Should I Get a Pet After Rehab?
Who feels better in the presence of pets? Can I see a show of hands? I know I do. Growing up in the rural Midwest, an Australian Shepherd dog was always at my side, everywhere I went. And as an adult in the addiction recovery community, I’ve seen countless cases of recovering addicts who benefited from pet ownership.
What is it about pets that make them, by their sheer existence alone, the best silent therapists we could ask for? Why do we feel better in the presence of pets? How is it that pets can help recovering addicts stay sober?
The Benefits of Getting a Pet After Rehab
Our pets might never say a word to us, but that doesn’t mean they don’t communicate a great deal. Some of the most meaningful moments in life could be those shared in silence with a paw or muzzle in hand. Just a friendly look from those knowing eyes can turn anyone’s day around.
With all of the happiness that our pets bring to us daily, it’s no surprise that pets can help us in addiction recovery, too. For example:
Pets lift spirits and attitudes even during hard times. Life after rehab is far better than life as an addict. But that doesn’t mean life after rehab is easy, or that it won’t sometimes contain hardship or struggle. Having a friendly, loving companion around who wants nothing but your love and affection and who is willing to give it all back in return… well, that just makes any bad day better.
- Pets provide faithful and loving companionship. Life after rehab can sometimes be a lonely one. Recovering addicts often feel like no one else understands their struggle. But we don’t have to explain anything to a pet for them to understand our hardship. Pets, particularly dogs, can detect sadness and melancholy. They can provide succor and kindness when they see us going through a hard time.
- Pets love unconditionally. Pet’s don’t judge. A recovering addict is often his own greatest critic. People in recovery sometimes struggle with the weight of the traumas and difficulties that they’ve caused in others. Pets don’t care about any of that though. A pet is someone who will love us for who we are now. Not who we were back then.
- Pets encourage trust. Reentering adult life after time spent as an addict can come with some trust issues. While an addict, we probably didn’t hang around the most trustworthy people. Pets, however, are very trusting, and they trust us completely.
- Pets calm nerves and ease discomfort. Life after rehab can sometimes be tough, and having a pet around is like having one’s own personal stress reliever. And this is a healthy, kind, loving, and sweet stress reliever.
- Pets offer physical affection. Gentle, kind, and safe physical contact with a pet can work wonders on a hurting soul, especially for recovering addicts who have also suffered physical abuse.
- Pets help boost our social lives. Having a pet can mean getting involved in pet communities, meeting other pet owners at the dog park, making friends with pet owners, etc. All of this helps put us back in touch with positive and healthy social groups.
Except for a few exceptions here and there, the peer-reviewed science is still forthcoming on the measurable benefits of pets in addiction recovery. But I don't think the benefits that pets bring to us is something you can measure with scientific research. I don't believe the bond of friendship and companionship we have with our pets is something you can describe scientifically. But that doesn't make the unique relationships we share with our pets any less real or meaningful.
Pets are a source of endless joy. When all of the chips are down, our pets always have our back. You cannot physically measure the happiness and joy we get from them. We are lucky to have them in our lives.
The Responsibility of Pet Ownership
There’s no doubt that pets provide us with unconditional love and kindness. But perhaps the most significant benefit of getting a pet after rehab is the responsibility that doing so places on us.
Having a pet is a big responsibility. When a recovering addict has someone to be responsible for (other than himself), that helps him stay focused on his recovery. It’s no longer just him that he must stay sober for. Now he needs to stay sober for his new, furry friend as well.
The lifestyle of someone who currently struggles with a drug problem is a lifestyle of irresponsibility. Achieving stability in one's sobriety means taking on new responsibilities. It means understanding that he is accountable for himself as well as others. It means taking actions and steps every day to take care of himself and others. A pet inspires accountability, and accountability is a crucial strength that any recovering addict should foster.
Getting Help - Put Treatment First
Taking care of a pet while in recovery has many benefits. However, if someone is still struggling with a current drug habit and is trying to take care of a pet while doing so, they need to find a family member or friend who will take care of their pet for them while they seek treatment at a residential rehab center.
Pet ownership is a boon to addiction recovery. But a pet parent should not use their pet as an excuse not to seek treatment if they are actively struggling with a substance abuse problem. If we injure ourselves or, heaven forbid, overdose and die from our drug habits, what good are we to our pets then?
Even our pets want us to be healthy and well! We are the best owners and friends to them when we put our health and recovery first. If you are currently struggling with a drug habit, make sure residential addiction treatment is the priority. Then, once drug use or alcohol misuse is in the past, seek the joy, the love, and the sweetness of a sober and healthy life, furry friends included!