Did you know spending just 30 minutes with a puppy can positively affect your brain chemistry?
We look at the many benefits of animal-assisted therapy in addiction treatment.
Breaking an addiction is one of the hardest things you can possibly do.
That’s why the support of your loved ones is so important. But what about the support of animal companions?
If you’re an animal lover, you’re probably well aware of the uplifting effects pets have on your life.
Indeed, spending just 30 minutes with a pup can positively affect your brain chemistry.
And when applied to addiction treatment, these can have even farther-reaching impacts than you might expect.
What is Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT)?
Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) consists of spending designated amounts of time with therapy pets during rehabilitation.
The animals – in most cases mature dogs or horses – are carefully selected, trained and socialised.
They then become your loving and supportive companions throughout each stage of your treatment.
Many recovering addicts say animal therapy helped them through the treatment process, but the evidence isn’t just anecdotal.
In a more recent review of over 28 studies examining the benefits of AAT in treating people with a wide array of disorders, found that 26 of the 28 studies reported positive outcomes in patients undergoing animal therapy.
The participants also had a more positive outlook on therapy.
Wondering how all of this pertains to you?
Here are seven ways animal-assisted therapy can make all the difference in your treatment programme:
1. Interacting With Animals is Calming
As we well know, overcoming an addiction is no small task.
Recovery often tests your willpower, and there will be times when the frustration and stress seems almost too much to bear – that’s why you need all the help you can get.
Spending time with animals can take you from a negative mental state to a positive one, renewing your sense of safety, security and general wellbeing.
This helps calm your mind, which in turn has a positive impact on your recovery overall process.
2. Pet Companionship Enhances Your Ability to Connect with Others
Animals can also elevate your mood and improve your emotional state.
It’s been shown that playing with a dog increases your brain’s oxytocin levels.
Oxytocin is a brain chemical that plays a role in making you feel connected to other people – a key asset to develop for a fulfilling life in sobriety.
3. Animal Therapy Helps You Open up and Talk About Your Problems
This can also help you open up to the outside world, which is hugely important for treatment.
Shame plays a huge role in addiction.
When you’re addicted, it often feels like the rest of the world is judging you.
You might even feel people are looking down on you—even when you know this feeling is all in your head.
Animals won’t judge you and their love is unconditional.
Plus, they give genuine feedback on your behaviour, which builds trust.
There’s no way around it – to succeed in treatment, you need to open up about your problems.
And research shows that AAT can help addicts do this with greater ease.
4. Animals Encourage You to be More Physically Active
It’s also been proven that animals encourage you to be more physically active—dogs need walks and horses need to run.
The benefits of physical activity in addiction treatment are well-documented and far-reaching – perhaps most notably, it can help break your cycles of negative thought patterns.
5. Having Pets Around Can Quell Feelings of Loneliness
Have you ever felt like no one understands what you’re going through?
This is a common feeling among addicts.
Being away from friends and family during rehab can also be hard, but animal companionship provides a healthy way to cope with this.
6. Animals Can Decrease Co-dependent Tendencies
Not only will they make you feel less lonely, having an animal around can make you less reliant on other people.
Co-dependency is a common theme in addiction, but animals provide companionship in a way that doesn’t put you at risk of forming an unhealthy relationship.
7. Animal Therapy Helps You Believe That Recovery is Possible
Chances are you’ve already tried multiple times to get sober, and maybe your previously unsuccessful attempts left you feeling like all hope is lost.
This is certainly not the case, however, and animal therapy can help you reach the point where you fully believe personal change and healing is possible.
A study researched the effects of animal-assisted therapy on 231 people with a substance dependency.
Among the addicts were people with meth and cannabis addiction.
The study found that animals helped addicts get more positive about their treatment – which dramatically increases the chances of treatment success.
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