Mental health and wellness play a significant role in a person’s overall well-being. This holds true for all, and especially for those who are on their path to recovery and sobriety. While there are various tools and support systems available, one often-overlooked form of assistance is the simple companionship of pets. Domestic animals, such as cats and dogs, provide physical, emotional, and mental support that helps individuals with a history of addiction to navigate through their journey to sobriety. In this article, we explore the various ways pets can help individuals enhance their mental health and wellness while promoting sobriety.
Reducing Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are two common triggers for substance use disorder relapse (Sinclair, Katarina Levander, Ulf Fransson, Maria Lonita, et al., 2014). The mere presence of a pet can offer comfort and promote relaxation, proving to be highly beneficial for those in recovery.
A study conducted on 240 married couples showed that pet owners had significantly lower stress levels when performing tasks as compared to those without pets (Allen, Karen, Blascovich, Jim, Tomaka, Joe, & Kelsey, Robert M., 1991). Dogs or cats can sense their owner’s emotional states, often providing physical contact such as cuddling or nuzzling when individuals are feeling stressed or anxious. This tactile stimulation helps in releasing feel-good hormones, like oxytocin, which can aid in alleviating anxiety, depression, and stress (Goukens, C., Dewitte, S., & Warlop, L., 2004).
Encouraging Routine and Responsibility
One of the challenges faced by people in recovery from addiction is restructuring their daily routine. The adoption of healthy habits significantly aids in maintaining sobriety. Pets, like dogs and cats, require a consistent routine for feeding, grooming, and exercising. Assuming the responsibility of caring for a pet can instill a structure and purpose in an individual’s life, promoting self-control and discipline.
Combating Loneliness and Isolation
Building connections and nurturing relationships play an essential role in recovery. However, feelings of loneliness and isolation can often lead to relapse. According to a 2017 Harvard Health Blog, owning pets, specifically dogs, was found to reduce loneliness and isolation. The companionship offered by a pet provides a sense of security and stability, as well as offering an avenue for socialization with other pet owners.
Promoting Physical Health
Maintaining one’s physical health is a key component in recovery. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, can significantly reduce the risk of relapse. Pets, especially dogs, can serve as motivators for physical activity. Regular walks, playtime at the park, or simply engaging in physical games with pets can help keep individuals active, enhancing their physical health, and aiding their mental well-being.
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Positively Impacting Mental Health
As proven in multiple studies, pets can have a significant effect on mental health. One particular study found that pet therapy for individuals with mood disorders led to significant improvements in their symptoms of depression and anxiety (Berget, Bente, & Braastad, Bjarne O., 2008). Further research has shown that interaction with animals enhances the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, responsible for regulating mood and promoting happiness (Matuszek, Sarah, 2010).
How to Choose the Right Pet for Sobriety
While the benefits of pet ownership are numerous, it is crucial to carefully consider the type of pet that will best suit an individual’s lifestyle, housing, and financial situation. Adopting a dog or cat might not be feasible for everyone. Alternative options, such as fish, birds, or even small mammals like guinea pigs or rabbits, can provide companionship and mental health benefits without the same level of responsibility as larger pets.
Before making the decision to adopt a pet, consulting with a healthcare professional or a support group can provide valuable advice on whether pet ownership is the right choice for one’s journey towards sobriety and mental health.
Pets offer companionship, unconditional love, and support, playing an essential role in enhancing mental health and wellness during recovery. By reducing anxiety and stress, promoting responsibility and routine, fighting isolation, encouraging physical activity, and positively affecting mental health, pets can significantly improve an individual’s journey towards sobriety. However, it is crucial to carefully consider personal circumstances and consult with healthcare professionals before adopting a pet in order to ensure a successful and beneficial relationship for both the individual and their future animal companion.