Service Dogs & Emotional Support Dogs in Substance Abuse Treatment

3 min read · 8 sections
Going to rehab is a difficult decision, but for those with physical or mental disabilities who rely on a service dog or emotional support dog to get through daily life, the prospect of going to rehab for 30 days or longer can seem impossible. Therefore, American Addiction Centers welcomes service or emotional support dogs on a case-by-case basis.

Service Dogs

Service dog sitting next to owner who is attending addiction treatment.

During addiction treatment and rehabilitation, the bond of companionship service dogs can provide, might help ease the anxiety of getting treatment.1 Service dogs are welcome on a case-by-case basis at American Addiction Centers’ treatment facilities.

Service dogs perform essential actions and tasks for people with disabilities. Additionally, service dogs must be able to comply with commands in public spaces and in distracting environments.2

Can Service Dogs Be Taken Anywhere?

Under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), service dogs are allowed to go everywhere their owner goes, including healthcare facilities, doctor’s offices, and patient’s rooms.2 Through aiding in the navigation and support of daily tasks, service dogs provide their owners independence. Some of the tasks service dogs perform include:3

  • Guiding people with visual impairments.
  • Signaling people who are deaf or have hearing impairments.
  • Retrieving items for people with mobility issues.
  • Alerting people during life-threatening conditions, such as cardiac episodes or seizures.

Service dogs provide companionship that can boost their owner’s self-esteem and motivation for self-improvement.3

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dog comforting owner who is in addiction treatment.

Going to rehab can be a very stressful time for those suffering from mental health disorders, which is why American Addiction Centers consider allowing emotional support dogs to accompany their owners through treatment.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are animals (mostly dogs) that provide their owners, who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, with emotional support and companionship.4 Some mental health disorders—like extreme anxiety disordersPTSDbipolar disorder, and depression—can make daily tasks extremely difficult without the support of an ESA.

Unlike service dogs, emotional support canines do not need to attend obedience training or be able to perform any specific tasks to be qualified as an ESA. However, they do have to behave in public, which means they don’t cause disturbances.5 Furthermore, while some states or local governments permit individuals to take ESAs in public spaces like restaurants and grocery stores; others may have restrictions against it.6 Check with your state and local government agencies to understand the laws in your area. However, the Fair Housing Act mandates that landlords permit ESAs even if there’s a “no pet policy” without additional pet fees.7

How to Get a Service or Emotional Support Dog

Service Dog

First, your healthcare provider needs to provide written documentation that you are being treated for a physical disability, debilitating chronic illness, or neurological disorder that affects one or more limbs.7 The severity of the condition determines service dog eligibility. For instance, an individual with epilepsy must have at least one seizure per month to qualify for a service dog.8 However, doctors can help accommodate exceptions in certain situations.

Then you’ll need to find a service dog provider, agencies that train service dogs specifically for the people who need them, including:

  • Veterans.
  • The blind.
  • Individuals with other physical impairments.

These agencies then put the trained dogs up for adoption for those with physical and mental disabilities. Call or visit the agency to ask about the training process and the disability training the for which they specialize. After you find the right fit, submit your application.

Emotional Support Animal

You may already own the animal you’d like to use as your EAS, or you can adopt or get one. To legitimately make them and ESA, you’ll need a letter from your licensed professional mental health professional stating that you have a mental health condition, such as depression or severe anxiety that limits one or more major life activities—like the ability to sleep, work, learn, or travel—and that the ESA helps alleviate the symptoms associated with the mental illness or emotional distress.9 The letter needs to include:10

  • The mental health provider’s signature and date, and this should be on their letterhead.
  • The mental health professional’s license type, number, and state where it was issued.
  • Documentation that you have a mental health disorder.
  • A recommendation for an EAS to help alleviate your symptoms.

There’s no need to register or certify the animal. This letter provides appropriate documentation for airlines (though it’s only valid for one year) and landlords.

How Dogs Can Help in Substance Abuse Treatment

While research on human-animal interactions is still relatively new, studies indicate that when humans interact with animals, cortisol (a stress-related hormone) levels decrease, blood pressure lowers, feelings of loneliness reduce, and feelings of social support and overall mood boost.11

One study found that adding shelter-dog recreational activities to an adolescent inpatient substance use disorder program enhanced the effects of interventions.12

Another study’s findings suggest that when used as a part of cognitive-behavioral therapy—a therapy favored by many treatment programs—dogs can make emotionally evocative subjects less distressing and may even help bring about positive outcomes during the process.13

Can I Bring My Dog to Rehab?

Having your furry four-legged companion by your side can provide comfort during addiction treatment. Each facility sets its own rules so call to understand the policies regarding service dogs or emotional support animals. Call

Find Rehabs That May Be Pet Friendly

Is Rehab Covered by Insurance?

Insurance may be able to cover at least part of the cost of rehab. This depends, of course, on your insurance coverage provider. Use our online verification form below to see if insurance may be able to cover the cost of treatment.

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