Why do you love the music you love? Why is it that certain music genres are associated with certain lifestyle choices? Do drugs follow music or does music follow drugs? Doubtless these are questions that many would ask when they try and understand the relationship man has with music and drugs. Music and drugs have had an indivisible relationship for almost as long as each has existed. Drugs followed music and music followed drugs, there has never been a point in history where one was found and the other wasn’t nearby.
But what is it about music and drugs that make people experience them together? Why is it that many popular musicians have been associated with one form of drugs or another? Is it a challenge only these famous people suffer from? To delve deeper into this association, one must go beneath the banal associations and connotations that the media and popular culture paints, drilling down to the very scientific core of this relationship.
Physiologically, music and drugs seem to affect the same parts of the brain, the one associated with anticipation and reward, and the one related to emotions and feelings. When you listen to music, there is a certain anticipation that builds up within you similar to what would happen were you to meet a potential partner. You yearn for some form of reward or climax to the experience. For instance, when you listen to classical operatic music, the different parts of the music tend to build up and you get what can be described as “goose bumps” as the anticipatory nature of the music carries you along its crescendo towards a possible climax.
This climax comes in the form of some form of resolution in the music, a big clash of sounds or perhaps a gradual residing of beats that inform your anticipating mind that the build-up is over. This resolution point coincides with the release of dopamine or the reward hormone, which then relaxes you and gives you that sense of resolve and calm. This is similar to how you would feel if after a stressful and uncertain date, your date said they like you and would like to see you again.
When it comes to drugs, the same anticipation/resolution cycle is repeated, but in this scenario, under the influence of a chemical substance. The body forms a dependency on the drug and this creates a physiological anticipation for resolve. Whereas music prompts an emotional need for resolve, the much more powerful chemical desire compels the user to take the drug, and this in turn releases dopamine through a chemically induced process. The feeling of instant reward then washes over them and with time, they want more and more of this, leading to addiction.
With the similarity between the two in the ways they affect the listener or user, drugs and music tend to go very well when assimilated together, the reward is more intense with dopamine release being induced by both an emotional response and a chemical response. In addition, if the user happens to be a musician, this state of hyper-relaxation allows them to be more daring in their musical endeavors resulting in highly creative and prodigious outcomes. The scientific paring of the two can therefore be surmised to be rooted in the anticipatory/reward cycle of the human mind with the end result being a dopamine release.
Scott Ryan is a writer, science junkie and music buff. Find him either playing his instruments from Morris Brothers Music Store or exploring the world of science.