Is getting a pet in your first-year sober smart? Some addiction professionals argue pet ownership in the first year of recovery is dangerous for both the recovering addict and the pet. Recovery specialists disagree. They feel pet ownership brings a new connection to life and much needed unconditional love.
There are many pros and cons of pet ownership in the first year of recovery. Only you can answer the question, is getting a pet in your first-year sober smart? To help you decide, let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons, starting with the difference between being sober and being in recovery.
What Is the Difference Between Being Sober and Being in Recovery?
It is often assumed that sobriety and recovery is equal, but anyone battling addictive behaviors knows there is a big difference between the two terms. Someone who is sober is abstaining from taking drugs or alcohol. This does not mean that person is in recovery. Being sober only means not taking mind-altering substances. Without treatment, these people tend to relapse or substitute other addictions (food, sex, relationships) in place of substance abuse.
Being in recovery means that person is not only abstaining from substance abuse, he or she is also in treatment to understand why the substance abuse started and how to avoid it in the future. Someone in recovery is making life-saving changes and surrounding him or herself with people who support those changes.
If you are only sober and not receiving treatment to prevent relapse, getting a pet is probably not a good idea. But for this discussion, we will assume the term sober is being understood as sober and in recovery.
Looking at the Negative Side of “Is Getting a Pet in Your First-Year Sober Smart?”
Addiction professionals recommend those struggling with addictive behaviors and newly sober should focus on personal needs. Romantic relationships are to be avoided so the focus of recovery can be on internal issues, not on another person. This argument is also used when discussing pet ownership in the first year of sobriety.
- Pets are much like infants. They will never take care of themselves and need a lot of time and attention. When newly sober it’s difficult to take care of your own needs, let alone the needs of a dependent; especially if that dependent is a puppy or kitten.
- Pets need a financial commitment to cover food, veterinarian care, and other expenses. If you are struggling to pay off debts incurred while abusing drugs or alcohol it may not be time to add another financial commitment.
- Pets cannot be left alone for long periods. Often those in recovery will attend retreats, conferences, and even rehab when needed. Cats, dogs, and other pets cannot be left without care for a weekend, let alone three months. Before considering pet ownership, someone in recovery needs to make sure adequate support to care for the pet is available if a prolonged absence is required.
You can get around the need for pet sitters by getting a pet that needs less attention. Fish, some reptiles, and insects need less attention and care on the daily level. The drawback is they do not offer the owner a return of love and companionship like a warm and cuddly puppy, kitten, rabbit, or chicken. Yes, even chickens love to sit in your lap and be petted.
Some people in recovery report feeling overwhelmed taking care of a pet in early sobriety. Without proper support, thoughts of relapse can take hold and commitments become excuses to use again. While the cons may seem overwhelming, you must decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
Looking at the Positive Side of “Is Getting a Pet in Your First-Year Sober Smart?”
If you have most of the above cons to owning a pet solved, pets can be incredible incentive to stay clean and sober. Having someone to come home to every night who loves you unconditionally can really make life more enjoyable. This is especially important for people who have lost relationships due to substance abuse and all that goes along with addiction.
- Pets help their owners enjoy life more. If you have a dog that needs exercise, your dog will force you to get out and moving. This exercise will release endorphins to help you feel better about yourself and the life you’re living. Being out and about with your dog also provides opportunity to meet other people who love dogs too.
- If you have a cat, your cat will also demand attention. Take notice when he or she brings you a toy to play with or stands in front of the television. Your cat is telling you to disengage from mindless activity and engage with someone who loves you. The time spent with your pet will make you feel better.
- Owning a pet encourages responsibility. Providing for your pet’s food, healthcare, and daily activities forces you to assess your own needs and be aware of your progress caring for another being. Often people recovering from addictive behaviors feel worthless and unable to care for anything. Seeing a loving pet thrive under your care may be just the incentive needed to believe in yourself again.
- Pets help relieve stress. Just petting a cat or dog can bring down your heart rate and pulse. So, after a hard day, lavish affection on your pet and you will feel better. This is a great way to reduce cravings as stress will increase them, but the affection of your pet can keep cravings in check.
Again, only you can decide if the pros outweigh the cons of owning a pet during the first year of sobriety. But sometimes, an objective opinion can help you make this decision.
How Can You Decide, “Is getting a Pet in Your First-Year Sober Smart?”
Pet ownership during the first year of sobriety is a big commitment. If you are considering adopting a pet, talk to your recovery coach, councilor, or doctor. Any one of these people can give you an objective opinion on whether you are ready to handle the responsibility and financial commitment owning a pet brings. The final decision is yours but a second opinion may help make a sound decision.