Animal-Assisted Therapy of Substance Addiction


Many people worldwide are suffering from mental health, alcohol, and drug addiction and may be helped through different types of therapy. Namely, animal-assisted therapy, behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, perhaps a medication regimen can assist them in recovery. This study is focused on animal-assisted therapy since its famous use in many parts of the world. Moreover, the study examined the link between AAT and its impact on mental health, alcohol, and drug addiction problems. In AAT, persons are introduced to animal-assisted therapy with animals such as dogs and horses, among others. Qualitative research was used in descriptive literature, and secondary data was obtained from SCOPUS, PubMed, CINAHL, ESBOS from RMIT electronic data website. The literature or publications used were for a cohort group of males and females aged 18-65 years. Several studies have agreed that animal-assisted therapy can help reduce pain and pain-related symptoms. The study confirmed that several addiction rehabilitation centers worldwide offer patients animal-assisted therapy using various animals like dogs, horses, cats, birds, rabbits, and even dolphins. In addition, the study found out that friendly dogs are frequently used in hospitals to comfort stressed patients.


There is no doubt many individuals around the world are suffering from mental health, alcohol, and drug addiction. Medics around the World have exhausted the causes of mental disorders, alcohol and drug addiction, but as it stands, it is not clear which is the best way to eradicate or reduce such problems. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), behavioral therapy, 12-step programs, and perhaps a medication regimen have been suggested by medics to be ways to assist patients in recovery from such conditions. The use of AAT has not been given a lot of attention, and therefore, there is a need to research if indeed AAT brings significant improvements to a patient affected. Some studies indicate that trained service dogs may confer clinically meaningful improvements in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology for military members and veterans with PTSD.

The purpose of this study is to research these claims to agree or disagree with the statements about the use of animal-assisted therapy. The assessment of relevant information was done by thoroughly researching available data through platforms specialized in health-related topics. The results were evaluated by their credibility, value, and reliability. The study aimed at gaining insight into several questions. First, it was inquiring about the commonly used animals for animal-assisted therapy. Next, the contributing factors leading to the mental disorder, alcohol, and drug addictiveness were important. Moreover, the study aimed to gather information about the types of animal-assisted therapy used to help people with mental health, alcohol, and drug addiction. To achieve these objectives, the study provides a literature review of the topic, the research findings, including animals used for animal-assisted therapy, and types of animal-assisted therapies. After these sections, the discussion of the findings, conclusion, and recommendations for the further implications follow.


The central concept of the research is animal-assisted therapy (AAT), which definition is essential for further discussion. AAT is a complementary intervention that residential treatment for consumers suffering from alcohol, substance dependence, and mental illness (Kern-Godal et al., 2015; Urbanoski et al., 2012). AAT presupposes the involvement of various types of animals in the treatment for relaxing and healing purposes. The methods of creating the interactions between animals and people are highly varied.

Background and Context

Animal-assisted therapy serves different purposes for persons with distinct diagnoses. People struggling with substance abuse, mental disorders, cerebral palsy, and Alzheimer’s can benefit from AAT (Torres, 2018). When people interact with animals, it reduces feelings of violence, anxiety, and unhappiness, thus making the consumers feel happier and calmer. Studies conducted have proved the benefits from animal or pet therapy, it is that, stated to help cope with and help recover from physical and mental health conditions. The consumers could choose from various animals or pets, e.g., dogs, horses, birds, and cats. This therapy can also help consumers with various physical or mental disorders (Hawkins et al., 2019). The animal/pet can help consumers with emotional dysregulation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep insomnia, relationships, and anxiety (Hawkins et al., 2019; Spattini et al., 2018). Thus, the range of illnesses in which treatment could be based on AAT is broad.

Literature Review

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT), no doubt, has not been given a lot of attention to know if it is a remedy to mental disorders, alcohol, and drug addiction problems. In the military, trained service dogs may confer clinically meaningful improvements in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSP) symptomology for military members and veterans with PTSD (O’Haire and Rodriguez, 2018; Kern-Godal, Brenna, Arnevik, et al., 2016). According to Pataky (2020), several issues place youth at risk for gang membership, and several factors relate to poor mental health and witnessing violence within the community. One method to build empathy in youth who have been affected is through direct contact with animals since empathy towards no-human animals will be transferred to humans (Hawkins et al., 2019). Then, the current literature supposes additional uses of AAT in military service and other violent environments.

