Four-Legged Friends for Rehab

It’s wonderful when people want to seek help for addictions to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, desire doesn’t make the rehab process easy. Rehab and recovery are difficult. But there are things people can do to make them a little better. Seeking the companionship of animals is one of these things. Whether people own pets, spend time with others’ pets, volunteer with animal organizations, or connect with animals in other ways, bonding with animals can help people during vulnerable times. Spending time with animals can be good because:

Animals offer love and companionship.

Sometimes addiction can damage people’s relationships with their friends and relatives. If people are working to restore these relationships with humans, they can receive love and affection from pets. Also, animals are less likely to judge people. People may have been on the receiving end of considerable judgment when they were using drugs and alcohol, so they may appreciate the tolerant nature of many animals. Of course, some cats might seem judgmental, but they’re that way because of their personalities. They’re not judging people because they have addictions or are recovering from them. These animals are that way with everyone.

Animals require work.

While pets can be wonderful complements to our lives, their companionship comes at a price. Pets take effort. Depending on the pets, people must:

  • Feed them
  • Bathe them
  • Groom them
  • Pick up after them or clean their areas
  • Walk or exercise them
  • Take them for medical care and give them medications
  • Train them to behave
  • Arrange care for them if they aren’t available

In short, when people live with pets, they’re responsible for practically all aspects of the animals’ lives. This responsibility can be work, but it can create a sense of accomplishment. Caring for animals illustrates that people are responsible, are worthwhile, and have a lot to offer. Seeing that they have such qualities can boost people’s self-esteem. This is important because addiction can destroy people’s confidence. People who feel good about themselves may be less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. 

Animal care takes time.

All this animal care takes time. That might not necessarily be a bad thing for people who have just stopped using alcohol or drugs. When they were using drugs or alcohol, there’s a good chance that people spent considerable amounts of time

  • Thinking about using alcohol or drugs
  • Obtaining these substances
  • Using them
  • Recovering from using them

If they’ve stopped using alcohol or drugs, people may have more time. This could be time that they don’t know how to fill. They might not even be able to spend time with their old friends if their friends are still drinking or getting high. But animals can serve as new companions and caring for them can take time. In addition, people who train animals for competitive events such as dog shows may find that spending time with their animal companions can lead them to fulfilling pastimes that occupy even more of their time.

Animals can be psychological distractions.

Whether they’re award-winning dogs, ordinary family pets, or therapy animals, animals are welcome distractions. They’re living proof that there are creatures who will love and respect people during challenging times. Drug and alcohol addiction centers recognize this. Some offer equine therapy, which is therapy that pairs horses with people staying at the facilities. The clients groom and ride horses and spend time with the animals. These actions take time. They allow people to bond with animal companions. They also provide much-needed psychological distractions. Distractions are good in rehabilitation because addiction is a mental disorder as well as a physical one. People who are busy have less physical and mental energy to devote to thinking about drugs and alcohol and less energy for acquiring them. Spending time with animals can fight mental illnesses. Pets can ease the symptoms of depression. Depressed people sometimes turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with their distress, so pets can ultimately reduce the risk of addiction in this way. People and addictions are different. It makes sense that there are different ways to treat these addictions. Caring for and spending time with animals are just two tools used in addiction rehabilitation. As a bonus, these activities can also be fun. After all, whether we’re in recovery or not, we all could use more fun in our lives.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor at Sunshine Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment facilities who is interested in addiction and recovery, health and wellness, gender issues, human rights, and several other topics.


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