Substance use disorder (SUD), also known as addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a complex, chronic brain disorder. The Mayo Clinic explains addiction as a disease “that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication” without regard for consequence. There are a variety of substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment options, many of which rely on different psychotherapeutic modalities, available to those in need. The path of recovery from substance abuse and/ or addiction is entirely personal, and it will be directly informed by one’s personality, mental health, and emotional needs.
Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) also referred to as pet therapy, is a type of therapy that involves animals as a part of the therapeutic process to improve physical, emotional, social, and cognitive functioning. Studies have shown that animal interaction can have a therapeutic impact on people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction and various life-threatening disorders such as heart diseases. Pet therapy facilitates a human-animal bond that delivers an array of scientifically documented benefits, some of which include:
- Improved mood: Data presented by the San Francisco non-profit Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) has revealed that bonding with animals prompts the body to release certain hormones (e.g., serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin) that generate a relaxation and stress-reducing response, which minimizes the symptoms of depression and sadness. Additionally, pet interaction can help to release endorphins, producing a calming effect and improving one’s overall psychological state.
- Reduced isolation: Empirical evidence suggests that AAT can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, as people in recovery who feel disconnected from others find comfort and companionship from working with animals.
- Boosted immunity: The release of oxytocin that occurs when engaging with an animal impacts the immune system and increases the pain threshold, helping people heal more quickly. The results of one study found an increase in salivatory immunoglobulin A, which indicates healthy immune system function, after participants spent time petting a dog for less than 20 minutes.
- Emotional support: Animals provide a sense of comfort, acceptance, and unconditional love, which can be particularly helpful during any stage of the treatment process for addiction.
Animal-assisted therapy is rooted in the Biophilia Hypothesis, which is the “idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.” A professor at Western Carolina University, Psychologist Harold Herzog, who is an expert in the human-animal connection, and has spent over three decades investigating the complex psychology of human interactions with other species, established a direct correlation between interacting with animals and their impact on human health and well-being.
For Information and Support
If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one regarding substance abuse and/ or addiction, we recommend reaching out for help as soon as possible. If left untreated, substance abuse can result in long lasting and potentially life-threatening consequences. Keep in mind: you are not alone! There is an entire network of professionals that are available to help and support you and your loved one throughout the recovery process. The earlier you seek support, the sooner your loved one can return to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.
Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions regarding our specific program at Haven House Addiction Treatment and/ or general substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment related information. Our highly trained staff is readily available to discuss how we might best be able to help you and your loved one. We can be reached by phone at 424-258-6792. You are also welcomed to contact anytime us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.