Can Music Therapy Help Substance Abuse?

Channeling the Beatles or Rihanna may seem an unlikely offering for an inpatient drug detox facility; however, it’s becoming a reality for an increasing number of centers.  At a time when 25 percent of patients age 12 or over drop out of treatment programs, it’s hardly surprising that people are looking for alternative ways to keep addicts engaged. Now they may have found one: music therapy. Music therapy — that is, the use of music to meet individualized goals within a therapeutic setting — provides benefits far beyond entertainment. It has a variety of physical, psychological and emotional benefits that may prove beneficial to substance abuse recovery.


What happens in music therapy?

Lest the concept of “music therapy” conjure images of people holding hands around a fire while singing kumbaya, it’s important to clarify. Inpatient drug detox facilities are utilizing this method of treatment by encouraging patients to critically listen to music, produce music and engage in discussions with music therapists. They often participate in songwriting, musical games, improvisational instrument play and lyric analysis.

Music therapy and the addict’s brain

According to the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, music has the capacity to suppress certain areas of the brain that can trigger addiction. One such example is music’s ability to help produce GABA inhibitors. Responsible for balancing the neurotransmitters in the brain, GABA inhibitors regulate the production of dopamine. Too much of this hormone leads to the euphoria often associated with drug use. When someone uses substances to create dopamine, they lose the ability to do so naturally. The result is either a need to keep using or suffering through bouts of depression.

Music also increases levels of dopamine. In other words, music makes people feel better and happier. By doing so, an addict need not turn to drugs for a sense of euphoria.

Benefits of music therapy

There are a number of benefits from music therapy. Some of them include:

  • Reduces levels of cortisol, otherwise known as the “stress hormone”
  • Improves communication methods, particularly in people with autism
  • Forms relaxation and coping skills
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Helps people successfully socialize
  • Enhances awareness of self and others
  • Improves problem-solving skills
  • Decreases anxiety

As drug detox facilities look for alternative treatments to substance use, many are beginning to explore holistic approaches. For some, this includes incorporating art and music into the treatment plan.


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