Benefits of a Companion Animal in Addiction RecoveryShelby Wall
Addiction recovery is a time characterized by major change: new routines and coping mechanisms are all integral to the days after you leave treatment. Many will need to reevaluate current relationships and may even find themselves seeking new living arrangements or ending long-term friendships that only centered around drinking or using. For some people, this process can be lonely or stressful. Luckily, there is an option for judgement-free companionship and support. A companion animal can be hugely beneficial to those in the early stages of recovery from a substance use disorder.
Routine and Purpose
Leaving treatment can be disorienting – one minute, you’re in a highly regimented environment. The next, you’re back in your old home or perhaps a new residence, trying to recreate some of that structure for yourself. At times, it may be difficult to find motivation to stick to your new routine, or to resist the temptation to slip back into unhealthy habits.
In these instances, it can be especially helpful to have a companion animal to keep you on track. Whether you choose a dog, cat, lizard, bird, fish, or any other creature, there is a certain set of responsibilities that pet ownership requires of you each and every day. For example, if you’re having difficulty getting out of bed, an excited puppy will still beg for a walk. If you forget to make yourself dinner, a kitten begging for food will remind you to prepare a meal for yourself as well. These daily duties are both rewarding and habit-forming. By caring for another creature, not only will you feel needed and loved, but you may also learn to take better care of yourself.
Exercise is an important aspect of anyone’s routine, but it’s especially vital for those in early recovery. This endeavor provides a boost of feel-good endorphins, helps to restore your physical health, melts away stress, and adds another component of much-needed structure to each day. If you’re having a hard time leaving the house, getting a companion animal may provide a catalyst. Taking your pup on a walk or run in the park is the perfect example of exercise that doesn’t feel like drudgery. If you have a more active breed, hiking or regular trips around town will become a natural part of your week.
Socializing with Others
In recovery, you have to learn to socialize again – this time, without the use of any mind-altering substances. This can be a challenging transition for those who relied on drug- and alcohol-centered gatherings to make friends or spur conversation. Companion animals can go a long way in breaking the ice with strangers, whether they’re with you at a designated location (such as a dog park, play group, or pet store) or just brought up in casual conversation. People are always eager to talk about their pets with other animal lovers, and they may even approach you to get to know your four-legged friend.
A Welcome Distraction
One of the biggest challenges in early recovery is boredom. If you don’t fill your days with productive activities and mindful self-care, it’s possible for your thoughts to wander back to the “bad old days” of drinking or using. It is unhealthy to spend a very long time in this headspace, whether you’re missing old friends or cringing at past actions – for this reason, a healthy distraction can make all the difference in your recovery journey.
With a companion animal, you have something unrelated to addiction to focus on. Not only are pets great at commanding your attention in the moment, but they can even replace old, unhealthy behaviors. According to one 2014 study, animal interventions are an effective treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental health disorders like depression and schizophrenia, for precisely this reason. Dedicate the time you used to spend at the bar to teaching your pet new tricks instead. If you feel frustrated by your progress, take Fido on a walk around the block to cool down. There are so many ways for companion animals to enrich and renew your recovery.
Is It the Right Time to Adopt a Companion Animal?
While pet ownership is an immensely rewarding experience, it’s also important to consider the commitment that is required. Many household animals require a high level of care and live for ten or twenty years. If you are unsure of how much time you can dedicate to pet care, think about choosing a lower-maintenance pet, like a hamster or fish.
As always, be sure to discuss any life changes like pet adoption with your counselor and your sponsor. Don’t be discouraged if the time isn’t right just yet – consider volunteering at a local animal rescue until you’re ready to adopt. Any time spent with pets can be rewarding and fulfilling.
Full Support for Your Recovery
Concise Recovery Center offers individualized treatment along the full continuum of care. Our evidence-based programming includes a variety of services, including individual therapy, group therapy, and furthered education. We offer support that lasts long after the completion of your program. To learn more about everything from detoxification to companion animals in early recovery, give us a call at 877-347-3549.