Woman hugging dog

Animal-Assisted Therapy for Alcoholism

If you’re looking for the best alcohol rehab center for your own or your loved one’s needs, it’s essential to look at the variety of treatments now available. Most centers offer basic counseling, 12-step programs, detoxification and similar services, but getting clean often means getting more than just the basics. While animal-assisted therapy is considered a complementary treatment, for people struggling with alcoholism, the anxiety-reducing, trust-building and confidence-boosting aspects of interacting with and caring for an animal can make a huge difference.

What Is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

In the broadest sense, animal-assisted therapy is simply taking advantage of the therapeutic, mood-enhancing benefits of ordinary interactions with animals such as dogs, cats, horses and even dolphins.

The key difference between animal-assisted therapy and other, similar uses of animals (for example, a dog visiting a nursing home each week to brighten residents’ days), is that it is geared toward a specific goal. For example, alcoholics who have low self-esteem might be encouraged to take a dog for a walk, teach it a new trick or even just ensure it makes all its other appointments for the day. Even simple tasks like this can improve an individual’s confidence and self-efficacy.

Benefits of Animal-Assisted Therapy for Alcoholism

There are many plusses in choosing an alcohol rehab center that offers animal-assisted therapy, from general benefits to specific, goal-oriented outcomes. Some of the more important ones include:

  • Helping clients open up: Therapists including Sigmund Freud have recognized that the presence of an animal can make therapy sessions more fruitful. Most therapists notice people feeling comfortable much more quickly and sharing more in sessions when accompanied by an animal.
  • Eases anxiety and stress: The very act of petting an animal has an anxiety- and stress-reducing effect that can be hugely beneficial for people struggling with alcoholism. Animal interactions also lower cortisol levels in the brain, which is known as the “stress hormone.”
  • Boosts confidence: Caring for animals can be an amazing confidence-boosting experience. Even something as simple as taking a dog for a walk or looking after him or her for a short period of time can be hugely rewarding for people with alcoholism. Not only does it show the therapist puts trust in you, it also gives you a sense of responsibility and proves you can handle that responsibility.
  • Improves client-therapist relationship: One study of animal-assisted therapy for people with addictions found that it improves the “therapeutic alliance” between the therapist and the client. Strengthening this bond makes all future sessions more fruitful and puts clients at ease.

Finding Animal-Assisted Therapy

If animal-assisted therapy sounds like a good match for your needs, find an alcohol rehab center with a certified therapy dog or one that offers equine therapy. It might not seem particularly important to overcoming alcoholism, but the multitude of benefits it provides could make all the difference.


“The Use of Therapy Dogs with Adult Substance Abuse Clients” by Terri Miller, Cydney Cross and Janice Underwood

“Animal-Assisted Therapy in the Treatment of Substance Dependence” by Martin C. Wesley, Neresa B. Minatrea and Joshua C. Watson

“Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling” by Cynthia K. Chandler

“Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin” by Andrea Beetz, Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg, Henri Julius and Kurt Kotrschal



Posted on October 2nd, 2017 in Blog

Editorial Staff

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Editorial Staff

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