offset by the simple and straightforward interaction with a dog.
How Are Pets Used in Recovery?
The American Humane Society and other national organizations have incorporated pet therapy in rehabilitation centers and as therapy assistants for children. Pets can provide a bridge to people who are frightened or difficult to communicate with, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s patients. People in addiction recovery can also benefit from the services of pet therapy.
Pet therapy for addiction recovery can help clients in many ways, including:
- Rebuilding a sense of self-worth
- Expressing affection
- Providing an emotional outlet
- Building emotional intelligence
In their February 2018 monthly News in Health bulletin, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that using pets in recovery can help with stress and pain management, too.
Pets provide a safe and friendly source of interaction, which can be a valuable source of meaningful connection for people who are overcoming addiction. As in Cincinnati, lessons can be learned about the simple nature of truly effective recovery strategies.
If you or someone you know needs help overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction, call The Recovery Village Columbus today to speak with a representative who can answer your questions and guide you toward the best program for you.
Cherniack, Paul E.; Cherniack, Ariella R. “The Benefit of Pets and Animal-Assisted Therapy to the Health of Older Individuals.” Current gerontology and geriatrics research, November 16, 2014. Accessed June 23, 2019.
Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School. “Having a dog can help your heart – literally.” N.D. Accessed June 23, 2019.
The Mayo Clinic. “Pet Therapy: Animals as healers.” Published August 1, 2018. Accessed June 23, 2019.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health. “News in Health: The Power of Pets Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions.” Published February 2018. Accessed June 23, 2019.
Vormbrock, JK; Grossberg, JM. “Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions.” Journal of behavioral medicine, October 11, 1988. Accessed June 23, 2019.