Updated April 8, 2019
Pets Are Affected by Drugs and Alcohol, Too
Addiction is a selfish disease. It is also a family disease. For most people, pets are family, too, and addiction affects them also. Pets are particularly sensitive to their master’s feelings and are quick to take note when something’s wrong. They also rely on their owners to provide food, water, walks, or playtime and shelter.
When a person is using drugs and alcohol, they can often forget these kinds of responsibilities, leaving their pets hanging. Pets are affected by substance abuse in the following three primary ways:
- Mental distress
Cases tend to vary depending on circumstances. Some pets might barely be affected, while others could even die as a direct result of their owner abusing substances. Because dogs often require more TLC than cats, it’s important to be aware of how addiction affects them in particular.
Distress – The Mental Effect of Drugs and Alcohol on Dogs
When a dog becomes a part of a home, they fall into roles and responsibilities as anyone would. They get used to how things are, and their personality and demeanor adjusts accordingly. When an owner begins to use drugs and alcohol, their energy shifts significantly, and dogs can feel that.
Dogs have actually been known to bark and moan at their owners who are excessively high or drunk, simply out of fear that their human friend is no longer recognizable. Substances change our physiology and certainly the way we act. Dogs can sense this. The animal is put on edge because they no longer know what to expect. They may even begin to recognize the smell of alcohol or drugs as a sign of danger and immediately begin to feel tense.
If a dog is exposed to this kind of erratic behavior regularly, they may become nervous, agitated, and untrusting of other people. A dog like that has a high likelihood of biting someone out of fear, and that can cause a lot of emotional and financial damage to everyone involved. Besides, a loving pet owner doesn’t want to put their dog through that kind of trauma.
Neglect – Lack of Proper Care
Dogs that belong to high or drunk owners can suffer from a lot of neglect and even abuse. A typical drunk might suffer from blackouts and forgetfulness and simply overlook feeding, giving water to, or walking their dog. Getting drunk is their main priority, and the animal might go unnoticed for days. The dog is left hungry, thirsty, needing to go to the bathroom, and scared.
Because of carelessness caused by substance abuse, someone might leave a door or window open, and the dog can get out unintentionally. This brings danger to the animal and depending on the dog’s aggression, to people in the neighborhood as well.
On the other hand, a drunk or drug addict may stay away from their home for excessive hours, or even days, leaving their dog to fend for themselves. Animals in these kinds of situations suffer from extreme neglect, and may even die of hunger or thirst. Addicts should do the responsible thing and find a different home for their pet while they get clean and sober.
In extreme cases, owners may become abusive towards their dogs while they are under the influence of any kind of substance. Just as people can become aggressive toward other people in their household, the same can happen to dogs and other pets. Many times detrimental events happen when the person committing them is drunk or high. They may not recall what transpired while they were under the influence.
Pets sometimes have a sixth sense about when you are in danger; it may already be setting them on edge. If they are incessantly barking while you’re going through withdrawals, it can be a very precarious situation for both of you. Or, in another case, a blackout may mean a missed walk for the dog, leading to a mess being made in the house. Imagine waking up and realizing you hurt or killed the animal you love. It isn’t worth it.
How Neglect, Abuse and Mental Distress of a Pet Can Be Signs of Addiction
It may go without saying that if your pet is experiencing neglect, abuse and/or mental distress, this may be a sign that you have an addiction that needs treatment. One of the tell-tale symptoms of a substance use disorder is neglect of one’s home or work responsibilities. Most certainly, taking care of a pet falls within this category. If you’re forgetting to feed them or give them water, fail to let them out to do their business, keep them constantly chained up, or don’t attend to their health and hygiene, you are neglecting important home responsibilities. In some cases, drugs or alcohol may be the real culprit.
Getting Dogs Out Of Bad Situations
The fact is that if a person is far enough into their addiction, all other responsibilities go out the door. Animals, children, house and home— you name it— all falls on the back burner when you’re looking for that next drink or hit. It’s therefore critically important that anyone who is being neglected or abused by a drug addict or alcoholic get out of the situation immediately, then encourage the person to seek help.
Dogs and other furry friends, on the other hand, can’t just leave an unsafe situation. They’re more like hostage victims: they need someone to rescue them. That makes it imperative that anyone who is aware of what’s going on and recognizes that the owner is an addict needs to do what they can to get the dog out of the situation— or, better yet, convince the owner it is time to get help.
In some cases, this may mean reporting animal cruelty: find out who is responsible for investigating and enforcing the anti-cruelty codes in your area, such as a humane organization, animal control agency, local police department or shelter. Or, you may need to call an animal abuse hotline.
In some cases, if you know the owner and have a friendly relationship, you may be able to have a frank conversation about what you’re observing and offer to take the dog off their hands while they get their life back on track.
Having a Dog in Recovery – How It Can Help
For recovering addicts who have a loving dog at home, just the sheer knowledge that a relapse could cause them to hurt their pet may be all the incentive they need to keep from relapsing and stay sober. (Even for those struggling with active addiction, knowing what they can put a beloved pet through may be enough of an incentive to get help and go to rehab.)
Research has also shown that animal-assisted therapy (service dogs) can provide recovery benefits to people in substance abuse treatment. In the study in question, therapy dogs provided “increased opportunities” to gain insight into thought, emotional and behavioral patterns and unhealthy coping mechanisms; and they gave patients greater guidance in the direction of new, healthier choices and behaviors.
Getting a Dog Sitter While You’re in Rehab
If you are looking for treatment help but have pets that need to be cared for, don’t underestimate the kindness of friends and neighbors who will most likely be glad to help care for your furry friend(s). If you are upfront and honest about the fact that you need help, and need someone to take care of your pets for you while you’re in rehab, you’ll likely get an understanding response and that offer to help. Even with friends who may have cut you off out of fear of enabling you, taking care of a pet is a simpler decision for them to make when it’s in the context of a decision to go to rehab.
The bottom line: animals, unfortunately, don’t get to choose to walk away from neglect or abuse. As owners and dog lovers, it’s our responsibility to treat them as they deserve to be treated, and remove them from problematic or stressful situations.
If you or a loved one need assistance from an addiction professional, contact us today. We are here to help you make the arrangements that you need to make—dog sitting preparations included—in order to get well again.
Accidental Pet Ingestion of Drugs