Music Therapy and Addiction

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The simplest form of music therapy involves simply listening to music, but music therapy can be interactive as well. (Kaitlyn Schwers/Drury University)
The simplest form of music therapy involves simply listening to music, but music therapy can be interactive as well. (Kaitlyn Schwers/Drury University)

The UNITE to Face Addiction rally was this weekend, and it was quite an event to watch. For five hours straight, we were intermittently treated to the sounds of beloved musicians and the wisdom of impassioned speakers. In fact, at the time of writing, we are currently awaiting a response from Facing Addiction to see if their organization has any plans to release a download of the broadcast for those who were unable to watch the event. But as we wait to hear back from them, we can’t seem to stop thinking about music therapy.

Music therapy serves a number of mental health purposes. For the addict, the experience is primarily an emotional one. At UNITE to Face Addiction, many artists performed songs with lyrics that either directly referenced addiction or that could be interpreted in a way which applied to the life of an addict. This hardly surprised us, given the nature of the event. But we realize that some people enjoying the concert may not have realized how truly therapeutic the entire experience was.

As such, we’d like to dedicate some time to discussing music therapy and its applications in the treatment of addicts and alcoholics. We will then talk about UNITE to Face Addiction, and some of the deeply moving songs performed by the artists in attendance. (There were quite a few, so we’ll mostly stick to our favorites.) We will end by discussing some other songs from multiple genres, explaining the significance of each regarding how they might be utilized in music therapy. Naturally, we will provide links to music videos whenever possible.

We hope that this will be a bit of a fun article for you. We also hope that it will teach you a new and fulfilling way of engaging with your favorite recording artists. Feel free to post in the comments below and discuss your own favorite songs, along with an explanation of how and why you find them to be therapeutic. We look forward to seeing some of your selections!

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy often involves music by classical composers such as Chopin. (Wikimedia Commons)
Music therapy often involves music by classical composers such as Chopin. (Wikimedia Commons)

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” In short, there are a number of purposes for which music therapy may be used, but it is generally only considered to be true music therapy if it is conducted by a qualified individual.

There is good reason for this. For instance, one of the uses of music therapy involves the use of familiar songs to stimulate those who suffer from dementia. Sound is highly atavistic; in the much the same fashion as smell, sounds can trigger memories of the last time a particular sound was heard. The problem is that, in those with dementia, these memories may be false. They might also be troubling for the patient, since even true memories might cause anxiety in those who have trouble reconciling their past with their present. Without the presence of a licensed therapist, there is great potential for music therapy to do more harm than good.

While there must certainly be some cautions taken when using music therapy, it has still proven useful for a wide array of issues. As noted above, it has been used to lessen the effects of dementia in certain patients. In fact, it has proven useful in the treatment of other neurological issues as well, such as aphasia resulting from brain injury. Other applications have included pain management, reducing symptoms of asthma, improving the health of premature infants, improving the speech capabilities of autistic patients, and helping to improve the motor functions of Parkinson’s patients.

During a 2000 conference on music therapy, keynote speaker Helen Bonny noted that guided imagery can be integral to the use of music therapy for psychiatric reasons. Bonny had attempted to use nothing but music itself in the treatment of alcoholic patients, but her research did not return the most positive of results. In an attempt to find a better way, she landed on a method which involves getting to know the therapist before undergoing a number of relaxation exercises. The patient is then presented with an image (which can be more of an idea than a visualization) that guides their therapy. The music Bonny suggests for the last part of this therapy is generally a selection that complements the chosen imagery while arousing emotions, memories, or other forms of spiritual and psychological feedback. The music should also be relatively calming, so as not to off-set the effects of the physical relaxation exercises.

In short, there are numerous ways to utilize music therapy, as well as numerous purposes for which to use it. The American Psychological Association has acknowledged that music can have numerous therapeutic benefits, even in infants who have no memories associated with the music selected. The Dana Foundation notes that music activates numerous pathways within the brain, affecting everything from motor function to perception and cognition. As far as the brain is concerned, music may even be considered a form of language. And while music therapy is best practiced with the aid of a licensed professional, there is technically no reason to believe that music itself will not still be therapeutic to a certain degree when used on its own. We’ll come back to this idea a bit later.

