How Companion Animals Support Recovery from Opioid Use Disorder: An Exploratory Study of Patients in a Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program

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Brynn M. Kosteniuk
Colleen Anne Dell


The past decade has witnessed increased attention to the benefits of companion animals on human health, though little attention has been paid to the potential to support recovery from a substance use disorder. Amidst an opioid crisis in Canada, studying this overlooked source of support may be beneficial. This study explores how companion animals support the recovery of seven methadone maintenance treatment patients in a Canadian core neighborhood. Through semi-structured interviews and a thematic analysis, the findings demonstrate that individuals’ companion animals support their recovery in four areas of their lives: (i) social, (ii) health and wellbeing, (iii) home, and (iv) purpose and empowerment. These themes were found to align with and expand upon the four dimensions of a Life in Recovery outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Structuring the paper by the expanded categories, this study introduces how companion animals fulfilled supportive roles that other humans could not or chose not to provide, while the human-animal bond encouraged a strengths-based approach to individuals’ recovery. This helped foster positive self-identity and a perceived choice over individuals’ recovery pathways.

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