Addiction recovery is challenging on several fronts. You have to transition from the structured life of treatment to the relative freedom of being back home. You have to make some healthy lifestyle changes. You may have to distance yourself from some old friends and perhaps deal with a period of loneliness before making new ones. It’s common to feel a bit depressed or anxious during this period. One thing that may help is getting a pet.
Fist of all, a disclaimer: don’t get a pet on a whim. Feeding and caring for a pet requires time and money. They need vaccinations and checkups. Vet bills can get expensive. They also need a suitable environment to live in, so if you live in a 400 square foot apartment, it’s better to hold off on buying that Australian shepard. Not everyone early in recovery can handle caring for an animal. Make an honest assessment of your situation and do your research before committing to an animal. If you think you’re up to it, read on to learn how a pet can make your sober life better.
Pets teach you responsibility.
When you get a pet, you suddenly have a little creature depending on you. That’s not always convenient. You have to feed them, groom them, walk them, play with them, clean up their poop, and take them to the vet when they’re sick. You won’t feel like doing most of this stuff, but it has to be done. Your pet is relying on you. It may seem weird, but all those inconvenient things you have to do for your pet actually makes you love him more. That feeling that you want to care for something else helps get you out of your own head, which reduces feelings of anxiety and depression.
Pets make you stick to a schedule.
Animals have their own daily routines. They wake up at certain times and they want to eat and play at certain times. Your schedule can’t revolve around your pet, but your pet’s needs will certainly influence your schedule. You’ll have to think about your pet when you make plans. For example, you might be less likely to stay out late if you know your dog hasn’t eaten, or you might be more likely to go home at the end of the evening rather than crash at a friend’s house.
This has the double benefit of keeping you out of trouble–since many of our bad decisions happen late at night–and it keeps you on a more regular sleep schedule. A regular sleep schedule improves the quality of your sleep and helps you keep a healthy routine. Better sleep has many benefits, including less anxiety and depression, better immunity to illness, better focus, memory, and emotional regulation.
Pets offer unconditional affection.
Harry Truman is supposed to have said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” He never actually said that–in fact, he didn’t even like dogs–but it’s clear why the quote persists. Our pets love us even when no one else does, and we appreciate it. They’re glad to see us when we come home, and coming home to a pet is better than coming home to an empty house. People who have pets feel less lonely and less stressed. Loneliness and stress are major relapse triggers and anything you can do to reduce them improves your chances of success in recovery.
Pets make you get more exercise.
This is mainly if you own a dog. Dogs have to be walked and many breeds need even more exercise than regular walks. Studies show that dog owners get much more exercise than people who don’t have dogs, even people who exercise regularly. When you don’t have a dog, you can skip a walk if you’re tired or the weather is bad. If you do have a dog, you’re more likely to push on, even if you don’t especially feel like it. That extra incentive makes a big difference over the course of weeks and months.
That extra exercise has many benefits for recovery. Exercise lowers stress and reduces your resting heart rate. It reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercise improves your concentration, memory, and self-control. It also improves your sleep at night. You don’t have train like a professional athlete to get these benefits. Walking the dog a couple times a day can help a lot.
Pets connect you to other people.
Again, this is mainly with dogs. Walking your dog a couple times a day is a great way to meet the neighbors. You get used to seeing they neighbors and they get used to seeing you. A dog is a perfect icebreaker to start a conversation. This might strike some people as rather inane, chatting with the neighbors about their dog or the weather, but it’s actually good for you. It makes you feel less lonely. If you are sitting around feeling isolated, or maybe having a craving, taking the dog out for a walk is a pretty reliable way to connect with someone and distract yourself from your problems. You start looking for the same people and they start looking for you. You feel like you belong in the neighborhood. When you’re recovering from addiction, the more points of connection you have, the better.
What if you’re not ready for the responsibility of a pet?
If you’re not quite in a stable enough place for a pet, consider volunteering at a shelter. They often need people to walk dogs, play with cats, or help clean up. It’s a way of spending time with animals and other people who like animals. Or you might offer to take care of a friend’s animals while they’re out of town. That way, you can enjoy some of the benefits of having a pet without all the commitment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use established, research-backed treatment modalities such as CBT and MBCT, as well as cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.