Let’s put mental health aside for a second. Have you ever noticed that a lot of people have a weird tendency to divide people into two categories?
Do you like Coca-Cola or Pepsi?
Do you use Apple or Android devices?
Are you a dog or a cat person?
That last one, admittedly, can be interesting to consider. After all, dogs and cats tend to behave quite differently. If you like a furry friend who will lavish attention on you—and demand attention in return—then you probably lean toward dogs. If you like having a furry companion who likely won’t spend much time in your personal space—and would appreciate it if you gave them plenty of space, too—then you are probably more likely to like cats.
But many people are neither a dog nor a cat person. Maybe they have allergies. Maybe they don’t like scooping poop (really, who does?). Maybe they find the sound of a bark or of a meow to be unendingly irritating. So dividing people into dog people and cat people is going to leave a lot of people out.
We bring this up because having a pet can provide a boost to your mental health and support your sobriety. And while cats and dogs are certainly among the critters that can provide these benefits, they are far from the only options. You might consider a rabbit or a hamster or a lizard or a bird… We could, of course, go on and on.
In addition, it is possible to get the benefits of interacting with animals without necessarily bringing one into your home. You could, for example, volunteer at an animal shelter or let people know you are available for pet sitting or—if you know some dog people—dog walking.
By this point, you are probably wondering what the benefits of spending time with animals actually are. That’s a fair question. Let’s take a look.
What You Get with a Pet
When you think of pets, the odds are pretty good that you don’t think much about the levels of cortisol and oxytocin in your brain. In fact, you may never think about the levels of cortisol and oxytocin in your brain. But when it comes to the benefits associated with interacting with animals, you should. Studies show that when you play with or pet an animal, the level of cortisol in your brain decreases while the level of oxytocin increases. Less cortisol and more oxytocin are a recipe for lower levels of stress and increased levels of relaxation. Additionally, petting an animal has also been connected to lower blood pressure levels.
Meanwhile, welcoming a pet into your home (or finding other ways to spend time with animals) can lessen feelings of loneliness and boredom while also (depending, of course, on the animal) increase levels of physical activity. Pets provide companionship that is always free of judgment, and they can simply be present in those moments when you are struggling with challenging emotions or the symptoms of a mental health disorder like depression or anxiety.
For a person in recovery from a substance use disorder, these benefits can provide support for ongoing sobriety. Mental health and sobriety are intertwined, which means anything that boosts your mental well-being is likely to also help you protect your sobriety. A pet you can love and care for can provide those benefits.
A Caveat: A Pet is a Commitment
We want to be clear that bringing any animal into your home involves a serious commitment. The animal will rely entirely on you to provide for its needs—and those needs can sometimes be extensive (and expensive).
If you are considering a new pet, take the time to learn about the specific kind of animal that appeals to you. It is worthwhile, for example, to think hard about what kind of dog might be best for you and your living situation.
Bringing an animal into your life can bring lots of joy as long as you remember that it brings lots of responsibility, too.
Doggone It, We Can Help You Reclaim Your Sobriety and Mental Health
At The Aviary Recovery Center near St. Louis, MO, we know that animals can help you reclaim and maintain your sobriety (heck, even our name refers to birds!). That is why we offer an equine program among our treatment options.
We also know that our medically supervised detox program, robust approaches to rehabilitation, and commitment to a continuum of care can help you start your recovery journey with confidence. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, we can help. When you choose The Aviary Recovery Center, you definitely won’t be barking up the wrong tree.