Study Finds Listening To Music Can Help Manage Anxiety, Pain, and Even Drug Addiction

man playing acoustic classical guitar in from of yellow background wearing hat

Last updated on February 6th, 2022 at 06:04 pm

In 2003, a groundbreaking study was conducted at Arizona State University on the effects of music therapy on treatment for opioid addiction.

In this study, several programs were assessed that provided therapeutic drumming to those recovering from addiction. One program, Earth Rhythms in West Reading, PA, was developed by Mark Seaman.

During Mr. Seaman’s own addiction recovery, he began drumming as a way to express himself and to find a natural and healthy way of experiencing altered states of consciousness that didn’t involve drugs. 

Mr. Seaman discovered that drumming allowed him to feel the same levels of relaxation and peace he craved during his addiction while remaining clean and sober.

As a result, he began offering drumming programs to youths struggling with substance abuse.

Through this program, teens can express their feelings through rhythm, visualization, improvisational music, and percussion meditations.

They learn forgiveness, surrender, acceptance, and releasing guilt through their music, while also experiencing joy, relaxation, healing, and a sense of connection that helps them through their recovery.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a therapeutic process that has been shown to provide social, cognitive, physical, and emotional benefits to specific populations, including those with autism spectrum disorders, mental health issues, substance abuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic pain.

It engages all areas of the brain simultaneously through rich sensory experiences.

Music from all genres have been shown to be beneficial and clients using music therapy do not have to be musicians themselves.

Qualified musicians with certifications in music therapy guide the client through exercises that allow them to sing, move to, listen to, play, or create music based on their own needs and preferences. 

Music therapy has also been found to be useful for all ages, from premature babies undergoing painful procedures through elderly facing the end of their lives. 

How Does Music Therapy Help People Stay Sober?

Music therapy can be an integral part of a holistic rehab program. Many people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction have a history of trauma or mental health issues that make connecting with others on an intimate level more difficult.

Doctor playing ukulele

They might even struggle with acknowledging and processing their emotions and experience. 

Music therapy is a non-threatening way for clients to express themselves without words while exploring difficult emotions.

Listening to music written by others can also help clients put words to their emotions, allowing them to connect with music on a very personal level.

For those that struggle with finding connections outside of drugs or alcohol, this new experience can be essential in teaching the client healthy ways to connect with others.

For some individuals with substance use disorders, chronic pain or depression might have triggered the initial drug or alcohol use, while others might experience pain after years of addiction or during the withdrawal process.

Cancer Patient Woman smiling resting listening to music headphones

Music therapy has been shown to be effective at reducing both intense acute pain and chronic pain safely and without the use of opioid pain medication.

During the detoxification process, music therapy can be used to help the client cope with uncomfortable side effects related to drug or alcohol withdrawal.

Research has also found that music is effective at reducing stress and increasing relaxation. Those recovering from substance abuse disorders are often at risk of relapsing during stressful situations, especially if they struggle with developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Listening to and playing music is linked with lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, creating a sense of calm and reducing overactive “flight or fight” responses.

Senior Citizen couple laughing smiling playing guitar

In some situations, music has even been found to be more effective than medications at reducing anxiety. Too often, substance abuse rehab focuses on removing the addictive substance.

However, without a healthy replacement option, individuals in recovery are at an increased risk of falling back into old substance use habits during difficult or stressful situations.

An important part of addiction treatment needs to focus on helping clients develop healthy and safe options to cope with stress, express difficult feelings, overcome past trauma, and form meaningful connections.

Adding music therapy as part of a comprehensive and holistic addictions rehab program might be one way to help combat the current opioid crisis and bring true healing to those in recovery.

Written by Anna Paulson


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