Music is a cross-cultural experience. You don’t have to understand the words or be familiar with the genre to feel the effects of a superior composition. Music’s ability to change our moods, minds, and behavior is well documented in popular culture. However, the power of music during recovery from addiction is still a newer concept.
Music therapy is a comprehensive treatment system that combines listening, theory, and performance. Adding this therapy to an addiction treatment plan helps patients find relief through some of the most difficult points of their journey while also strengthening them for what lies beyond. How does musical therapy help those fighting through addiction treatment feel better, stay stronger, and recover more quickly?
The Physical Effects of Music
The effects of music aren’t just mental. The mental effects of music cascade throughout the body, producing physical results that can aid the addiction treatment process. These include:
- Improve communication. Listening to and performing certain genres of music have been proven to increase vital mental skills. A study from the Institute of Music and Mind at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada found that those who use their musical skills frequently show increased activity in the auditory cortex of the brain. This area translates sounds into understandable words and phrases and is vitally connected with our communication skills. Playing instruments can make it easier for patients in treatment to communicate with those who are there to help them.
- Improved memory and learning. The auditory cortex isn’t the only brain structure positively impacted by music. The prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of our sensory processing abilities, is also improved through performing and listening to music. Over time, patients are able to retain long and short term memories better, which helps them learn new ways of coping with life’s stresses without reaching for a substance.
- Increased dopamine production. Dopamine is a vital neurotransmitter. Substance abuse damages the body’s ability to naturally produce this substance in useful amounts. Music naturally stimulates dopamine production, which helps even moods, relaxes the body, and calms the mind.
The Mental Effects of Music
Everyone knows how a good piece of music makes them feel. Crashing cymbals, twinkling keyboards, and artfully strummed guitars can lift spirits and stimulate a change of mind. During the recovery process, these effects can be used to the patient’s advantage in many ways.
- During the detox stage, calming music can help patients cope with the physical and mental stress that comes with the experience. Once the acute stage is passed, playing calming music can help patients keep a level of mood throughout treatment.
- When the urge to relapse pops up, music can inspire patients to stick with their program. In these cases, upbeat and meaningful tunes are the most effective. Many patients enjoy music with spiritual overtones that help them connect to their higher power for aid.
- Music can connect support groups. Singing and performing together as a group helps members connect on a safe, emotional level. This facilitates group and private talk therapy sessions. When they’re alone, group members can turn to that piece of music to help them when they can’t reach their support system.
Techniques in Music Therapy
How is music therapy used in the recovery process?
- Performance. Singing and playing instruments is a physical experience that helps patients work out stress in a healthy way. Keeping your hands and mind busy is a great way to fight the urge to relapse.
- Meditation. Quietly listening to inspirational tunes while alone is another successful therapy tactic. The right selection can lower blood pressure, relax tense muscles, and help patients cope through difficult stages.
- Exercise aid. Physical exercise is a well-known technique for resetting the body after detox. Add music to a workout to stay inspired, engaged, and joyfully active through the sweat session.
These techniques can be effective in group or private sessions. Music therapy is also easily adapted into a home practice to support the work outpatients do with their therapists.
Music is more than a pastime. When used consciously and purposefully, it can help those fighting addictions by providing a healthy outlet for many of the negative emotions that can come along with the healing process. Talk to your addiction treatment specialist about adding music therapy to your program.