The National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses the importance of matching treatment to patients’ individual needs and characteristics. For this reason, addiction treatment programs often provide a variety of adjunct therapies to complement core counseling options. Among the possibilities are a number of music-based programs.
There are a variety of ways in which music can be incorporated into addiction treatment. Patients can listen to various types of music or create it themselves. The music utilized can be instrumental, vocal or simply rhythmic.
How Music Can Aid in Addiction Treatment
Benefits of music therapy include the following:
- Engaging patients in treatment – Most people enjoy music, and when it is incorporated into a treatment program, it can make patients more enthusiastic about participating. A 2008 article in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review reported on a study in which music therapy was used as an adjunct to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for addiction treatment. The research indicated that motivation to participate in the program and enjoyment of the sessions was uniformly high. The positive effect of music on treatment engagement was consistent among patients with varying characteristics such as age and primary substance of abuse.
- Helping patients relax and experience positive feelings without substance use – An important part of recovery is for patients to learn healthy ways to meet the needs they were attempting to meet with drug or alcohol use. The task includes learning new ways to relax and find pleasure. A 2007 article in The Arts in Psychotherapy reports on a study of music therapy utilized within a CBT-based program. Patients involved in the study noted that music therapy sessions helped them experience positive emotions to a moderate to a high degree. A 2003 article in the American Journal of Public Health reports on programs utilizing drumming. The author notes that the activity promotes relaxation through theta-wave production and brain-wave synchronization.
- Providing a way to identify and express negative emotions – Sometimes people abuse substances as a way to avoid experiencing negative emotions. Often people are not even fully conscious of the emotions they may be experiencing. Music has the power to invoke an emotional response, which can be helpful in the process of learning to identify and express uncomfortable feelings. This can be achieved through purely instrumental music, but lyrical analysis of vocal music can also aid in the process. The Music Therapy Association of British Columbia reports that drug-dependent individuals who said they felt nothing produced music that revealed anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness and a sense of longing. In discussing the music, patients were able to acknowledge the existence of the feelings.
- Reducing depression – Depression is common in early recovery from addiction, due in part to the effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain. A 2011 article in the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy reported on a study of substance abuse patients who participated in an improvisational music therapy program. Patients who participated had significantly lower scores on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD) than did patients who did not receive the music-based therapy.
- Promoting creativity – Creativity can be an asset in the recovery process. When people have been stuck in a pattern of abusing substances as a way to respond to negative emotions, creativity can help them identify other ways to respond. Recovery is, in a sense, an act of creativity since individuals create new lives through changes in friendships, social activities and other lifestyle elements. Creating music can be a catalyst to awakening other types of creativity.
- Teaching relational skills – Addiction often takes a heavy toll on personal relationships, and developing social and relational skills can be important in the recovery process. Therapy that emphasizes group creation of music can help people learn to communicate more effectively and work cooperatively toward a common goal. Trust can be established and built.
- Enhancing a positive self-image – Having a positive self-image can help people avoid peer pressure that can sometimes lead to relapse. Creating music can help people see themselves as capable and can help them become more self-assured and confident.
Music is not only used to help treat addiction but sometimes to prevent it. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration maintains a list of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices. Among the services listed are nine prevention programs that utilize music. These include programs for children from preschool to high school age.
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