Benefits of Animals in Addiction Treatment


Growing up, we probably all heard the same conversation happen between our parents. “ We are not getting a puppy. We are absolutely not getting a puppy. We don’t need a puppy in this house. Stop asking, a puppy is never happening.” The proverbial foot came down, folks. And yet, this never stopped a desire for a puppy in a family.

If you’re lucky enough, or if you have strategically plotted with your siblings enough, one parent or another was gradually worn down far enough just to go “look” at an adoption event or rescue center.

Guess who’s coming home with a puppy? Just going to “look” – more famous last words have never been spoken. And why? Because once you lay eyes on a dog that needs your love and care, you are reminded that the world is bigger than you are, that you have purpose and that there is room in your heart for more than just yourself.  Especially as that puppy’s favorite person generally happens to be the parent who was most against them in the first place.

Animals and Addiction Treatment

The analogy of adopting an animal also rings true for helping individuals struggling with addiction to continue walking their personal roads to recovery. The interactions of humans and animals during treatment has been known to lower stress-related factors such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. This can help to improve the function of a damaged immune system as well as manage pain more holistically, increasing trust toward other people, reducing aggression, increasing empathy and developing personal awareness in emotional reaction.

While not known as a traditional type of addiction treatment, animal therapy works by helping people to focus on someone or something else. Caring for a being that’s dependent on them, especially after having spent a long time serving only their own needs in active addiction, people recovering from addiction remember what it feels like to cherish something again.  They can also gain a more nuanced understanding of what it means to be nurtured — something they may have never learned or have forgotten while they were using. Animals can help people in recovery build self-assurance and self-worth.

Here are 3 ways animal care can help those struggling in addiction to find greater purpose:

  1. It’s not just about YOU : Addiction is isolating, and often addicts find themselves giving in to the lies that no one needs them, no one wants them and in fact, life would be better without them. When an animal is brought in as a part of treatment, the client is now faced with a responsibility to care about the well being of another beyond themselves. Food, water, love and care given to another, without expectation of return, is part of understanding our role in our community. Demonstrating acts of service towards others are small steps in the right direction.
  2. Get Outside!: Animal companions in treatment often cause the client to get outside and engage! Dogs have to be walked, horses have to be ridden and the desire to stay inside and isolate is gradually defeated by the need to care for these animals that depend on you. Before you know it, your body may actually even be enjoying time spent in the great outdoors.
  3. Love without expectations: They call it puppy love for a reason. And for individuals who struggle with the mistakes and consequences of addiction, it may have been a long time since they felt genuine love that didn’t cost them more than simple reciprocation. During recovery, many people go through a transitional season where they avoid old friends who have bad habits but they’ve yet to craft and solidify new friendships. A pet is like a friend who is always there, with their love at the ready.friends having lunch in courtyard

Pet Therapy at AAC

At American Addiction Centers, we offer several facilities with Animal Therapy as part of our treatment program plans. If you or a loved one can benefit from a treatment partnered with animal care, reach out to us to discuss your options today.

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Read More from Lindsey Simpkins:

Facing the Signs of Addiction

Mind(fulness) Over Matter



About The Contributor

Lindsey Simpkins
Lindsey Simpkins

Senior Training Manager, American Addictions Admissions Center

Lindsey Simpkins is a seasoned learning and development professional with more than 13 years of experience in adult learning, including instructional design, facilitation, talent assessment, leadership development and organizational development.... Read More


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