How Animals Can Help Us All with Overcoming Addiction

Add this to your list of reasons why pets are the best: research has found they can majorly benefit our health overall and specifically when it comes to addiction.  How pets can help us out: 

  • They can serve as family. Whether in the absence or in addition to human family members, pets are special loved ones that provide unconditional support.1 Studies reveal that it's possible to be closer to your pet than any human family member! 2
  • They can help you improve your social life. Pets can bring new connections with others and encourage us to try out new social avenues.1
  • They foster self-efficacy. Becoming a responsible pet owner can rebuild sense of self-worth and self-trust.2
  • They can hold you accountable. Knowing you have to face your pet at the end of the day can be extra motivation to stay healthy and well.

Our fluffy four-legged friends also have a place in clinical treatment settings. A growing amount of scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for substance use disorder counseling. 

How assistance animals enhance therapy:

  • They can break the ice. Nothing like a pooch to get the bonding party started! Shared warm and fuzzies over therapy animals speeds up the establishment of strong client-therapist relationships.3
  • They encourage trust. For the skeptic who has ever thought I’d trust that cat before I’d trust a therapist - it turns out you're right. We tend to trust therapy animals sooner than therapy people (er, therapists). In turn,  therapists are trusted sooner when they are affiliated with therapy animals.4
  • They calm nerves and ease discomfort. Starting substance abuse treatment can be a nerve-wracking experience for some people. Bring in the puppies to save the day! Studies have found that therapy animals can significantly reduce anxiety symptoms during initial sessions of SUD treatment.5,6
  • They offer a safe source of physical affection. Gentle contact with an assistance animal can be nurturing and stress-relieving.4

Counselors who are interested in using AAT for treatment should consult their facilities and clinicians who have experience with it in order to develop a plan for preparation and practice. 

That concludes our case for cute. Now go forth, adopt a puppy, and send us pictures of it. Just kidding! (But seriously, we adore our Workit pups). 

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1 Wisdom, Jennifer P., Goal Auzeen Saedi, and Carla A. Green. "Another breed of “service” animals: STARS study findings about pet ownership and recovery from serious mental illness." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 79.3 (2009): 430
2 Barker, Sandra B. "Therapeutic aspects of the human-companion animal interaction." Psychiatric Times 16.2 (1999): 45-46.
3 Wesley, M. C., Minatrea, N. B., & Watson, J. C. (2009). Animal-assisted therapy in the treatment of substance dependence. Anthrozoös, 22(2), 137–148.
4 Chandler, C. K. (2005). Animal-assisted therapy in counseling. New York: Routledge.
5 Baun, M., Bergastrom, N., Langston, N., & Thoma, L. (1984). Physiological effects of human/companion animal bonding. Nursing Research, 15, 126–129.
6 Nagengast, S. L., Baun, M. M., Megel, M., & Leibowitz, J. M. (1997). The effects of the presence of a companion animal on physiological arousal and behavioral distress in children during a physical examination. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 12, 323–330.