While this is probably no surprise to those of us who love animals, pets are incredibly helpful to people in recovery. It turns out that interacting with pets has been shown to release serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These are the same chemicals that are often released by drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Pets can be an incredibly effective way to deal with many issues people in sober living face, so if you are in a place in your recovery where you can properly care for a pet, you might let one care for you.
In the 1800s, Florence Nightingale recognized how her patients had less anxiety when they interacted with pets. Our understanding of this process has only increased since then. Patients with pets have been shown to experience reductions in stress, anger, and anxiety. They have also been shown to experience more self-esteem, feelings of empowerment, trust, and social functioning. These are many of the exact things that someone recovering from an addictive substance needs.
Pets can be great listeners, help people learn responsibility, and overcome loneliness. It has been shown that elderly people in nursing homes who care for even a potted plant may have longer lives than those who don’t. Pets don’t judge, and pets keep secrets allowing us the vulnerability to voice things to them we might have never been comfortable to admit and say aloud before.
There are some recovery centers which are even using horses to help with recovery. Horses have a long history of being a good therapeutic pet, but smaller and easier to maintain animals such as dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits also do a remarkably effective job.
The Recovering Man’s Best Friend
Don’t get a pet if you’re not in a position where you can care for it for the rest of its life. Make sure that your recovery is in a place where you can provide for its food and other needs. But if you do get a pet, you might find yourself with the most powerful ally to your recovery that you can ever imagine!