THERAPY

Music a powerful tool in managing substance addiction

In Summary
  • Studies show that the reward neurotransmitter called dopamine that gets artificially roused by drugs is also stimulated naturally by music.
  • Besides being used for centuries to help with healing, music also has some pain-relieving properties.
Microphone
Microphone
Image: COURTESY

Strange as it may sound, besides just entertaining and passing on values to its listeners, music is a powerful tool through which substance addiction can be managed. It is important, however, to point out from the onset that music forms part of the holistic approach to drug addiction and thus is not a remedy to substance use disorders by itself.

Recognised as the globe’s universal language, music connects people across cultures, permitting them to express themselves in ways that words cannot. Because of music’s remarkable healing powers, it is slowly becoming an important part of addiction recovery.

According to studies, adolescent listeners are most likely to abuse drugs after hearing lyrics on chemical dependence.

Music therapy is known to help patients recovering from drug use disorders tap into emotions and needs that may be difficult to express through conventional forms of communication. Furthermore, music therapy also provides a way to motivate patients to receive treatment.

The American Music Therapy Association states that music therapy is useful regardless of musical background, and examples of clinical music therapy include lyrics analysis, relaxation training, songwriting, musical games, and improvising music based on emotions or other topics relevant to treatment. In these treatments, patients go beyond simply listening to music to engage emotions, motivations, and barriers to recovery through lyrics and melody.

This is how it works.

Recall that rush of pleasure that is often related with music? Studies show that the reward neurotransmitter called dopamine that gets artificially roused by drugs is also stimulated naturally by music. Besides being used for centuries to help with healing, music also has some pain-relieving properties.

Patients who were exposed to pleasurable music during and after uncomfortable medical procedures found that they experienced less pain and anxiety resulting from those procedures. There are many other benefits to using music as a therapy for substance abuse treatment.

Contrary to popular belief, clients undergoing this therapy do not have to have any musical talents or abilities to benefit. Nor do they have to listen, create, or move to any specific type of music. It has been proven that all types of music have beneficial qualities within a therapeutic setting.

Musical bonding experiences, such as composing and singing, can help groups of individuals in alcohol and drug rehabilitation settings hear and understand each other more deeply, which strengthens the group culture and encourages healing.

Incidentally, several persons with substance abuse problems also suffer from depression, which should be addressed alongside the addiction for effective treatment. Although several other types of therapies may also help treat depression, music therapy has also been used to improve the mental health of people with depression.

A 2011 study published by The British Journal of Psychiatry found that the satisfying aesthetic of creating music, the purposeful precision of moving to music and the relational engagement and interaction with others while making music, all provide a pleasurable and meaningful result for clients suffering from substance use disorders.

Music therapy has also been successful in helping individuals find coping skills with which to manage their fear, anxiety and anger. It can also, when combined with other counselling and therapy techniques, assist with identifying the reasons they turned to substance abuse.

Although music therapy can’t cure addiction on its own, this form of holistic treatment for a substance use disorder can be a helpful tool in finding the path to recovery. When combined with detox, individual counselling, group counselling, family therapy and other evidence-based treatments for drug or alcohol addiction, music therapy can help you or someone you love break free from the yoke of substance abuse.

Corporate communications manager, National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse