How Can Music Help in Substance Use Recovery

Music has been an integral part of our lives since ancient times. It has been used for entertainment, cultural and religious rituals, and even therapeutic purposes. In modern times, music has also been associated with substance use, with many people using it to enhance the experience of alcohol or drug use. However, music can also be a powerful tool in helping individuals recover from substance use. In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between music and substance abuse, and how music can help in substance abuse recovery.

The Relationship Between Music and Substance Use

There are different reasons why music and substance use are often intertwined. One reason is the environment in which music is often enjoyed. Most live music events are held in bars, tasting rooms, and music festivals, which are also places where alcohol and drugs are readily available. This makes it easy for individuals to associate music with substance use.

Another reason is that some individuals use drugs to enhance their musical experience. They claim that the use of drugs makes the music feel different and the musical experience takes on a new level of meaning. Others use drugs as a form of self-medication, to help them relax before a performance or to manage anxiety or depression.

However, music in and of itself can also be a mind-altering experience. It can create feelings of euphoria and transcendence, similar to the effects of drugs. In fact, research has shown that the same parts of the brain that are affected by drugs are also impacted by music. This means that music can create a sense of reward and pleasure within our brains and bodies, similar to the effects of drugs.

How Music Can Help in Substance Use Recovery

Despite the association between music and substance use, music can also be a powerful tool in helping individuals recover from substance use. Music therapy, in particular, has been found to be effective in supporting recovery from substance use.

An image of three people seated on the sidewalk. A Black male-appearing person is playing the guitar while a white female-appearing person and a white-male appearing person sit beside him.
Photo by Brett Sayles

Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based practice that uses music to help individuals achieve therapeutic goals. Music therapists are trained professionals who use music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. They use a variety of techniques, such as songwriting, improvisation, and music listening, to help individuals achieve their goals.

Here are some ways that music therapy can help in substance use recovery:

Expressing Feelings

Music can provide a safe and non-judgmental way for individuals to express their feelings. This is particularly important in substance use recovery, where individuals may have suppressed emotions due to their substance use. By creating or listening to music, individuals can explore and express their emotions in a creative and therapeutic way.

Examining Thoughts and Behaviors

Music therapy can also help individuals examine their thoughts and behaviors. Through songwriting or improvisation, individuals can explore their thoughts and feelings about their substance use, and identify any patterns or triggers that may contribute to their substance use. This can help individuals develop new coping strategies and behaviors.

Creating Flow States

Music therapy can also help individuals achieve flow states, which are states of deep concentration and engagement. When individuals are in flow states, they are fully absorbed in the present moment and experience a sense of timelessness. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals in substance use recovery, as it can help them develop a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.

Facilitating Neuroplasticity

Music therapy can also facilitate neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change and adapt. Substance use can cause significant changes in the brain, particularly in areas related to motivation, reward, and decision-making. Music therapy can help individuals develop new neural pathways and behaviors, which can support their recovery.

Working with Triggers

Finally, music therapy can also help individuals work with triggers. Triggers are external or internal cues that can lead to cravings or relapse. For individuals in substance use recovery triggers can be a significant challenge. Triggers can come in many forms, such as a specific song, a particular place, or a particular person. It can be challenging to avoid all of these triggers, and it is essential to learn how to manage them when they occur.

Music therapy can help individuals work with triggers by providing a safe space to explore and process these triggers. For example, a music therapist might ask a client to listen to a song that they associate with drug use and discuss how it makes them feel. By exploring these feelings in a therapeutic context, individuals can learn to recognize triggers and develop coping strategies to manage them.

In addition to one-on-one therapy, group music therapy sessions can also be effective in helping individuals in recovery work with their triggers. In a group setting, individuals can share their experiences and support each other in developing coping strategies. Group music therapy can also provide a sense of community and belonging, which can be essential for individuals in recovery.

Incorporating Music Therapy Into Your Recovery

In conclusion, music can be a powerful tool in helping individuals in substance use recovery. From providing an outlet for expression to helping individuals work with triggers, music therapy can be a valuable addition to a comprehensive treatment plan. If you or someone you know is in recovery, consider exploring the benefits of music therapy as part of the journey to sobriety.


  1. Silverman, M. J. (2014). Music therapy in addiction recovery. Journal of addictions nursing, 25(4), 190-195. doi: 10.1097/JAN.0000000000000045
  2. Boso, M., Politi, P., Barale, F., Emanuele, E. (2006). Neurophysiology and neurobiology of the musical experience. Functional neurology, 21(4), 187-191. PMID: 17310651
  3. Fancourt, D., Ockelford, A. (2014). Belongingness theory and music psychology: A commentary. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1-4. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00509
  4. Gold, C., Solli, H. P., Krüger, V., Lie, S. A. (2014). Dose-response relationship in music therapy for people with serious mental disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 34(6), 428-438. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2014.05.002

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