There are several reasons why the therapy is relevant and used by modern practitioners. Pet or animal therapy builds on the desire to bond; hence, they develop the concept of the human-animal bond (Gomez, 2015). The desire to bond is nurtured, and the consumer interacts with the pet in a friendly manner, forming a bond with them which is a solid foundation of trust. As a result, the bond produces calmness in the person’s body and mind, reduces stress, reduces boredom, increases social interaction, provides companionship, decreasing loneliness, and improving movement or motor skills. Besides, there seems to be no undesired effect reported. It appears to be a feasible and well-received intervention. This therapy is ideal for consumers who have difficulty engaging in therapeutic program adherence (O’Haire and Rodriguez, 2018). Hence, specialists see AAT as a positive, safe treatment measure, especially for people with social disorders.


The research delivered evidence-based recommendations through a descriptive literature review conducted by searching PubMed, CINAHL, SCOPUS, SCIENCE WEB, ESBOS, Gray literature. While the study was conducted, the following keywords were used: client seeking, animal-assisted therapy, polysubstance user, rehabilitation, therapy alliance, addiction, at-risk youth, court orders clients, adolescents, equine, and psychotherapy. The articles included in this search were from a cohort group of males and females aged 18-65 years. Generally, secondary data included already published or released researches about mental health, alcohol and drug addiction, and animal-assisted therapy. Analysis and classification of results were used to bring meaningful results. Finally, the discussion of the results was aimed at bringing clarity on the matter.

Research Findings

This study found out that animal-assisted therapy can help reduce pain and pain-related symptoms. The AAT is an additional involvement in residential treatment for clients suffering from alcohol, substance dependence, and mental illness (Kovács et al., 2020). Also, it confirmed that several addiction rehabilitation centers worldwide offer patients animal-assisted therapy using a wide range of animals. These included dogs, horses, cats, birds, rabbits, and even dolphins. Specifically, friendly dogs are frequently used in hospitals to comfort stressed patients since humans perceive them as “best friends.” Some studies revealed significant differences with medium to large effect sizes among service dogs than those on the waitlist, including lower depression, higher quality of life, and higher social functioning (O’Haire and Rodriguez, 2018). Studies conducted have proved that there are benefits from animal or pet therapy. It helps cope with and help recover from both physical and mental health conditions (O’Haire and Rodriguez, 2018; Torres, 2018). Thus, AAT is thoroughly reviewed in the literature and has wide use.

Types of Animal-assisted Therapies

The study revealed that there are differences in the spheres of applications for different animals in AAT. The reason for this is that animals used in the treatment are of varied social nature. Since the social function is the most important in the treatment, the animals for distinct deceased are selected for their social behavior and use for a person. In the following sections, the types of animals that help people recover from their illnesses are described.

Equine-assisted Therapy

Equine-assisted therapy (EAT) refers to the horses and members of the horse family, and it is a practice of using horses in therapy. EAT is of two main types, namely, Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine-assisted learning (EAL). The difference between the two therapies is that EAP focuses on the emotional health of the clients and that of their family members. In contrast, EAL teaches clients how to manage their behavioral and emotional responses by understanding the horse’s responses. EAL’s goal is to develop self and social awareness, self-management, and personal responsibility. Additionally, EAL helps targeted clients work on communication and imitate their moods and conduct because of the horse’s ability to read and mirror human emotions.

The study found that therapeutic riding focuses on self-confidence and physical health from learning to ride a horse. It uses the horse’s movement to encourage patients to achieve physical therapy and typically is for patients with disabilities such as autism or multiple sclerosis (Kern-Godal, Brenna, Kogstad, et al., 2016). EAT is more than horseback riding because patients sometimes care for the horse by training, feeding, and washing it. The patient, in this case, is given a sense of responsibility in caring for another living being. The patient developing a bond with the horse helps them build trust and communicate with the animal (Kern-Godal, Brenna, Kogstad, et al., 2016). As it is known, horses often are jumpy, so having an outpouring of feelings around the animal is not suitable. When patients learn what the animal likes or dislikes, it teaches them instinct control, emotional management, and boundaries. Thus, horses help humans to manage some of their mental illnesses better.

