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The Role of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Addiction Recovery

Animal Assisted Therapy

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic brain disease, and is listed as such in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Substance use disorder is defined as a “complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of substance despite harmful consequence.” Individuals that struggle with addiction will prioritize satisfying drug cravings above all else. This can lead to detrimental consequences affecting all areas of one’s life. The development of substance use disorder does not occur immediately, nor will recovering from addiction be achieved instantaneously. There are a variety of substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment options, many of which rely on different psychotherapeutic modalities, available to those in need. The path of recovery from substance abuse and/ or addiction is entirely personal, and it will be directly informed by one’s personality, mental health, and emotional needs.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) also referred to as pet therapy, is a type of therapy that involves animals as a part of the therapeutic process to improve physical, emotional, social, and cognitive functioning. Studies have shown that animal interaction can have a therapeutic impact on people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. Pet therapy facilitates a human-animal bond that delivers an array of scientifically documented benefits, some of which include:

  • Improved mood: Data presented by the San Francisco non-profit Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) has revealed that bonding with animals prompts the body to release certain hormones (e.g., serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin) that generate a relaxation and stress-reducing response, which minimizes the symptoms of depression and sadness. Additionally, pet interaction can help to release endorphins, producing a calming effect and improving one’s overall psychological state.
  • Reduced isolation: Empirical evidence suggests that AAT can help ease feelings of isolation and loneliness, as people in recovery who feel disconnected from others find comfort and companionship from working with animals.
  • Boosted immunity: The release of oxytocin that occurs when engaging with an animal impacts the immune system and increases the pain threshold, helping people heal more quickly. The results of one study found an increase in salivatory immunoglobulin A, which indicates healthy immune system function, after participants spent time petting a dog for less than 20 minutes. 
  • Emotional support: Animals provide a sense of comfort, acceptance, and unconditional love, which can be particularly helpful during any stage of the treatment process for addiction.

Animal-assisted therapy is rooted in the Biophilia Hypothesis, which is the “idea that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.” A professor at Western Carolina University, Psychologist Harold Herzog, who is an expert in the human-animal connection, and has spent over three decades investigating the complex psychology of human interactions with other species, established a direct correlation between interacting with animals and their impact on human health and well-being.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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