Music Therapy for Addiction

Traditional addiction treatment is largely based around counseling, behavioral therapy, and group therapy. However, most contemporary addiction treatment programs also include complementary therapies such as art, music, meditation, mindfulness, and so on. Of these, music is an extremely popular option, occurring in both formal programs and chosen by individuals themselves.



How does music therapy work for addiction? Music therapy is used as a tool in treatment for a range of mood and behavioral disorders including for trauma, to help persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder learn to cope, and even to treat pain. However, it’s not because music has any sort of mystical or healing power. Instead, it relates to a combination of discipline, mindfulness, focus, and mood control.


What is Music Therapy?


Music Therapy for drug and alcohol rehab typically includes learning to play a musical instrument in a structured environment, where the pace of learning, mood of the class, songs, and topics are controlled to meet the needs of the class. Music therapy also includes singing, moving to (dancing), listening to, and choosing music to express emotions, change focus, and to shift attention. Each of these are extremely important for recovering addicts, who often struggle with emotional regulation, discipline, control, attention, focus, cravings, and having fun while sober.


Music therapy:

  • Helps individuals to be creative

  • Provides a medium to share emotions

  • Provides a relaxing means of exercise

  • Can encourage mindfulness and meditation

  • Distracts from cravings in early recovery

  • Requires attention and focus

  • Increases focus and concentration


Each of these can help an individual in recovery to better focus on their recovery and to improve their response in other forms of treatment.


Active Music Therapy – Active music therapy involves actively creating and participating in music. Users are asked to learn an instrument, to dance, to sing, and to actively participate in the creation of music. This may be in a group setting, one-on-one with a therapist, or on your own. However, it requires a great deal of attention, focus, and discipline to continue and to maintain. Many people are also asked to step outside of themselves to tackle behaviors and emotions such as self-esteem, shyness, stage-fright, and ego to do so.


Passive Music Therapy – Individuals are asked to listen to or sing along with music while participating in relaxing activities. This may include gentle movement, simply sitting, talking, or a range of other activities. In some cases, passive music therapy may move from simply listening to listening and sharing, to selecting music that expresses an emotion or feeling, and using music as an outlet to communicate and share emotions.



How Does Music Therapy Work?


Music therapy works in several ways, offering benefits ranging from simple relaxation to dedication and discipline.


Discipline – Many individuals who struggle with substance use disorders have spent a significant amount of time giving in to cravings, pleasure-seeking, and risk-taking. Substance use erodes the ego and the willpower needed to abstain from substance abuse. Repeating an activity that requires a considerable amount of attention, focus, and discipline helps to counteract this, which will aid the recovering person in every day life. For example, if you have to build a habit of practicing a music instrument every day, struggling with learning new things, and persevering through difficulty, it will be practice for doing so with a substance, especially when cravings hit.



Relaxation – Music is relaxing, it is calming, and it often serves as an outlet. Whether you’re singing along, playing, or simply listening to music, it will help you to relax. This is important as a stress-relief tool, especially for those who are struggling.


Focus and Attention – Shifting focus and attention away from substance use and cravings is a valuable tool for individuals struggling with cravings. Music therapy gives individuals tools to do so and to do so in relatively accessible ways. Someone who can sit down and practice a guitar when experiencing cravings has an outlet to focus their attention and pain on, rather than focusing on the cravings. This is the same principle behind therapies such as mindfulness.


Emotional Outlet – Many individuals suffering from substance use disorder struggle with emotional expression, emotional outlets, and communication. This can be a result of long-term substance abuse which results in emotional blunting, a result of substance use affecting the ego, and a result of trauma and a result of stress, emotional problems, and mood or mental disorders either related to or contributing to the substance use disorder. Many people can more easily express themselves with music, either by playing or selecting songs that match their emotions, allowing for self-expression without having to put those emotions into words themselves.


Self-Awareness and Self-Esteem – Taking the time to learn to play and sing, doing so in a group with others, and using music as a form of self-expression can enhance self-esteem and self-awareness. Even the simple act of learning a new skill such as playing a drum can help individuals to feel accomplished, like they can change and do something, and therefore will contribute to motivation and belief in their own ability to recover and change. Playing music also requires a certain amount of emotional expression, meaning that many have to be aware of how they feel and why they feel that way in order to play, which can be very beneficial when combined with cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling.


Many people enjoy music, feel as though they are part of something when listening or playing, and greatly benefit from sharing music with a group. As a result, music therapy can also be motivating for many, especially in terms of encouraging continued participation in therapy.


Is Music Therapy a Good Treatment for Addiction?


Music therapy by itself is not a sufficient treatment for addiction. You cannot use music as a sole medium to recover from a substance use disorder. Instead, music therapy is a complementary therapy that can add to and increase the quality of primary therapy and treatment. You cannot move past a drug use disorder solely on music therapy, but it can help you in other ways, allowing you to respond better to your primary therapy.


In addition, complementary therapies like music therapy can help you to maintain your recovery after completing primary therapy. How? Music therapy requires discipline, continued attention, and continues to offer benefits for as long as you attend or practice on your own.


Should You Participate in Musical Therapy for Addiction?


If your treatment facility offers musical therapy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t participate. Musical therapy can be a very positive and very helpful complementary therapy. It isn’t a primary treatment and it isn’t for everyone, but you can use it and it can be useful in your recovery. If you like music, chances are that you can take part in a few classes before committing for the long-term, so that you can choose to

Musical therapy is increasingly common and chances are you can find it at an increasing number of recovery facilities. You don’t have to take it and you can replace it with other complementary therapies. However, it is an enjoyable and relatively accessible therapy with numerous benefits.

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