Anybody that has been a pet owner or played with a dog knows that interactions with animals have something magical. Spending some time with these creatures can even be a healing experience. Currently, animal-assisted therapy is being used to address the substance abuse issue. It can even help individuals find healing and hope during the intense process of recovery.
Animals have a healing impact that acts as a medicinal tool. And, it has been used by people across the world for centuries. Caring for a horse or basking with a loving dog can provide incredible psychological and emotional benefits. A person that is undergoing treatment for substance use disorder may find the incorporation of animal-assisted therapy in their treatment useful. The love and warmth of animals can aid their recovery journey significantly.
Animal-Assisted Therapy Explained
The first thing that comes to the mind of most people on realizing that they need help with addiction is finding free help for alcoholics. Although some of these individuals own pets, they don’t know that these animals can benefit them in their recovery process. However, the relationship that a person has with a pet is not what experts call animal-assisted therapy.
Animal-assisted therapy is a treatment method in the rehabilitation of different conditions and illnesses. When it comes to substance use disorders, AAT refers to the recreational or therapeutic activities that help a person to benefit from the healing power of the time spent with animals. Animal-assisted therapy shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone treatment. Instead, it should be used with other programs for addiction treatment and recovery.
Animal-Assisted Therapy’s Best Practices for Substance Abuse
The popularity of animal-assisted therapy is growing, especially the use of dogs in inpatient treatment facilities. However, it shouldn’t replace other evidence-based treatment programs like counseling and detoxification.
So, owning a dog shouldn’t mean that a person doesn’t need free addiction help. True animal-assisted therapy requires the help of a certified professional that has undergone specialized training. With proper training and experience of this professional, the safety of the dog and the patient is ensured. What’s more, a certified professional has the necessary skills and experience to make this therapy more effective. Additionally, AAT should be tied to the treatment progress of the patient and be goal-directed.
How Animal-Assisted Therapy Helps in the Recovery of Addicts
When recovering from drug addiction, individuals face several mental, emotional, and physical obstacles. Alcoholism or addiction changes how the brain functions. That’s because alcohol and drugs cause artificial stimulation of receptors and neurotransmitters.
AAT provides a natural and safe way of re-establishing the natural pathways of neuro-chemical in the brain. When a person rides a horse or plays with a pet like a dog, their brain pleasure receptors are stimulated by this interaction. This releases strong mood-enhancing chemicals. Consequently, a person develops good routines and habits that reduce their alcohol or drug dependence.
Some of the benefits that the recovering addicts and pets get from animal-assisted therapy sessions include:
● Reduction of anxiety, stress, and depression
● Increased feelings of happiness and calm
● Learning how to connect with other people
● Opening up and addressing the hidden feelings
● Enhanced physical activity
● Learning to establish healthy interactions
● Building trust
Different animals can be used for this therapy. Common among them include dogs, horses, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, pigs, Llamas, rats, and Alpacas. Nevertheless, the most popular animals for this therapy are dogs. Equine therapy is also becoming increasingly popular. This entails interactions with horses when undergoing treatment for substance abuse.
Most Effective Animals for AAT
No research has compared the effectiveness of various animals and recovering addicts. As such, there is no evidence showing that certain animals are more beneficial than others when used for AAT. Consequently, most individuals believe that every therapy animal is effective.
But, the incorporation of different animals into a free drug addiction treatment process has numerous advantages. Here are some of the popular animals for AAT and their benefits.
Dogs are naturally interactive, gentle, and highly observant. The best dogs for this therapy are trained for this specific purpose. This makes them ideal for patients to play with, groom, and feed. When patients interact with these dogs, they confront past addictive behaviors. The presence of dogs relieves stress while helping them acquire communication skills and self-esteem.
This entails engaging in beneficial activities with a horse. Such activities include grooming, handling, riding, and walking. When a horse observes human emotions, they respond to different feelings, including anxiety, sadness, anger, and happiness. Thus, patients get immediate feedback regarding their state from their interaction with a horse. They also learn to address and confront negative feelings while developing healthy strategies for coping with triggers.
A cat is a companion animal. Having a cat during a therapy session, as well as, in a free drug rehabilitation center can reduce depression, anger, and other negative feelings. It can also help in the development of social skills. The presence of a cat can also make the recovering addict feel supported emotionally while undergoing treatment.
Are Animals the Best Therapists?
Research has shown that a therapy dog’s presence in psychiatric addiction ward influences treatment positively. Patients see a behavioral change possibility and the atmosphere gets more pleasant. The effectiveness of drug rehabilitation animal therapy has made some individuals believe that animals can be the best therapists. Nevertheless, a pet and a therapy animal are different.
The therapy animals that are used in AAT are trained, friendly, calm, and social. These animals are clean, well-groomed, and they undergo health checks regularly. They are also capable of adapting their behaviors to different environments. What’s more, they help patients experience the happiness that comes with having a pet without the stress of taking care of it full-time.
Having these animals comes with many benefits. For instance, a pet owner enjoys their companionship around the clock. This enables a recovering addict to avoid negative feelings of stress, depression, and loneliness. Nevertheless, owning a pet is not the same as getting the organized care that AAT animals and professionals provide.
The Bottom Line
Animal-assisted therapy shows the animals’ role in the prevention of addiction and recovery. However, AAT is not designed to work as a stand-alone therapy. It should be combined with the other treatments of free substance abuse programs. It should also be monitored by professionally trained and experienced experts to be effective.