Pets in Sobriety Can Reduce Stress

We often underestimate the power that animals can have on the human psyche. Owning a pet provides numerous health benefits, stress reduction and can even play a key role in helping you to stay clean and sober.

Countless studies prove that owning a pet lowers blood pressure, lessens anxiety and stress, helps combat depression, boosts immunity, and more. For example, one study involving pet owners with AIDS showed that those with pets were much less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. In yet another study stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than those people without pets. In sobriety the stress of the ‘real’ world and the real-life issues that arise can be trying and even relapse-invoking. By combating the stresses and sadness in life with a pet, we give ourselves an even better shot at staying sober.

When we are stressed, sad, or depressed our bodies release harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine which can truly wreck havoc on the immune system. By owning a pet and playing with/engaging with your animal, pleasurable and calming chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are released. These chemicals combat the nasty side effects of stress hormones, battle depression, and help to keep your immune system in fighting shape. Interestingly drugs like cocaine and heroine have similar effects in the sense that they raise serotonin and dopamine, but clearly owning a pet is a much healthier way to feel good.

Not only is having a pet great for your physical and mental health, it can also instill a much-needed sense of confidence and boost self-esteem. Being able to take care of another living creature and watch it thrive makes you feel capable, caring, and responsible; feelings that are rarely (if ever) experienced while using. In our addiction we generally were not even able to care for ourselves let alone anyone or anything else, so having the knowledge that you can successfully keep a pet alive and thriving is a living, breathing testament to how much you have changed. Having a pet can also be healing, to care for something in a way that you were not able to care for yourself in your addiction is a great way to make amends to your body.

Now I’m not suggesting that you rush out the door and adopt a puppy-while there are plenty of benefits of having a pet there are plenty more reasons why getting in over your head is not going to do you any good. Know your limits and start small. For example, puppies need tons of care and attention and time, time that most of us don’t have; the idea behind having a pet is to enhance and improve your life, not make it more stressful. Consider getting a fish, a lizard, or a mouse, something small and relatively easy to care for. Even cats are pretty easy and require very little aside from food, water, and occasional scratches behind the ears. The great news about the benefits of having a pet is that the type of pet is not contingent on how much of the benefits you get, so a small Bearded Dragon can provide just as much depression-fighting chemicals as a German Shepherd. So, do some research. Look into what sort of animal would work well in your life, and then try it out. You might be truly amazed at how much better you start to feel and how much less stressed you are!

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