Addiction to drugs and alcohol often stems from an emotional disturbance that was overwhelming and seemingly unmanageable at the time of occurrence. At the root of the desire to escape from a painful experience or set of experiences, or the desire to take away pain surrounding experiences, the initial use of drugs and alcohol in an extreme manner was in response to emotions.
Music also triggers, soothes, and stimulates emotions in various ways, depending on the listener’s interpretation. One song can sound beautifully helpful to one individual and unimportant or even unappealing to another. Music is subjective and fully opinion-based, and one’s reaction to a piece of music depends on his or her emotional point of reference.
For alcoholics and drug addicts, can music help control and maintain emotions that used to lead the person to self-medicate with substances?
Early on in recovery while the addict is undergoing detoxification and then a formal inpatient treatment program, the goal is to stabilize the individual both physically and emotionally, to reduce negative symptoms of substance use, and to alleviate pain.
Generally in residential, or inpatient, treatment client participate in individual and group therapy. Music can be incorporated in both forms of therapy as a way of facilitating the client’s individual emotional healing process as well as a way for a group of clients to experience and then discuss emotional reactions to different pieces and types of music. As discussion of music among a group of female addicts in recovery, for example, can lead to friendships based on camaraderie developed during a shared emotional encounter.
For clients who have a musical background, the process of playing an instrument that has been abandoned during substance abuse can be cathartic. In addition, writing music, whether instrumental or lyrical, can trigger the creative talent the client once utilized.
Listening to or creating music can aid the client in realizing the reasons he or she initially began abusing substances. This becomes possible when the client is involved in a therapeutic environment comfortable for opening up and sharing emotions surrounding the musical episode. When recognized, the emotions that lead to addiction can be addressed by exposure to different forms of music, and can start to be healed with the use of music.
Potential benefits of music in drug rehab according to the American Music Therapy Association:
- reduced muscle tension
- decreased anxiety and agitation
- enhanced interpersonal relationships
- enhanced self-expression and self-awareness
- improved perception and differentiation of feelings
- improved ability to titrate abreaction, self-sooth, recognize, and cope with traumatic triggers
- improved self-image and increased self-esteem
- increased verbalization
- improved group cohesiveness
- increased motivation
A substance abuse counselor integrating music into individual and group therapy becomes most helpful when he or she understands how to introduce the music into the treatment program appropriately, how to let the music infiltrate the client(s) without interruption or interference, and how to eventually challenge the client(s) by asking questions to take the musical experience to the next level.
In other words, music can be most helpful when the counselor guides the client(s) to the connection between emotions identified during the musical adventure and the emotions surrounding alcohol and drug abuse. Sensorimotor, cognitive, and emotional integration can be achieved through music during therapy.
It is also noteworthy that music most likely played a part in the addict’s life while he or she was actively using. Certain types of music or specific songs can trigger an addict in early recovery. Sometimes this may prove helpful in the emotional progression of the individual, but it may also create an overwhelming emotional reaction that can lead to an immediate craving to use or a need to withdraw, breakdown, freak out, or run from all therapeutic interventions.
Again, the counselor needs to be aware of the ongoing impact music is having on each client, if the counselor is facilitating the use of music in the therapeutic session. Addicts participating in treatment may make personal decisions to involve treatment in his or her emotional progression while recovering from addiction.
While the direct repercussions are not the responsibility of the substance abuse treatment team, it is important for the therapeutic counselor to stay abreast of the influence music is having on the client. Individual therapy sessions can provide a great time to constructively investigate the impact music listening and creation is having on the client.
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Rebecca Berg is a business development representative for Shadow Mountain Recovery an extended care recovery center for young men giving them the life skills they need for long term sobriety and community reintegration.