Music Therapy: Does it Have a Role in the Treatment of Substance Abuse?


Addiction. A word that many people in society rarely want to mention. A word that is often tucked under the rug; an issue rarely addressed because fear so eagerly got in the way.


Addicts are often looked upon as outcasts or “losers” of our society because of their lack of self-control, their selfishness, and their probability of harming themselves or others when ‘under the influence.’ The sad truth is, in this lifetime, many humans struggle with an addiction, usually disguised and unnoticed. Addictions come in all forms, and each obsession or addiction hails it’s own reason for consuming us. Some struggle with addiction to power, for some it is money, some control, some body image/food, and for too many, alcohol and drugs…the list goes on. Is it all just to fill some void or numb ridiculous pain?
For many people it is a list or series of life’s events or their struggle with an illness or depression. For some it began with peer pressure, insecurity, or boredom. The sad truth is that a large number of people are now addicted to prescription drugs that were given to them to help them “get better” or feel better mentally or physically. Whatever the case may be, the abuse began with a choice. The first, second, and third choice was made. And so begins the process of the powerful human brain clinging to these new, foreign synapses. The brain soon rewires to adapt, and survive. For whatever initial reason the choice was made, the users continued choices turn to desire, desire turns to need, and need to addiction.
Substance abuse is among the most deadly forms of addiction, and statistically becoming one of the quickest to kill. Substance abuse affects all of us directly or indirectly on a daily basis. There are a rising number of treatment centers, but surrounding the few in each town or city are countless bars, liquor stores, and drug dealers to compete with the rising count of vulnerable souls. Substance abuse treatment and recovery centers are increasing their numbers of effective therapies, utilizing multiple sources to enhance their programs to give ensure a full recovery and give hope to the hopeless. Music therapy (MT) is being utilized as an effective treatment for substance abuse to increase the positive outcome for patients and families. Music therapy can be effective for inpatient and outpatient clients, implementing individual and group therapy sessions.
In this setting, a music therapist will utilize the isoprinciple, meeting each client where they are at physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually on their individual journey to recovery. Counseling is a skill that a music therapist must excel at for this venue; as cognitive processing plays a big role in each patient’s recovery. Rhythms for Living, LLC facilitates music therapy in these facilities from a neurologic approach, or Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT). In each session the music therapist uses patient preferred live and/or recorded music as a medium and tool to aid in the brains change in functioning level and new processing methods over time.
Clients are encouraged to participate in scientifically evidence based MT interventions, which allow them to express thoughts and emotions through therapeutic discussion to process music content or through music lead activities. These MT interventions include but are not limited to: Music Listening, Lyric Analysis, Music and Relaxation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Guided Imagery, Song Writing, Group and Individual Instrumental Performance, Vocal Performance, Music and Other Activities (Letter writing, Thought processing, Group interaction, Music games), Music and Other Arts (Painting, drawing, body movement).
Music therapists also give recovering addicts the tools they need to replace negative music “triggers” related to their substance abuse with positive reinforcement using patients’ preferred music. In MT sessions, the clients are taught to utilize music in their everyday lives to enhance and speed up the effectiveness of their ongoing recovery process.
How does it work?
The short answer:
When music is played, multiple areas of the brain are accessed, making music one of the most powerful tools to aid the client in accessing their cognitive pathways. As the client is learning to change the way they think and act in recovery, they begin to learn ( in MT),  how their brains function and how they individually react to presented situations. Awareness of their cognitive processing and the change in the direction of firing synapses while sober in the program can enhance the use of their frontal lobe, leading to higher brain functioning in the executive cortex overtime. Music can speed up this process, not only in a treatment facility; but also in the client’s continued journey of recovery.
– Joy Hinson, BM, MT-BC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.