Warm Fuzzies: Companion Animals and Drug Abuse Recovery

You will not find a single shred of evidence that addiction recovery is a process that should be done alone. A support network is a must. However, your support network does not have to be exclusively human. A companion animal may be an excellent option for those on the path to recovery who need or would like always-there, always-judgment-free company.

The Benefits of Companion Animals

Companion animals bring with them a ton of physical and social/emotional benefits. Caregivers who spend just a few minutes petting or cuddling with their pet enjoy:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Less frequent or intense mood swings

Because you see the effect of your emotions on your companion animal, caregivers also tend to develop their ability to manage anger and stress.

But that’s only the beginning. Companion animals are excellent recovery buddies because:

They love unconditionally

Most companion animals are “built” to love and be affectionate. And they’ll freely give their love regardless of your past or your future. Rescue animals, especially, will be loyal and loving because the only thing that really matters to them is that you saved them.

They depend on you

Companion animals may be able to learn tricks, but they never seem to master how to pay bills or get their own dinners…so you have to do that for them—every day. And that actually aids your recovery. Being responsible for another creature’s well-being gives you a sense of purpose, and when your pet thrives, you see evidence of your success.

They are great listeners

Nervous about a conversation you need to have with a friend or family member you haven’t talked to in a while? Want to ask your boss for a raise? Just want to rehash a challenging session you had with your therapist? Your dog, cat, rabbit, etc. will listen. Whether you’re rehearsing a conversation or just recapping your day’s events, they will listen. They don’t interrupt, and they don’t give advice. They just give you sympathetic ears (and hope for a loving scratch between them when you’re done.)

They make great conversation starters

No matter if you need to venture out into the world to make new friends or are trying to reconnect with someone who was hurt by your drug abuse, your new pet makes a great topic of conversation. Your pet—how you got them, their quirks, what you’re teaching them to do, etc.—are interesting! It’s an easy way to get small talk started, which is usually the hardest part.

They encourage exercise and healthy eating

Most types of companion animals need daily activity to stay healthy…and they can’t get themselves to the dog park or out of their crates. So, you have to be active with them. They also need proper nutrition, which only you can provide…and that may be a good way to get yourself into the habit of eating—perhaps at all if you’ve suffered from loss of appetite or at regular times.

In short, companion animals make for excellent recovery buddies because they give you someone and something else to think about besides your problems, challenges and/or past disappointments.

Considerations before Adopting a Companion Animal

You can only get the benefits of a companion animal if you are really ready to put in the work it takes to properly care for a new pet. Before adopting a companion animal, you need to make sure you have the financial, physical and emotional means to care for another living creature. If you’ve never had a pet before, it can be difficult to know if you’ve got what it takes. Volunteering at an animal shelter can be a great way to find out what having a companion animal requires and give you the opportunity to meet a wide variety of potential buddies.

You will also need to be honest with yourself about how much work you can or will do. Some animals or breeds are more high-maintenance than others. For instance, if you want a cuddly lap dog, do not fool yourself into thinking that a heeler will be content to stay inside with you just because you love him/her. Animals who do not get the enough exercise may become destructive.

Also remember that dogs and cats are not the only suitable companion animals. Lizards, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas, fish, birds—all types of animals can afford the benefits of companionship.