What Role Can Pets Play in Addiction Recovery?

There’s plenty of evidence that pets make us happier and healthier – something that anyone who’s ever had a furry friend of their own can probably understand.

But did you know that pets can also play a valuable role when it comes to addiction recovery? That’s right.

When used in combination with other forms of treatment and support, pets can offer valuable benefits ranging from increased physical activity and more motivation to better self-esteem and less mental distress. While getting a pet is a big commitment that won’t immediately solve all your problems, it can be a really positive step when taken responsibly.

Providing Motivation to Get Better

It’s often said that to recover from addiction, you have to really want it for yourself. However, finding that kind of motivation for recovery from addiction can be difficult when you’re at a low point and don’t see much future. Having a pet can provide a much-needed boost, and could be the factor that pushes you into seeking help and staying committed to recovery.

When there’s a pet in your life who needs love, care, and attention, you have a reason outside yourself to get better. You can make future plans involving your pet – for example, ‘When I’m in recovery I can take Buddy to the beach more often,’ or, ‘I know I’ll have more money to spend on high-quality cat food once I recover.’

Looking into the face of a pet who loves you unconditionally can be a huge motivator when it comes to addiction recovery.

Encouraging You to Get More Active

Physical activity is proven to have tons of mental and physical benefits, and it can also lessen withdrawal symptoms from certain drugs. However, forcing yourself to the gym can be seriously tricky in early recovery, especially if you don’t have anyone to go with.

When you have a pet, you’ve got a ready-made partner for tons of fun physical activities. You could go on long hikes with your dog, or even just run around the park together. You might have fun dashing around the house waving a dangly toy for your cat, or throwing a catnip mouse for them to catch. Even if you have a smaller pet, like a hamster, you’ll still be encouraged to get out and about to buy food and supplies for them.

If you don’t have your own pet and aren’t ready for the commitment of getting one, consider offering to walk the dog for your neighbor or catsit for a family member. This serves a dual purpose, as you’re also helping others and learning to behave in a responsible and reliable way.

Boosting Your Feeling of Connection

Feeling connected to others is a vital part of recovery, but it can be hard. Perhaps you’re avoiding old friends who still use drugs, or have burned bridges as a result of your past behavior. Having a pet to spend time with can be a great stepping stone towards forming healthy relationships with others – and you can be sure that your pet isn’t judging you.

Even a few minutes stroking a cat or playing fetch with a dog can help you to feel more connected, less lonely, and more positive about the future. Pets can also help you to connect with others who have similar interests. You could volunteer at a local animal shelter, join a dog walking club, or help a friend with their new puppy.

Giving You a Greater Sense of Purpose

Being in active addiction might mean that you no longer have a job and don’t feel much sense of purpose in your day-to-day life. Caring for pets can help give your life a sense of meaning again, and knowing that you’re responsible for the well-being of a vulnerable creature is an important reminder to keep making good decisions.

On days when you feel like lying in bed and doing nothing, knowing that you have a reason to get up is extremely helpful. Getting used to caring for a pet will also help you to build healthy habits that will benefit you when you to come to look for a job.

Reducing Mental and Physical Distress

When you’re feeling upset or frustrated in recovery, spending time with pets is a great way to relax and unwind. If you’re sad, you might feel reassured and comforted by stroking or grooming a pet. If you’re feeling stressed, spending some time playing outdoors with a pet is a great way to take your mind off things and get into a better headspace.

There’s even evidence that spending time with animals can reduce your perception of pain – so pets can help ease physical distress as well as mental discomfort.

Getting a pet isn’t a magical cure for addiction, but spending time with animals is an excellent way to get motivated, boost your self-esteem, and start behaving in a more selfless way. Whether you start spending time with a friend’s pet or decide you’re ready for a companion of your own, you’re sure to see tons of benefits.


Photo by João Victor Xavier on Unsplash