Dogs – Literally your Brain’s Best Friend
There is a mountain of research that demonstrates how the companionship of dogs promotes human health and even brain development. Our canine friends stimulate activity in the parts of the brain linked to bonding and empathy (Nagasawa, M., et al., 2015), and language skills (Beetz, A., Uvnas-Moberg, K., Julius, H., and Kortschal, K., 2012). More so, dogs enhance the our immune system (Gern, JE., et al., 2004) and help to lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine, nurturing an anti-stress effect.
Addictions, in contrast, often diminish many of the above functions. Those mired in an addiction routinely exhibit a hyerpsensitivity to stress (allostasis), along with delays in rebounding from stress responses.
As many loved ones can attest, addictions tend to cripple the use of empathy, those with addictive disorders seemingly voided of any instinct to bond or connect with others. Canine therapy, then, may actually help to speed up the brain’s repair insults from an addiction.
Be conscious, though, that dog ownership demands time, patience and money. If you are in an addiction now, or early recovery, adopting or buying a dog may actually put you at risk. Dog ownership is stressful. If your physiology is still recovering, and you find even modest stressors as overwhelming, a dog will only add to your stress level. The risk you run in adopting a dog in early recovery is that the responsibility proves so stressful, you decide after a few weeks or months to give the dog up.
At that point, your recovery will be complicated by a sense of loss. By grief, maybe the most complicated of emotions. Better to ‘date’ a dog in early recovery. Maybe get your medicine by hanging around a (sober) friend with a dog, by dog sitting for a few hours at a time, or maybe by volunteering at an animal shelter.