How Dog Ownership Can Help Alcoholics in Recovery

Everyone who’s lived through the early stages of recovery from addiction knows how crucial a robust social support network is during that time. Extensive research backs up this same notion, suggesting that support is one of the strongest predictions of long-term sobriety.

As you hear the phrase “social support network,” you probably think of two things — supportive (and sober) friends and relatives and recovery support groups. But what if we told you that “man’s best friend” could be among your most valuable sources of support?

Dogs have been our loyal companions for centuries, and they can play a profoundly positive role in recovery from alcoholism, too. Discover how having a dog in your life can help you forge ahead in your recovery from alcohol abuse and find new meaning in this article.

How Dogs Can Help Alcoholics Stay Sober — and Get Happy

It’s no coincidence that some therapists working with alcoholics in recovery use animal-assisted therapy — where dogs are included in therapy sessions. Having a fluffy canine around the therapist’s office helps clients feel at ease and open up, making it easier to establish a strong therapeutic relationship.

We’re not quite sure why, of course, but research explains some of the reasons dogs help us feel at ease: they make us physically healthier. Just being around dogs can lower your cortisol (stress hormone) levels, improve your blood pressure, and pave the way toward better heart health.

Owning a dog? That’s a whole other ballgame. Let’s take a look at how a loyal canine friend can help sober alcoholics “on the wagon.”

Dogs Provide Structure in Your Day

It’s immediately obvious that dog ownership comes with serious responsibilities that so happen to involve baked-in exercise. While that’s great, as brisk walks can help you stay in shape, there’s an often-overlooked dimension to consider, too.

A dog’s physiological needs force you into a daily routine and make your life predictable. The structure is especially crucial in early recovery, when you may be tempted to reach for the bottle because you’re simply not sure what to do with yourself. Old habits are always hard to break. Add an addiction, and it becomes exponentially more challenging to free yourself.

Knowing that Fido depends on you can keep you motivated and help you settle into a comfortable routine. What’s more, dogs take up an awful lot of your time — time you may just be less likely to think about drinking.

Dogs Help You Form New Social Bonds

Dogs help people break the social barriers that naturally exist. Think about it — you’re much more likely to strike up a spontaneous conversation with a stranger because he or she is attached to a cute dog, right?

This is one of the reasons people with dogs are less likely to be depressed and anxious. Like people, dogs are inherently social animals, and having a dog in tow gives you confidence to navigate the world.

Dogs Offer Unconditional Companionship

Imagine a dog who’s always happy to see you, who eagerly awaits your return when you leave home, and who’s fascinated by everything you do. Picture a soft head resting in your lap, and think of all the adventures you could have together.

A canine sidekick brightens every minute of every day. Dogs banish loneliness and help you navigate a busy social landscape when you feel lost. Above all, they never, ever leave your side. Since isolation and loneliness are important risk factors for relapse, the benefits are obvious.

Dogs Fulfill a Deep Need to Help Others

So, there has been research to suggest that the strong social network we mentioned earlier shouldn’t be a one-way street. Sober alcoholics don’t just benefit from receiving support, but also from giving it.

Helping others doesn’t just help people in recovery overcome loneliness and anxiety, but it also fulfills a deeper need — the yearning to have a purpose and be useful. Being of service has such a profound effect that it may increase your odds of staying sober by 50 percent.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that being there for your dog replaces these human interactions, but it certainly fuels that same need.

Your dog depends on you — for food, shelter, exercise, and happiness. Looking into those deep, loyal eyes gives you an instant sense of purpose. We all need that, whether we’re six months or 20 years sober.

How Do You Know If You’re Ready for a Dog?

You’re probably familiar with the (research-backed) idea that it’s a good idea to refrain from making significant life changes in your first year of recovery. This first crucial stage is all about focusing on your recovery and getting healthy.

Getting a dog at this stage could be an excessive responsibility — unless you’re living with a loving partner who can take on a significant portion of dog-care tasks. If you love the idea of meeting dogs but don’t feel ready to commit, volunteering at an animal shelter or engaging in animal-assisted therapy are two alternative options.

Once you’re past the early stages of recovery, it may be time to welcome a dog into your life. Some people in recovery qualify for a service dog or emotional support animal (ESA), which is trained to perform basic tasks and support your overall well-being.

So, You Want to Get a Dog?

We’d advise people in recovery to discuss pet ownership with trusted people, whether a therapist, your recovery support group, or your family. This process adds a layer of accountability, especially in the early stages.

As long as you’re certain you’ve reached a stage where you can provide a dog with a loving home, you’re ready to enjoy the love and companionship a furry friend can give you, too. Welcoming a dog into your home and life can feel like the start of an exciting new chapter — one where you and your canine friend can confidently take on the world together, knowing you’ll always have each other’s backs.

Category: Articles
Martijn van Eijk
Martijn is a passionate creator and the driving force behind He created this website to assist individuals and their families in conquering alcohol addiction and finding a joyful, fulfilling life after alcohol. With a deep understanding of the challenges they face, he empowers readers with valuable insights and practical guidance on their journey towards recovery. Author of the Stop Shaking Book.