Can a Pet Help You Recover From Addiction?
People want pets for many reasons. They’re cute, they’re friendly, and they can keep you company. If you are in your first year or so of recovery, there may be ways that having a pet can actually help you out and make your recovery stronger. However, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. If you’re not in a good place, a pet may be an unnecessary liability. It may be better to wait. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about getting a pet.
How a Pet Can Help
Pets Are Good Companions
One of the most common reasons people want a pet, especially a dog or a cat, is that a pet is a good companion. They don’t judge, they’re affectionate, and they’re always around. Loneliness is a common problem early in addiction recovery because people often cut ties with old friends who drink and use drugs. However, making new friends can take time and meanwhile, people often feel lonely. Loneliness isn’t just unpleasant; it can worsen issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that commonly occur with addiction. Finding ways to feel connected is essential to recovery success and having a pet around is one such way. It’s not a substitute for human companionship, but it’s certainly an improvement over isolation.
Pets Can Make You More Conscientious
We typically don’t think of responsibility as a selling point but for people recovering from a substance use disorder, it can be. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that appears to protect against substance use disorders. Conscientiousness includes things like being responsible, being organized, following rules, following a regular routine, and so on. While personality traits are inherently difficult to change, conscientiousness is more related to action than other personality traits are, which means you can become more conscientious by behaving more conscientiously.
Having a pet exercises your conscientiousness muscles in mainly two ways. First, having a pet is quite a bit of responsibility. You have to feed it, make sure it gets plenty of exercise, and make sure it has basic things like toys, a carrier, and somewhere to sleep. You have to make sure your pet is vaccinated and you have to take it to the vet when it’s sick. You’re responsible for the well-being of another living thing, which means you will get plenty of practice doing mildly annoying and unpleasant things. While this doesn’t seem very appealing, learning to care for a pet can help you cultivate compassion and get you outside of your own head, which may not always be a nice place to be.
The second way a pet will help you be more conscientious is that it will help you have a more regular routine. You have to feed a pet regularly and a cat, dog, or bird will even wake you up when it’s ready to eat. You are aware that you have to be home at night to feed your pet, so you’re less likely to stay out late or stay over with friends. This routine can help with other things like having a more regular sleep schedule and generally keep you tethered to the normal rhythm of the world.
Pets Are a Way to Connect With Others
Having a pet means you have an easy conversation topic most of the time. Everyone wants to talk about their pets because they love them, it’s rarely a controversial topic, and it’s more interesting than the weather. Having a dog is especially good for promoting social connection because you have to walk them and you are much more likely to meet and talk to your neighbors. Even people without dogs will be more likely to strike up a conversation. While most of these interactions will be superficial, it’s good to have more points of contact, especially with the people who live around you. As noted above, loneliness is a common problem in early recovery, and having a sense of social connection is one of the best ways to ensure your recovery lasts.
Pets Encourage You to Be Active
This is mainly true of dogs, who have to be walked. Some dogs need a great deal of exercise, which means you’ll get plenty of exercise, whether it’s walking them, running with them, playing fetch, and so on. Having a dog usually means you get more activity spread throughout the day and it means you will be less likely to skip exercise if the weather isn’t perfect. While a short walk with the dog doesn’t seem like a big deal, many short walks throughout the week add up to quite a bit of exercise. Not only is that good for your health, but it’s also good for your recovery. Many studies have linked regular exercise to less stress, lower anxiety, better mood, and even longer periods of sobriety.
When You Might Want to Wait
Pets Can Be Expensive
Pets are a lot more expensive than you think. There are sometimes adoption fees, vaccinations, accessories like beds, carriers, toys, grooming items, and so on, vet bills, and food. A lot of people aren’t in the best shape financially when they start recovery and the financial stress of taking care of a pet certainly won’t help.
Pets Entail Responsibility
As discussed above, responsibility can be a good thing for recovery, but it can also be too much. Keep in mind that if you drop the ball, it’s your pet who will suffer. It’s also possible that the responsibility of caring for a pet will be too much stress too soon. Stress is a major cause of cravings, so it makes sense to only increase your responsibilities gradually to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Pets Can Be an Emotional Liability
The emotions involved in having a pet aren’t always positive. Animals have much shorter lifespans than people. They get sick and they have accidents. If you’re attached to a pet, its death can be devastating. If you feel like that’s not an emotional shock you’re prepared to handle--meaning you’re not sure you could stay sober if your pet dies--then it might be better to wait until you’re in a more stable point in your recovery.
Pets can be great companions. They can help us learn to be more compassionate and responsible, both of which improve your recovery and make you happier and more fulfilled in life more generally. However, once you adopt a pet, you’re responsible for its welfare. If you think there’s any chance that you will forget about it, neglect, or not be able to afford to care for it, it’s better to wait. You can always get a pet later. It’s also important to remember that as emotionally rewarding as caring for a pet can be, it creates an emotional vulnerability as well. Getting a pet is just one of many life choices that will affect your recovery from addiction and your overall well-being.
At Foundry, we know that drug and alcohol use is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addiction. Mental health issues, trauma, stress, and isolation are often the real driving forces. That’s why we emphasize a comprehensive approach to recovery, one that doesn’t just emphasize abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but also addresses the root causes of addiction and gives clients the skills they need to live happier, more fulfilling lives. To learn more about our addiction treatment program, call us today at (844) 955-1066.