Can playing music help recover from addiction?

Music is a powerful tool to emote, and express your feelings. It is also increasingly used to treat substance use disorders.
Can playing music help recover from addiction?
Introducing music therapy along with clinical therapy helps in long lasting recovery from substance addiction.The Bridge Chronicle

We know that music helps to deal with anxiety, reduces stress, and provides comfort. At Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, US, the authorities and the airport interfaith chapel director introduced music-based meditation sessions. This initiative helped the travels stay calm and cope better with the situation.

Recently in Kabul, hundreds of addicts along with medicines were also treated with music. Ibrahim Hamraz said, "The tune of music and melodies in the treatment center has inspired me to forget smoking drugs, and after recovery, I play music for others in the center to get cured."

Addicts dance at Jaghara Treatment Center in Injil district of Herat province, western Afghanistan
Addicts dance at Jaghara Treatment Center in Injil district of Herat province, western AfghanistanXinhua

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is the clinical use of music to address and enhance the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of a group or an individual. Therapists use defined music interventions to help reduce muscle tension and relax. It also helps to verbalise the issue that one is going through.

It is also an effective way to increase people's motivation and engagement in therapy, as it provides emotional support and an effective outlet to express repressed feelings. Music therapy touches aspects of the mind, body, brain, and behavior, as music renders a distraction for the mind slows down the body's rhythm, alters the mood, and in turn influences the behaviour.

The therapist in tandem with the patient depending upon the end goals decides to either take the creative process or the receptive process for the treatment. In the creative process, the therapist and the patient, together work to create or produce music, which includes composing songs, music or song improvisations, or drumming. Whereas the receptive process indulges the patient in music listening experiences and then discussing the thoughts, feelings, or ideas elicited by the music piece.

The role of music therapy is for the patients to be able to externalise their repressed feelings through the means of music. This also helps trained music therapists to gain insight into what the patient is feeling and emoting.

Ways in which music therapy aids recovery

Integration of music therapy with conventional therapy to treat addiction can provide a wide range of benefits and support overall recovery.

Accepting different emotions

When people are actively addicted to drugs, alcohol, or other substances, they develop defense mechanisms such as rationalising, minimising, denying, and lying to continue their behaviour and hide away from their emotions. Addicts form toxic and unhealthy patterns to cope with emotional distress. Listening and discussing music and the lyrics help people to safely dive into the depths of their feelings and discover multitudes of emotional states. It also helps in breaking through rigid thinking patterns.

Self-Expression and Self-Awareness

Self-expression and self-awareness are different than each other, yet intertwined with each other. Both are equally important in the process of recovery. Creating music, listening to different songs is a form of self-expression. Instead of escaping the emotions by relying on addictive substances, channelising through the medium of music is necessary for long-term recovery.

Self-expression aids self-awareness. When people express it helps them understand their issues better and the impact addiction has had on their lives. Classical music has a deepening impact on your mind, which aids in releasing untapped emotions.

Increase in self-esteem

Low self-esteem is a common factor in many addict's struggles after sobriety. A lot of shame, humiliation, and loneliness is attached to addiction, which many times are responsible for pushing the person back into the same cycle. It is necessary to find ways of dealing with self-worth, to enhance the person's recovery and avoid relapse. Music helps to connect with others. This feeling of connectedness helps with feeling that 'you are not so different that others' and are not alone.

Relaxation and reducing stress

With the feeling of guilt of addiction comes the stress. And stress is the worst enemy of addicts. Lack of stress management and coping mechanisms pushes people to turn to substance abuse, and also it is an important reason why people relapse. Listening to music helps calm the nerves and de-stress. The key though is finding the right kind of music that relaxes you, as music preferences change from person to person. Classic rock might be only some noise for some while it may be comforting for some others. One thing to remember in this process is to avoid listening to music or songs that might trigger you and remind you of your addiction.

Singing, playing, or writing music are healthy hobbies that help maintain balance and also are a form of creative outlet.

Journey towards sobriety

Many artists and famous musicians like Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, known by his stage name Macklemore, throughout their sobriety journey have used music to keep themselves motivated and express their thoughts and feelings.


Drumming has been said to have provided recovering addicts with feelings of joy and reduced their stress levels. Being around people, and drumming helps you feel connected and creates positive energy around you.

Motivational playlist

With so many music apps on your phone, it has rather becomes easier to create a playlist of songs that you enjoy. There are also ready-made playlists available, such as songs for relaxation, music for meditation. You can listen to them, whenever you feel stress or anxiety building up.

Write a song

Write a song to express your emotions. You don't have to share or publish it unless you are comfortable. Keep a journal to pen down the lyrics, and experiment with writing poems and songs.

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