How Can It Affect Addiction?

The Smiths topped a BBC poll concerning which music people preferred when suffering from depression. (The Sun)
The Smiths topped a BBC poll concerning which music people preferred when suffering from depression. (The Sun)

Alcoholism and addiction rarely occur in a vacuum. Those who suffer from these fatal diseases are often victims of other mental disorders as well. Two of the more common co-occurring disorders for addiction are depression and anxiety. Since music therapy has a number of psychiatric benefits, it stands to reason that addicts and alcoholics with anxiety or depressive tendencies would benefit from its use.

This has specifically been noted in the case of depression. Not only has music therapy been shown to raise the self-esteem of teens and children, but it has also been proven fairly effective with adults. Patients who are generally distant and difficult to engage have shown greater levels of engagement during randomized trials of music therapy. It is believed that this is partially due to our physical responses to music, but the pleasure and the meaning we derive from music we appreciate will also play a major role in determining the effectiveness of music therapy.

Even when not used in a professional psychiatric atmosphere, music has proven to be quite therapeutic. In this spirit, a 2004 BBC poll entitled “The Songs That Saved Your Life” asked audience members to vote on their favorite songs to ease depression. The top song was “I Know It’s Over” by The Smiths. Many other songs were similarly deep or meaningful. Songs voted in by listeners included REM’s “Everybody Hurts” (#3), The Cure’s “Pictures of You” (#4), Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (#6), and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (#7). One of the more surprising selections was #2, “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” by Bowling for Soup. This goes to show that the lyrics are not always important to the therapeutic benefits, even if they are a major influence in many occasions.

Of course, the above poll might mean little to the psychiatric world. Anecdotal evidence fails to impress the scientific community in the same fashion as numerical data. We must also account for the fact that the “depression” suffered by respondents to the poll is likely nowhere near akin to the clinical depression treated through traditional music therapy. Furthermore, it should be noted that the poll simply asked for which songs people listened to when feeling down. It did not specify which songs actually made people feel better, indicating that some might be using the above songs to dive even deeper into their depression. Even so, there is reason enough to believe that enjoyable music can still have a therapeutic impact on those who suffer from anxiety or depression, even when it is not employed in the spirit of true music therapy.

While it is all well and good to know that we can treat co-occurring disorders through music therapy, a proper discussion of music therapy and addiction must account for those who do not require drastic mood stabilization or dual diagnosis treatment for emotional and mental disorders. The primary benefit of music therapy in the treatment of chemical dependents was, as noted by one 2003 study, that the use of different musical interventions allowed patients to address specific areas of treatment. The interventions used included musical games, relaxation with music, lyrical analysis, and songwriting. This is quite promising, as it demonstrates that music can prove to be therapeutic regardless of how it is used. While therapists may wish to use a combination of music and guided imagery as discussed earlier, any of the four interventions mentioned above may prove useful as well.

We tend to think of music as a system of set rhythms and harmonious melodies, but it is possible that even one of these elements can be used for effective music therapy as well. A 2003 study on drumming circles showed that drumming can aid in addiction recovery by “inducing relaxation and enhancing theta-wave production and brain-wave synchronization.” It was found that drumming could increase a patient’s awareness while decreasing “self-centeredness, isolation, and alienation, creating a sense of connectedness with self and others.” It was even found to have spiritual effects on those who were not religious and required a secular approach. It was also found to alleviate the stresses of emotional trauma experienced earlier in life.

This indicates that performing music may be more beneficial than simply listening to it; however, these studies are imperfect. Many people react to different types of music in different ways, and the same can be said of musical interventions. There is no perfect method of incorporating music therapy into addiction recovery, as it should likely be individualized to meet the needs of a patient. That does not mean that multiple patients cannot be exposed to music at the same time while in a therapeutic setting. It just won’t always have the same deeply personal effects as a one-on-one session with a qualified music therapist.

