Meet the ITSC: Dr. Michael G. Hamrock – Healing the Addicted Mind with Pet Adoptions

Meet Dr. Michael G. Hamrock, an addiction physician and certified ITSC who is making both tongues and tails wag with his new program,  D.O.E.R. – Dog Ownership Enhancing Recovery – a new program in Boston that pairs persons in recovery with adopted pups.  See how Dr. Mike is helping to heal addicted minds with pet adoption.

Dr. Michael G. Hamrock is an addiction medicine physician at Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, Mass., and he is also a certified iTHIRST Spiritual Companion, having completed his coursework with the sixth Seton Hall Cohort in June 2022.  After having read an article about the iTHIRST Training in the Boston Pilot, Dr. Mike decided to begin the training, as he knew it would allow him to gain a “better understanding of the spiritual component of addiction care” to optimally help his patients achieve and maintain recovery.

One of the ways that Dr. Mike is going to utilize his ITSC training is by working with Fr. Joe White of the Boston Archdiocesan Addiction Recovery Pastoral Support Services (AARPSS) to provide services to 30 women who will begin their journey of recovery at the new Eileen’s House, the former convent at St. Gregory’s parish in the Dorchester section of Boston.

Not only that, but Dr. Mike is also pioneering a program in Boston that is sure to have both tongues and tails wagging!  We asked Dr. Mike to explain it to us:

“As a longstanding primary care and addiction medicine physician at Steward St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston, MA, I have learned that being a truly good listener is a key ingredient to providing optimal patient care. It is through this active listening practice that I have come to better appreciate the tremendous physical and mental health benefits my patients receive from being dog owners including improving outcomes with their chronic medical conditions to helping maintain sobriety for those suffering from addictions.

To explore this impact in more detail, and hopefully help combat the opioid crisis by bringing more people into recovery, St. Elizabeth’s Comprehensive Addiction Program has partnered with the local nonprofits Golden Opportunities for Independence (GOFIDOGS) and Power Forward, Inc. to establish the Dog Ownership Enhancing Recovery (DOER) program. GOFIDOGS breeds and trains golden retrievers for people with disabilities and Power Forward’s mission is to end the sigma of addiction and help provide sober living scholarships to the most vulnerable with this disease.

The DOER program is providing trained pet dogs to sober homes and to qualified participants enrolled in our outpatient addiction medication assisted treatment (MAT) program to better determine if pet dog adoptions can help improve compliance and retention with recovery programs, curtail relapses with opiate use, and prevent fatal overdoses. Additionally, those afflicted with alcohol use disorders should benefit tremendously by this program and will be invited to participate as well.

When combined with MAT programs, counseling, group meetings, spiritual care, and having a sponsor, providing pet dogs to those suffering from substance use disorders may prove very useful to help better address and target several of the key risk factors for this disease. These therapeutic interactions with the adopted dogs include relieving stress and enhancing mental health for those who self-medicate for untreated behavioral health issues, promoting responsibility and accountability for those with impaired brain maturation from early teen drug use, and fostering a caring environment and filling the void in nurturing that was never provided to those who experienced adverse childhood events such as abuse and neglect.

These risk factors make one more susceptible to using and misusing drugs that serve to “hijack” the brain by altering specific brain circuit pathways that incite tolerance, relentless cravings, and diminished self-control that give rise to addictions. Pet dogs can be instrumental in overcoming these powerful addictive drives and triggers for relapse while healing the injured brain by helping their owners become whole again physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. These animals can serve as guides for this restorative journey by assisting those afflicted with staying active and fit, providing safety and companionship, preventing loneliness and isolation, reestablishing relationships, developing a sense of purpose and value, and offering unconditional love and joy.

My ITSC Training has strongly reinforced my belief that no one is beyond redemption. I am convinced that pet dog adoptions will offer real hope and a second chance to those afflicted with addictions. This novel therapeutic strategy could become an important component of the multifaceted approach needed for better outcomes with the prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery from substance use disorders. Hopefully, this will prevent more needless sufferings and save many lives.”

Thank you, Dr. Mike, for your dedication to those who suffer from addiction and for your innovative work with our ‘best friends’!  Everyone gets a new ‘leash on life!’

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