Loneliness is one major challenge people often face early in recovery. It’s usually a good idea to distance yourself from old friends who drink or use drugs since they can be a major trigger of cravings. However, you may not yet have any friends to replace them. People typically find loneliness stressful and depressing. Chronic loneliness has even been linked to early death. Having a pet is a hedge against loneliness. There’s always another sentient being around to keep you company. A dog is always happy to see you and a cat will at least put up with you. It’s not the same as having friends to talk to, but it helps.

Pets facilitate social contact.

Pets facilitate social contact in several ways. First, they give you something to talk about. Second, if you have a dog, you have to walk it and everyone will talk to the dog. In this way, a pet not only provides companionship itself, but facilitates regular contact with other people.

Pets get you out of your own head.

It’s normal to be preoccupied with your own problems, but getting too caught up in worries can lead to anxiety and depression. Having a pet to take care of forces you to set aside your own problems for a moment and take care of something else. Pets will demand attention, food, and a warm place to sit, whether you feel like it or not. Learning to value your pet’s health, safety, and happiness expands your awareness so that you are less focused on your own problems. Having an animal that depends on you also gives a sense of purpose and boosts your self-esteem.

Pets encourage exercise.

This is especially true of dogs. You typically have to walk a dog at least once a day. This means dog owners tend to get more exercise than non-dog owners. One study found that dog owners between 57 and 77 percent more likely than non-dog owners to get enough physical activity every week. Having a dog encourages you get a bit of exercise even if it’s too hot, too cold, or raining outside. Getting plenty of regular exercise is important for everyone, but it’s especially important for people recovering from addiction. Many studies have shown that exercise improves your mood, memory, concentration, and self-control. Regular exercise should be part of any comprehensive recovery plan and owning a dog can make getting enough exercise a little easier.

Pets reduce stress.

Pets reduce stress in several ways. One is by relieving loneliness, as mentioned above. Studies have also found that spending time with pets releases oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone, which reduces stress. The better your relationship with your pet, the stronger the bond and the more oxytocin is released. Caring for you pet also reduces stress. When you try to make an animal feel happy, you feel happier yourself.

Pets help keep you on schedule.

Keeping a regular schedule is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. A regular sleep schedule is especially important because it leads to more restful sleep, which has benefits that include a stronger immune system, better concentration, and less anxiety. Pets are very focused on routine. They will let you know when it’s time to get up, when it’s time to eat, and when it’s time for a walk. This can help you stay on schedule too. What’s more, having a pet to take care of gives you a reason to be home at a reasonable hour instead of staying out late or crashing at a friend’s house.

If you’re not yet in a place where you feel like you can take care of a pet, there are still ways you can make animals part of your recovery. Shelters often welcome volunteers to play with the animals and walk dogs. You might volunteer to take care of your friends’ pets while they’re traveling. These kinds of activities strengthen social bonds and give you a good idea of what caring for a pet entails.

Established in 1939, High Watch is the world’s first 12-Step treatment center. Every individual who walks through our doors joins a definitive culture of compassion, dignity, and respect from a genuinely caring staff dedicated to seeing the disease of addiction find remission. Providing proven therapeutic approaches and comprehensive 12-Step education, patients leave High Watch with the confidence to maintain abstinence and live a healthy, happy, sober life. Start your journey today by calling 860.927.3772.