UNITE to Face Addiction Rally

Sheryl Crow was one of the many talented performers at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally. (SherylCrow.com)
Sheryl Crow was one of the many talented performers at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally. (SherylCrow.com)

Since our discussion on music therapy was inspired by the UNITE to Face Addiction rally, we should talk a bit about how Facing Addiction utilized music in their event. Not all of this music was necessarily therapeutic in the most traditional sense, but we will talk about some of our favorite musical moments and what we can get out of them as recovering addicts. We can’t possibly cover every performance, so let us know in the comments if we missed a song that meant something to you.

Those who only watched the live stream probably missed the opening by legendary songwriter Paul Williams, talented musician Kasim Sulton, and TV’s Dr. Oz. To open the event, they premiered Facing Addiction’s new anthem, which was written by Paul Williams with the help of the recovery community. It is impossible at the time of writing to find a recording of the entire anthem, although part of the chorus and all of the lyrics are available. There are also recordings of Kasim Sulton singing the first verse, as well as an early alternate version of the chorus.

This opening was strong in a number of ways. First, there is the anthem itself, which speaks of breaking the chains of our addiction and finding peace of mind. Second, there is the importance of Paul Williams. Not only has he been in recovery for over two dozen years, but he is an incredibly gifted songwriter. His song “Rainy Days and Mondays” is one of The Carpenters’ most recognizable hits, and describes the sensation of feeling down when nothing is technically wrong. Every addict has felt a bit lost in this sense, and a man who understands this feeling was the perfect choice as the writer for a recovery anthem. He also understands beauty, as noted in his song “Rainbow Connection” (primarily associated with the Muppets, but also covered by Karen Carpenter, Willie Nelson, Jason Mraz, and more). He has also composed the seemingly autobiographical “Still Alive,” which explores the fear of death at the end of a life of wrongdoing, all the while grasping to a glimmer of hope that we may still overcome our past transgressions.

Some musicians took part in the rally without even performing. An opening video featured too many names to list in full here, but two of the most notable speakers were Ozzy Osbourne and Paul McCartney. The former has frequently discussed his addiction, while the latter has not called himself an addict in so many words but has certainly admitted to former drug abuse. While McCartney may not consider himself an addict, his lyrics may still speak to us. The song “Yesterday” notes the feeling of not being who we thought we were, and the shadow that hangs over us as a result. Meanwhile, “The Fool on the Hill” is the perfect some for anyone who feels that they are misunderstood.

Ozzy Osbourne has also written a couple of songs that addicts may enjoy, even if most licensed music therapy professionals would rather avoid them. “Crazy Train” is one notable example, as it is sure to speak to the insanity we have all felt at times (it is primarily the aggressive lead guitar that might make this wrong for music therapy, as it is far from soothing). For those who have struggled with addiction and family troubles, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” might be perfect for music therapy. Osbourne sings about pain, love, selfishness, and change. Each of these words should have some sort of meaning to the recovering addict.

The first real performance of the night was fellow addict Joe Walsh, who performed a couple of songs that may or may not be beneficial for the purposes of music therapy (but may provide some therapeutic benefits to recovering addicts all the same). His first two songs were “In the City” and “Funk #49,” the first of which he wrote for the movie The Warriors and the second of which was originally by James Gang. While “In the City” is a surprisingly upbeat song about loneliness and hardship, “Funk #49” is more about the faster side of addiction, in which we stay out all night yet think that we can hide our whereabouts from those we love. Walsh sang a couple of other great songs during his set as well. “Life’s Been Good” describes the addict’s need to fill a void with material objects and substance abuse, even when things are going well. “One Day at a Time” was one of the most notable songs he sang, describing the general need to slow down and live a life of recovery. While “One Day at a Time” may not be the best song for music therapy (it’s somewhat lacking in provocative imagery), its message is still powerful for the recovering addict. He then finished with “Rocky Mountain Way” which, as the song states, “is better than the way we had.”

