Music Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Naomi Carr
Morgan Blair
Written by Naomi Carr on 10 January 2024
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 15 January 2024

Addictions, including substance, alcohol, and gambling addictions, are often associated with effects on mood, behavior, cognition, social functioning, and physiological well-being. Treating addiction therefore requires complex and specialized interventions that can provide improvements in all aspects of life and well-being. One such treatment is music therapy, which for many people can have a significantly positive impact on the detox and recovery process.

Music Therapy for Addiction Treatment

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a psychological intervention that can be used in the treatment of various mental and physical health conditions and can provide several benefits. A therapist trained specifically in music therapy techniques will provide this intervention and may use a variety of approaches during individual, group, or community-based sessions.

Music therapy involves passive approaches, such as listening to, discussing, or analyzing music, or active approaches, such as playing instruments, composing music, writing lyrics, and improvisation. Sessions can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual and may alter throughout treatment as requirements change.

Studies of the effectiveness of music therapy in various healthcare settings demonstrate benefits such as improvements in mood, reduced stress and anxiety, pain relief, increased quality of life, and improved therapeutic relationships between individuals and their caregivers.

How can music therapy help with addiction?

Music therapy can provide numerous positive impacts that could be beneficial in the detox and recovery process, making it a helpful treatment for those with addiction.

Although the evidence of its effectiveness varies, many studies suggest benefits of music therapy can include:

  • Reduced frequency and severity of substance abuse
  • Improved mood, including reduced depression, anxiety, and stress, and increased pleasure and enjoyment
  • Increased treatment motivation and engagement
  • Decreased cravings
  • Improved coping skills
  • Improved general well-being
  • Greater locus of control

Explore and express

Music therapy can provide a comfortable and creative opportunity to express and explore emotions and therapeutic goals. It is common for substance use disorders to be associated with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Individuals attempting to overcome substance use disorders might find music therapy a helpful way to understand and manage these difficulties.

Music therapy can also be a positive way to develop and strengthen relationships between individuals and their therapists. This can help people feel more comfortable with the treatment process and improve engagement and retention.

Create or change triggers

Evidence gained via scientific studies and individual reports indicates that music can cause a variety of emotions to emerge. Songs can cause a feeling of happiness or sadness, or bring up a forgotten memory.

This can work both positively and negatively in the context of addiction. A certain song may trigger a craving or desire to use substances and hinder the recovery process. This can be explored in music therapy and potentially reversed. Similarly, a song might remind someone of a positive memory or a reason for their abstinence, helping to reinforce recovery.

Neurobiological

Studies demonstrate that music can have a similar impact on the brain to the effects caused by drug use. Responses relating to pleasure and euphoria can be stimulated by music, creating positive emotions and reducing or replacing drug-seeking behaviors. Exploring this in music therapy can help promote positive emotions, reduce relapse, improve self-esteem, and improve interpersonal relationships.

Where does music therapy fit into a treatment program?

One of the biggest difficulties in treating substance use disorders is individuals dropping out of treatment programs or feeling skeptical about their treatment or progress. Music therapy can be a way to improve these issues, helping to increase engagement and retention and result in better outcomes.

Music therapy can help improve relationships with therapists, others, and the self, and can increase an individual’s awareness of their behavior, emotions, and expressions. Utilizing music therapy alongside other addiction treatments can enhance the benefits of each treatment and the person’s willingness to continue with treatment.

It may be unlikely that music therapy alone can be used as an effective addiction treatment, but it can effectively be used as part of a holistic and all-encompassing program, including other types of therapy such as CBT, medicinal treatments, and nutritional counseling. This type of treatment program could provide numerous benefits through a variety of complimenting and reinforcing treatments.

Do rehab centers offer music therapy?

Rehab centers offer a range of therapeutic interventions, which differ from place to place. Some rehab centers will offer creative therapies including music therapy, which will often be provided in a group setting and led by a trained music therapist.

Techniques and activities utilized during music therapy might also differ depending on the rehab center. This might include lyric writing, singing, composing music, analyzing music and lyrics, playing instruments, and improvisation.

Individuals wishing to attend a rehab center that provides music therapy or certain structures and techniques within creative therapies might find it beneficial to contact specific centers directly, to learn more about what is offered.

Does insurance cover music therapy?

Unfortunately, most health insurance providers do not cover creative or holistic therapies, including music therapy. Providers vary in their included treatments so it is always recommended to contact the provider to find out exactly what can be covered.

Some providers cover inpatient addiction treatment programs, such as detox or rehab facilities. In these instances, it may be possible to receive music therapy under an insurance plan, as part of a larger treatment program. However, it is unlikely that outpatient, community, or individual music therapy will be included in most insurance plans.

Incorporating music therapy into long-term recovery

People might engage in music therapy short-term, while at an inpatient facility, or continue to engage in this type of therapy long-term. There can be benefits from short-term music therapy treatment, although it is often the case that engaging in a larger number of sessions will provide better outcomes for recovery.

Continuing to engage in music therapy throughout the recovery process can enhance progress and ongoing treatments, allowing individuals to continue to:

  • Receive increased socialization and interpersonal improvements
  • Learn and utilize coping skills, such as changing negative musical triggers and forming positive ones
  • Improve motivation to maintain abstinence
  • Improve willingness to continue to engage in other treatments
  • Express and explore emotional difficulties
  • Manage mental health issues associated with or impacting substance use

Often, addiction recovery is more successful when individuals engage in a range of ongoing treatments and interventions. As such, music therapy can be a beneficial part of long-term treatment, alongside interventions such as psychotherapy, medications, 12-step programs, and holistic therapies.

Resources:

  1.  Ghetti, C., Chen, X.J., Fachner, J., & Gold, C. (2017). Music Therapy for People with Substance Use Disorders. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2017(3), CD012576.
  2. American Music Therapy Association. (n.d). Music Therapy Interventions in Trauma, Depression, & Substance Abuse: Selected References and Key Findings. Music Therapy. Retrieved from
  3. Kemper, K.J., & Danhauer, S.C. (2005). Music as Therapy. Southern Medical Journal98(3), 282–288. Retrieved from
  4. Walsh, B. (n.d). Recovery Sings: Successful Music Therapy for Patients in Substance Use Programs. Social Work Today. Retrieved from
  5. Hohmann, L., Bradt, J., Stegemann, T., & Koelsch, S. (2017). Effects of Music Therapy and Music-Based Interventions in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders: A Systematic Review. PloS One12(11), e0187363. Retrieved from
  6. Scharff, C. (2018). What Do Addicts Feel in Rehab? Psychology Today. Retrieved from
  7. Blood, A.J., & Zatorre, R.J. (2001). Intensely Pleasurable Responses to Music Correlate with Activity in Brain Regions Implicated in Reward and Emotion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America98(20), 11818–11823. Retrieved from
  8. Longshore, D., & Teruya, C. (2006). Treatment Motivation in Drug Users: A Theory-Based Analysis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence81(2), 179–188. Retrieved from
  9. Aletraris, L., Paino, M., Edmond, M.B., Roman, P.M., & Bride, B.E. (2014). The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. Journal of Addictions Nursing25(4), 190–196. Retrieved from
  10. Breslin, K.T., Reed, M.R., & Malone, S.B. (2003). An Holistic Approach to Substance Abuse Treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs35(2), 247–251. Retrieved from

Activity History - Last updated: 15 January 2024, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 08 January 2024 and last checked on 15 January 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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