I’ve talked about the power of music before with how it can affect our wellbeing. This time, I wanted to look at how applying music as a form of therapy can help people. Although there are other applications of music therapy, I wanted to focus on its application in substance abuse because it’s one of my areas of special interest.
What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a treatment that taps into the power of music to help people, often used to help express emotions people can’t put into words (NHS and Addiction Helper). It is an established psychological clinical intervention (British Association for Music Therapy) where using music in a therapeutic relationship can help address physical, emotional, cognitive, and the social needs of people (American Music Therapy Association). The idea isn’t to teach people how to play an instrument, but in the engagement of all things musical.
How Music Therapy Can Help In Addiction Recovery
As I said in my pervious article on music, music can be a significant source of pleasure. According to Psychology Today, music appears to involve the same pleasure centres in the brain as other forms of pleasure, such as sex, drugs, and food. Thus, music therapy can help treat addiction because music can target the dopamine system, which is typically involved in addictive behaviours.
This view is shared by Making Music Magazine. They state that people whose pleasure centre of their brains has been manipulated by addiction (such as substance abuse) find it hard to experience a rush of pleasure without repeatedly engaging in their addiction. Thus, music can help fill the pleasure void left when recovering from addiction.
One of the most important roles of applying music therapy to addiction is simply to help ease boredom while being creative. Being creative and having hobbies are the backbone of keeping us occupied with things we can enjoy while getting lost in doing them. Boredom is the biggest roadblock to addiction recovery. Having all that free time but not having anything to fill it with will often result in relapsing simply because they need something to fill that void of nothingness.
According to UK Addiction Treatment Centres, music therapy is also useful for managing stress, which is also another relapse trigger. I know I use music to help manage my moods, to unwind, and relax, so it would make sense that this can also help people in recovery from addiction. The centre also says that music can help with loneliness. That’s because the past behaviours of people recovering from addiction can mean they need help to reintegrate back into society, their social circle, and their support networks.
The reason this is important is that lasting recovery comes from finding ways to deal with life’s emotional challenges (12 Keys Rehab). I know for me, I’ve used music to help manage my anxiety while outside my home, as well as helping me trigger my motivation to do something, anything, when my depression is telling me to do nothing.
Where some people might turn to exercise to help manage stress or volunteer to connect with people again, others might benefit most, or at least in part, from music. As 12 Keys Rehab said, music is an easily accessible coping tool. All you need is the radio, YouTube, a streaming service, or an MP3 player, and you can enjoy this activity wherever and whenever it’ll be helpful.
Although music can be a great way to manage our emotional states, thus helping people resist relapses, we should note that, for some, music can be a trigger. I used to use drugs to enhance a night out dancing the night away, so for people like that, music could be a trigger to want to use again while in early recovery. To get that high of dancing around and just feeling free.
A study by Hohmann, Bradt, Stegemann, and Koelsch (2017) supports the notion that music therapy might not be ideal for treating people with substance dependency issues due that association between music and using. However, they do also say music therapy nevertheless provides opportunities for treatment of people with substance dependency issues.
Short and Dingle (2016) conducted a study to find out how music might affect substance cravings. When people listened to two songs, a nominated urge inducing song, and a nominated clean song, the urge inducing song increased craving levels while the clean song brought the cravings down to their baseline. Although the changes in craving weren’t as dramatic sounding as it may seem by how I wrote it, it was observed in the majority of the participants.Like with most treatments, they should be assessed for their effectiveness for the person as an individual.
Although I used to use drugs on my nights out to dance around carefree, I’ve never been triggered by music. This is an example of why it’s important to include people in talking about their treatments, because they know themselves better than anyone else.
Basically, don’t rule out music therapy for substance recovery just because people seeking help for substance dependency have associations with music.
Music Therapy Techniques
There are many styles and types of music therapy and Addiction Helper has created a list of some of the ones used that can treat various conditions. Below are examples from that list.
Guided Imagery and Music
They use this approach with people who are experiencing psychological and physiological issues. When this method is used, they will ask you to think of an image as a starting point to start a discussion about issues you’re dealing with. Then music will added to help increase awareness and to improve relaxation.
Neurologic Music Therapy
Neurologic music therapy is based on neuroscience and how music can affect how the brain works, using music to manipulate certain areas of the brain to cause positive changes.
They designed this method to help with healing and learning. It’s meant to help by improving concept formation, learning performance, and perceptual function by using notation, movement sequence, and rhythm.
Singing is a method used to help improve social skills. You’ll likely be asked to sing along with your therapist and group with this music therapy treatment.
The easiest option. All you need to do is listen to music and it should help you access memories as well as improve your attention and cognitive skills.
Songwriting is an easy way to express what you want to say, without having to speak about it directly. This activity can help people to become more self-aware. It can also give people a better understanding of their feelings and emotions. In that regard, it’s a lot like art therapy.
Music has the power to change our moods, often for the better, but sometimes for the worse. But the power that music has makes it an effective tool in treatment for not only addiction, but other mental health and health treatments as well. Therefore, don’t dismiss music therapy before you’ve tried it. The world would be a lot worse off without music, that much I think we can all agree on.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences with music therapy and addiction in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Hohmann, L., Bradt, J., Stegemann, T., & Koelsch, S. (2017). Effects of music therapy and music-based interventions in the treatment of substance use disorders: A systematic review. PloS one, 12(11). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187363 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5687713.
Short, A. D., & Dingle, G. A. (2016). Music as an auditory cue for emotions and cravings in adults with substance use disorders. Psychology of Music, 44(3), 559-573. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735615577407.