Written by Lucy Windham

Substance abuse affects men and women from all walks of life and social strata. According to the California Department of Public Health, about 11 people die from a drug overdose in the state every single day. Society’s struggle with substance abuse is out of control and more funding is required to run drug rehabilitation establishments and programs that assist in one of modern time’s most harrowing tribulations.

‘Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals’ published a study in 2009 in which researchers from Mississippi State University and Lindsey Wilson College measured the ability in which animal-assisted therapy can help people suffering from substance abuse or substance addiction. The research found that this kind of therapy is able to significantly improve the treatment of substance abuse by reinforcing the relationship that occurs between therapists and their patients.

The therapeutic benefits of engaging with animals

Interactions with animals have proven to be highly successful both in formal animal-assisted therapy sessions as well as animal-assisted activities. These are comprises of animal interactions that generally uplift the moods of hospital patients and nursing home residents. In the study published by Anthrozoos, 231 individuals were monitored to establish the significance of animal-assisted therapy on people battling substance abuse. The 135 patients who interacted with a trained therapy dog all showed a more favorable outlook on the relationships formed with their therapists as opposed to those who did not engage with the dog.

According to scientist Andrea Beetz, the effects animals have on humans can be attributed to an increase of oxytocin, also known as the ‘bonding hormone’. Increased levels of this hormone in the human body reduce tension, thus helping to prevent some of the biggest relapse predictors: depression and stress. Beetz further goes on to state that there is significant evidence that human-animal interaction can improve the function of the body’s immune system as well as pain-management abilities, reducing aggression, improving empathy, and increasing trust towards others.

Animal-therapy can supplement traditional addiction treatments

The success of animal therapy for addicts often lies in its ability to help them focus on something other than themselves and their current situation. By caring for an animal that is completely dependent on them, a recovering addict can rediscover his nurturing side as well as gaining a more complete understanding of what it entails to be nurtured, something which they may have forgotten a long time ago while they were still using drugs. Animals can contribute greatly towards a recovering addict rebuilding self-esteem and self-confidence.

Animals increase general happiness

Whether used in scheduled therapy sessions or in a more casual environment, the significance of animal interaction cannot be ignored. Some animals have the ability to uplift and inspire, adding much value to their human companions. It is not uncommon for people to experience a sense of euphoria when they are around animals. Pets are generally loyal and bestow unconditional love on their owners. For individuals battling addiction, interaction with animals can however offer much more in the form of rehabilitation.

Animals that change lives

There are countless, immensely special animals all over the globe that just by being present, bring immense amounts of joy to everyone who encounters them. One such uplifting animal is Oreo, a black and white rescue cat that took up residence in St. Augustine Health Ministries, a nursing home in Cleveland, Ohio. Oreo isn’t a demanding cat and her main task is to boost the morale of the nursing home residents, many of who had to leave their own beloved pets behind upon entering the facility. Oreo lived outside the facility for many years and due to her calm nature she was welcomed into the St Augustine family with open arms. Although not pushy, Oreo loves belly massages and head scratches. Her main job in the home is keeping the residents and staff happy. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you have been having, when Oreo is around you can’t help but smile.

Differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and a therapy animals.

Although often confused with one another, there is a distinct difference between all of the above. Service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks that alleviate the disability of its owner. Training can take up to anywhere between 18 months and two years. It is due to this advanced level of training that a service dog is considered to be medical equipment and may accompany his owner to places where pets are generally not permitted. A blind person’s guide dog is a perfect example of a service animal.

Emotional support animals belong to people who are disabled and require the presence of animals for the benefit of their mental health. Little or no training is required for emotional support animals; it is their mere presence that benefits their owners. Recovering addicts can also benefit immensely from having one of these animals around as it aids in keeping them relaxed and uplifts their general mood. An animal is also a great companion in times of extreme loneliness.

Therapy animals are pets that have been trained and registered to accompany their owner to visit residents and patients of facilities; like nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and hospitals. A therapy animal is considered a pet and cannot go anywhere where animals are usually prohibited without permission from the facility owner. Service animals are protected under federal law but no such a provision currently exists for therapy animals; they can however be registered under the National Service Animal Registry. There are no limits to the amount of comfort and joy an animal can bring into the lives of troubled individuals and as long as the therapy animals receive the love and care they deserve they will continue to aid everyone they come into contact with. Unlike humans, animals are selfless and do not pass any kind of judgment. Love your pet unconditionally and he will do the same for you.