The Role of Animal-Assisted Therapy in Sober Living

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In recent years, animal-assisted therapy has gained significant attention as a complementary approach to traditional therapy. It’s no surprise that pets have a remarkable calming effect on humans, and their presence can bring joy and comfort to people in distress. But the benefits of animal-assisted therapy go beyond just emotional support. The concept of using pets as part of the recovery process for those struggling with addiction is increasingly gaining popularity.

Paws for Recovery is a program that employs animal-assisted therapy to help individuals in sober living homes, and the results are astounding. In this article, we’ll explore the transformative power of animal-assisted therapy in the context of sober living and how it provides people with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and unconditional love. Let’s dive in and discover how our furry friends are helping humans on their path to recovery.

What is animal-assisted therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment for various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). AAT can be used in various settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. During AAT, a trained therapist works with a therapy animal, usually a dog, cat, or horse, to help patients achieve specific goals. The therapist may use the animal to help patients develop social skills, improve their mood, or reduce anxiety and stress.

AAT is different from animal-assisted activities (AAA), which are more informal interactions with animals that are meant to provide comfort and relaxation. AAA is often used in settings like libraries or airports to alleviate stress and anxiety in travelers.

The use of AAT in addiction recovery is a relatively new concept, but it has shown promise in helping individuals in recovery develop a sense of purpose and responsibility.

How animal-assisted therapy is used in addiction recovery

Addiction is a complex disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit. Traditional therapy approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), are effective in treating addiction. However, the use of AAT in addiction recovery can help individuals develop social skills, improve mood, and reduce anxiety and stress, which can be beneficial in the recovery process.

AAT is often used in sober living homes, where individuals in recovery live in a supervised, substance-free environment. In these homes, therapy animals are often used to help residents develop a sense of purpose and responsibility. For example, residents may be responsible for feeding and caring for a therapy animal, which can help them develop a routine and a sense of responsibility.

Therapy animals can also provide emotional support and comfort to individuals in recovery. Many residents in sober living homes are far from their families and may feel isolated and lonely. Therapy animals can provide a sense of companionship and unconditional love that can be especially helpful during the early stages of recovery.

Benefits of animal-assisted therapy in sober living

The benefits of AAT in sober living homes are numerous. Here are just a few:

Reduces anxiety and stress

Individuals in recovery often experience anxiety and stress as they adjust to a new way of life. Therapy animals can help reduce these feelings by providing a calming presence and a sense of comfort.

Promotes social interaction

Social isolation can be a common problem for individuals in recovery. Therapy animals can help promote social interaction by providing a common topic of conversation and a shared experience among residents.

Provides a sense of purpose

Caring for a therapy animal can provide residents with a sense of purpose. It can also help them develop a routine and a sense of responsibility.

Increases self-esteem

Therapy animals can provide a sense of unconditional love and acceptance that can increase self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Improves mood

Spending time with a therapy animal can release endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce feelings of depression.

The science behind animal-assisted therapy

The science behind AAT is still emerging, but there is evidence to suggest that spending time with animals can have a positive impact on mental health. For example, spending time with a therapy animal can increase levels of oxytocin, a hormone that is associated with social bonding and stress reduction.

AAT can also help reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is associated with anxiety and depression. In addition, spending time with animals can help increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are associated with pleasure and well-being.

Choosing the right therapy animal

Choosing the right therapy animal is important in ensuring a successful AAT experience. Dogs are the most commonly used therapy animal, but cats, horses, and even birds can also be effective.

The animal should be well-trained and socialized to ensure that it is comfortable around people. The animal’s temperament is also important. The animal should be calm, friendly, and non-threatening.

Integrating animal-assisted therapy into addiction treatment programs

Integrating AAT into addiction treatment programs can be a challenge, but it is possible. Treatment programs should work with trained therapists and animal handlers to ensure that the animals are well-trained and that the therapy is safe and effective.

In addition, treatment programs should consider the needs and preferences of their clients when selecting therapy animals. For example, some clients may have allergies or fears of certain animals.

Animal-assisted therapy resources for sober living

There are several resources available for individuals and treatment programs interested in AAT. The American Humane Association offers a certification program for therapy animals and their handlers. The Pet Partners organization also offers certification for therapy animals and their handlers.

In addition, there are several sober living homes that offer AAT programs, including the New Life House in California and the MARR Addiction Treatment Center in Georgia.

Future of animal-assisted therapy in addiction recovery

The future of AAT in addiction recovery looks promising. As more research is conducted, we will gain a better understanding of the benefits of AAT and how it can be effectively integrated into addiction treatment programs.

In addition, the use of AAT in other areas of mental health, such as trauma and anxiety disorders, is also gaining popularity. The potential benefits of AAT are numerous, and it is an exciting time for the field of animal-assisted therapy.


Animal-assisted therapy is a powerful tool in addiction recovery. The use of therapy animals in sober living homes can provide individuals in recovery with a sense of purpose, responsibility, and unconditional love. The benefits of AAT in addiction recovery are numerous, and the success stories are truly inspiring. As we continue to learn more about the benefits of AAT, we can expect to see it become an increasingly popular and effective approach to addiction treatment.

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