3 Ways Dogs Can Help With Addiction and Mental Illness

Dogs are much more than companions. Studies have long shown that dog owners live longer than those who do not own pets. Dogs have been shown to lower risk of heart disease, promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage exercise, and reduce stress. With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder dogs can also be extraordinarily helpful in the event of addiction and mental illness. Whether pet, service dog, or therapy dog, here are a few ways your four-legged friend can help with addiction and mental illness.

Dogs Reduce Stress and Boost Mood

Even petting a dog alone has been shown to decrease stress. Spending quality time with a dog by playing, talking or cuddling can release oxytocin which in turn boosts your mood. If you struggle with a mental illness, having a dog in your life can prevent the possibility of addiction just by making you feel better.

Self-medication is a common problem in people with mental illness. The use of an addictive substance to battle symptoms of mental illness all too often leads to an addiction problem. With a dog, your symptoms can actually be reduced by the lowered stress and improved mood, eliminating your perceived need to self-medicate.

Service Dogs Make Life Manageable

For many people, a mental illness makes daily tasks difficult. Going out in public, eating, and sleeping are all very commonly affected by a number of mental illnesses. Psychiatric service dogs are trained specifically to perform tasks that aid a person with a mental illness.

For example, an anxiety or panic disorder service dog will learn how to place calming pressure on their handler during a panic attack. Having a dog that is fully trained to recognize your symptoms and respond to specialized commands can make daily life and tasks much easier, which may also help prevent self-medication.

Therapy Dogs are Great for Rehabilitation

Often confused with a service dog, a therapy dog is one that is trained to either visit hospitals and nursing homes or attend therapy and rehabilitation sessions. For addiction, a therapy dog can attend group or one on-one-counseling, making the atmosphere lighter and helping the clients open up.

Therapy dogs are often owned by a third party that works with the rehabilitation program, meaning you can get your dog fix without the financial responsibility of owning one. They have also been shown to promote faster healing as the clients feel more comfortable talking about their addiction and struggles. If you are seeking addiction recovery, consider a program that employs therapy dogs.

Dogs have evolved alongside us for thousands of years. We have molded them into the diverse, loving, obedient, happy animals you see today. All that effort has created the perfect companion for someone who is struggling with addiction, mental illness, or both. They reduce stress, boost mood, and can be trained for various tasks to make daily life or recovery easier. Even if you cannot afford your own dog, therapy dogs are waiting to make your life better. So, if you can, visit your local shelter and consider picking up a new lease on life.

Image via Pixabay by skeeze