Pets offer a special, distinct, and unique emotional connection; an unconditional love and support that endures in the face of practically all dysfunction. When a problem arises in our careers, our relationships, our families, or any other aspect of our lives, our pets are there to offer companionship and a sense of purpose when we need it most. When we’re in the throes of alcohol or drug addiction, our pets are often some of the only relationships we manage to keep intact. They don’t judge, they don’t scream, they don’t abandon—they just expect the same level of care as we’ve always given them. Losing this sense of stability to go to inpatient rehab can be a potential deal-breaker, even for those who are desperate for treatment. Luckily, there are more and more pet-friendly drug rehab centers for those who can’t stand the thought of being without their animal companions.
Research indicates that two-thirds of all American households and nearly half of all elderly individuals own pets. With more than twenty-five million Americans fitting the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD), it would stand to reason that there would be some overlap in these two populations.
Data indicates that the use of pets has been effective in the treatment of multiple mental health conditions, including but not limited to:
Animal-assisted therapy can also offer a variety of physical health benefits to counteract lingering withdrawal symptoms, such as sore muscles, chronic pain, and more. The occupational nature of this therapy (walking, running, playing, and physically interacting with pets in other ways) is essentially exercise by default. Epidemiologic studies suggest pet owners may acquire physical benefits such as improved blood pressure and greater physical activity. An investigation of 5902 individuals in the US noted a positive relationship between dog walking and an increased amount of total walking time.
As the evidence mounts regarding the efficacy of dogs in the inpatient drug rehab process, more and more facilities are allowing patients to bring their dogs with them to treatment. Many facilities correctly believe that dogs will help boost positive emotions, improve personal responsibility, diminish the chances of relapse, and have an overall positive impact on patients.
Cats are also increasingly welcome at treatment facilities for patients who depend on them to maintain positive emotions and motivation. More and more treatment facilities are becoming aware of this emotional connection and are allowing patients to bring their feline friends to addiction treatment.
Other therapy animals that are often used in treatment include but are not limited to reptiles, guinea pigs, horses, and even certain types of tropical fish.
It’s important to remember that there’s a distinction between pet-friendly rehab and animal-assisted rehab. Animal-assisted rehab utilizes the emotional connection that comes from interacting with animals as an actual therapeutic mechanism. It is incorporated into a comprehensive overall treatment program. While many treatment facilities may allow patients to bring their dogs, cats, or other pets to treatment, they may offer no or limited animal-assisted therapy resources. If you or your loved one are specifically interested in animal-assisted therapy, multiple specialty facilities that offer these services. For many, just having their pet at their side during their inpatient treatment is therapeutic enough.
For many battling SUD, the companionship and loyalty of a pet can mean the difference between motivation and relapse. They provide love, purpose, responsibility, and more. If you or a loved one need pet-friendly addiction treatment, help is out there.
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