The Surprising Ways Animals Help With Our Mental Health and SUD Recovery

The Surprising Ways Animals Help With Our Mental Health and SUD Recovery

If you’re recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) or struggle with mental health challenges, you know how hard it is to keep a positive attitude. At some point, you find yourself trapped in a downward spiral of self-doubt and negative thought patterns. In such a case, you may lack the tools to break free.

But what if there was something that could help? Something that could increase your positive emotions and decrease your negativity? What if it could also help lower your cortisol levels associated with stress?

It turns out there is something—a few things. They’re called pets.

Research shows that having a pet can improve your mood, reduce your stress levels, and help you feel less lonely and anxious. Let’s look at how these benefits can affect your SUD recovery or mental health treatment.

The History of Animals Helping People’s Well-Being

Animals and humans have had a special relationship for thousands of years. Throughout history, humans turned to animals to uplift their spirits. For instance, humans have engaged in pet-keeping for thousands of years. Pet-keeping is a universal phenomenon. For example, ancient Egyptians housed cats as company. Christoper Columbus gifted Queen Isabella of Spain Cuban Amazon parrots to serve as beautiful companions.

Since then, many studies have shown that interacting with animals can aid in the treatment of mental issues such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. For example, research demonstrates that individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs)  who turn to their pets as a source of relief gain a significant advantage in their recovery. In addition, such studies show that animals could help reduce relapse rates because of their companionship of animals:

  • Enriches people’s creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Improves the management of their emotions.
  • Increases empathy, self-control, social skills, self-esteem,  and concentration.
  • Reduces stress, tension, and aggressive reactions.
  • Stimulates the adoption of new behavior.

The Role of Animals in Treating Mental Health Issues and Addiction

Many people around the country continue to adopt animals into their households for the many benefits. Today, therapy animals appear in hospitals, nursing homes, classrooms, libraries, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities worldwide. The list below highlights the benefits.

Pets Help Us Have Fun

With all the work of preventing relapse and maintaining recovery, it’s essential not to forget: life is fun! Pets have a fantastic ability to make us smile and laugh, whether it’s with their silly antics or just because they’re so darn cute. No, they are fun! They serve as beautiful companions that urge us to go out and enjoy life. They serve as great companions for long walks, playing fetch within the park, or just sitting next to and hanging out. Essentially, their funny and inspiring nature can cheer us up when we’re feeling down or need a little extra motivation to relax and unwind at the end of the day.

Stay Active, Stay Fit, and Gain Overall Physical  Health

Pets provide benefits to owners beyond providing companionship. Walking, grooming, and other interactions with pets can help improve physical health. Activities, like dog walking or playing with your pet can help reduce stress, boost the immune system, and lower blood pressure. Essentially,  such actions may increase the amount of moderate exercise that an individual takes part in weekly by even 150 minutes per week. Ultimately, having a pet can help you be more active, stay fit, and improve your overall physical health, which in turn helps your mental health.

Petting an Animal Releases Feel-Good Hormones

Some scientists believe that petting an animal can release oxytocin and dopamine in the human body—the same hormones associated with feelings of happiness. For this reason alone, it’s not hard to see how interacting with pets could benefit people dealing with addiction or mental illness.

If you don’t own a pet to help spur feelings of relaxation and well-being, consider visiting a friend with a dog or cat or volunteering at a local animal shelter where you can spend time with animals needing attention and grooming.

Having a Pet Provides a Purpose and Motivation

Having a purpose is critical during the recovery process. It helps you stay focused and motivated to maintain your sobriety. Many people find that having a pet can help them get through recovery. Pets can give you both purpose and motivation in several ways:

  • They are another life you are entirely responsible for, which gives your life more meaning.
  • They provide consistent companionship when you need it most (especially if you’re living alone).
  • You have to make an effort to go outside every day for their sake, which is also good for your mental health and helps keep motivation up.
  • Animals reduce loneliness and make it easier to be social.

Pets Improve Social Skills and Opportunites to Socialize

Pets serve as a great conversation starter, icebreaker, and conversation booster. Pets serve as the gateway to making new friends. Pets help people be more approachable. Many people start conversations with strangers about their pets. And by meeting new people, we can build a robust support system.

Learning to Trust With Your Pet’s Help

Building healthy relationships can be a challenge for those in recovery. It’s challenging for anyone who struggles with co-occurring disorders and trauma. However, animals— non-judgemental beings— love unconditionally. They always happily greet us even when we come home from a bad day at work (or an especially challenging therapy session). Having a pet around is like having some built-in emotional support in the recovery process.

At Restoration Recovery, we provide a variety of holistic therapies that include animals. We hope to see you benefit from our treatment program.

 When you’re recovering from a mental health issue or addiction, your ability to connect with others is vital. After all, the more social and connected you are, the more likely you will recover from an addiction. At Restoration Recovery Center, we help participants find community and connection through our most essential tools: animals. Evidence shows that close human-animal relationships may help reduce stress and anxiety, increase motivation and physical activity levels, and improve self-esteem and social interactions among people with co-occurring disorders. Our comprehensive treatment program helps clients gain great ground in recovery by offering therapies that include access to nature, outdoor activities, and animals. We believe that there’s nothing better than getting out into nature to relieve stress and bond with others—and now you can access animals due to our location at the foothills. Call us today at (888) 290-0925 to learn more about our treatment programs. 

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