Canine-assisted Therapy

Canine-assisted Therapy (CAT) refers to using a dog to help the patient recover. CAT is used for patients with mental disabilities, illnesses and helps improve imprisoned persons. It works by stroking and socializing with a dog, and this causes the brain to increase endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin which are all responsible for making a person feel happy (Kovács et al., 2020; Hawkins et al., 2019; Spattini et al., 2018). Dogs are popular pets of humans, and their use is the most popular type of animal-assisted therapy globally.

Moreover, dogs are intelligent, friendly, and easy to train, which makes it excellent to select an animal to use in therapy for persons with a substance abuse illness. When the patient is around a dog, it helps them to relax. The results are that this makes them more likely to speak to the dog when they are hesitant to speak with a therapist. Several studies have shown that clinicians can gain more insight into their patient’s dogs introduced into rehab clinics. One can find some medical facilities sheltering dogs while others allow patients to come with their dogs into recovery rooms. The study found out that a dog cannot judge and joyfully show one affection despite their past addiction records. In addition, the dog helps the patient reduce loneliness when the patient spends more time with it. Therefore, dogs are significantly helpful in treating several mental disorders and relieving the loneliness of prisoners and other people.

Dolphin-assisted Therapy

Dolphin-assisted therapy is only possible to place which are near the ocean shorelines. The rehab facilities near the ocean offer the patients a chance to swim with wild dolphins, and other facilities have dolphins in a tank so that patients can interact with them. Traits such as intelligence, willingness to interact, and the inquisitive nature of the dolphins make them a popular choice in animal-assisted therapy. Studies have found out that patients may experience feelings of acceptance when a dolphin chooses to connect with them, eliminating feelings of shame and isolation that come with addiction. Therefore, due to the psychological relief felt by patients, the use of dolphin-assisted therapy is justified and well-accepted by clinicians.


The findings of the research have revealed a piece of insight information about the practice of animal-assisted therapy. The most crucial notion was that of the possibilities of treating the diseases connected to addictiveness and mental disorders of social character. It can be stated that the similarity between alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes addiction and, for example, PTSD is caused by the presence of the same social factors. First of all, the feeling of loneliness is often in both groups of the mentioned diseases. However, loneliness cannot be provoking the adverse outcomes of the disorders alone; the judgment coming from people is the second force driving the affected people to misfortunes. In turn, animals like dogs and dolphins, which are intelligent and yet non-judging, can help these patients relieve these feelings. Thus, it was demonstrated that dogs and dolphins are helpful in the treatment of disorders linked to addiction, violence, and trauma.

The other implication of AAT is enhancing the social skills of people suffering from difficulties in recognizing other people’s emotions. Precisely, horses and activities linked to the care about them make people feel more responsible and understanding. Moreover, the nature of horses is of the type that permits only careful riding and emotional balance. As a result, patients that undergo therapies with horses might learn how to manage their emotions better. For these purposes, families frequently participate in the treatment, as well as people with autism. Therefore, the use of horses in therapy is essential for creating emotional balance in the patients’ lives.


The results of animal-assisted therapy’s review show that having time with an animal is beneficial for people with specific social issues. The research described the outcomes of animal-assisted therapy in real life. Namely, studies have shown the effectiveness of this practice. Moreover, the rehabilitation facilities, the treatment program should consider expedient ways to adapt AAT treatment strategies to remedy mental illness, alcohol, and drug addict patients (Ernst, 2014). The introduction of AAT to such rehab facilities will help significantly in helping and minimizing mental disorders in our communities. The use of animal-assisted therapy brings significant improvements to a patient affected. The current research can have implications in other practices of clinicians as well as state workers. The state officials can use the study to briefly familiarize themselves with the work of AAT.


There are several recommendations that are primarily given for state officials who can introduce them into healthcare. As such, rehab facilities should include animal-assisted therapy to treat or reduce customers’ mental disorders and alcohol and drug addiction. Next, patients with pets or animals should be allowed to come with them to rehab or hospital.

Finally, the government should develop policies that will be universal for all medical facilities to have animal-assisted therapy. The implementation of these guidelines will improve the quality of the national healthcare services.


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