The next major performer was Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, a fellow alcoholic whose father died with the disease. He might easily have had one of the best sets for music therapy. He began with “Slide,” a song about a couple contemplating abortion. Without this context, however, it represents many of the difficult decisions we’ve made in life while plagued with regret. His next song, “Come to Me,” a song that is as much about love as about acceptance. This is clear from lyrics such as: “You and me, we’ve both got sins. / I don’t care about where you’ve been.” This is a sweet thought, and should be uplifting for addicts who worry that their past may ruin their future. Rzeznik continued with “Iris” from the film City of Angels. Taken out of its film context, the song speaks to the fear of being discovered as oneself (a fear addressed numerous times at the rally). Those who struggle with feeling misunderstood and wish to reveal their deeper natures would get a lot from including this song in music therapy. Rzeznik’s final song, “Broadway,” was one of the deepest. “Forgotten but not gone, / you drink it off your mind. / You talk about the world like it’s someplace that you’ve been.” The song goes on to talk about anger, and the feeling of being betrayed by the world. But at its core is the message that these feelings do nothing for us. It’s a dark and dreary song, but its message has the potential to be much more uplifting if we allow it to be.

The Fray was next on the agenda. And again, much of their music would probably make excellent music therapy content. They opened with “You Found Me,” an excellent song about loneliness and the feeling of being betrayed by those who never seem to be around when we need them (even if they aren’t always to blame). The theme of the song is disappointment, a feeling with which many of us are familiar. The Fray continued with “Heartbeat,” a song about a woman escaping into a better life. Again, it should not be too difficult for recovering addicts to find some meaning in this that applies to their own lives. “Over My Head (Cable Car)” was the third song on the list. Written in response to a fight between lead singer Isaac Slade and his brother, this song should be meaningful to anyone with amends to make. The last song in the set we’d like to mention is one of the most notable by the band—“How to Save a Life.” Slade wrote this song about his days working at a camp for troubled teens, but the implications for addiction are hard to ignore. For music therapy, this song will likely touch not only addicts but also their families. While the family members have struggled to save the one they love, the addict often struggles with their inability to save themselves. Both sides have lost friends and loved ones as a result of this inability to cure a person simply by caring about them. It’s a sad song, but it’s one that resonates with all of us.

Southern musician Jason Isbell was yet another performer at the rally who knows a thing or two about substance abuse. Not surprisingly, this shows through in many of his songs. “Something More Than Free” is an interesting song, and appears to be somewhat open to interpretation. It mentions loneliness, but also gratitude. It seems to be about purpose, yet also about dissatisfaction. For cases in which music therapy involves lyrical analysis, it could be a compelling selection. “Never Gonna Change” (originally performed with his former band, Drive-by Truckers) is not quite as traditionally therapeutic due to some of its more extreme imagery, but it does carry strong messages of being content with oneself and of not submitting to fear. The title may seem as if it would send the wrong message, but a lyrical reference to passing a urine test helps to clarify that the narrator is, in fact, sober. “Cover Me Up” is mostly a basic love song, but the lyrics reference getting sober and maintaining that sobriety for the sake of the girl the singer loves. Again, it isn’t the best song for traditional music therapy, but those who value their sobriety in light of their relationships will get something out of listening to it. The last song Isbell performed was “24 Frames,” one of catchiest and most popular songs. This is one of the best musical therapy songs in his set, especially as far as lyrical analysis is concerned. The song is essentially about the importance of learning to value what we have in our lives. The song acknowledges that life is not perfect, stating that God is “something like a pipe bomb ready to blow.” But out of our sadness and despair is born a new sense of gratitude for what we still have.

Sheryl Crow was the next major performer. Her set was one of the best in terms of sheer quality, but she only had a couple of songs worth mentioning in terms of possible music therapy selections. “If It Makes You Happy” was her opener. While not actually about addiction, it certainly fits. Many of us tell ourselves that we use substances because of the way they make us feel. But no matter how much we use them, we still seem to be stuck in a pit of sadness. She also performed “Best of Times.” While Crow wrote the song in response to the Sandy Hook massacre and the Mayan apocalypse theory of 2012, the question of whether or not our best times are behind us is certainly familiar to the addict. “Everyday is a Winding Road” was Crow’s last song of the set. This may not be the best music therapy song, but addicts should still get something out of its lyrical analysis. The song talks about the intermittent highs and lows of life, the feeling of being a stranger, and the sense that nothing’s real. Even when we’re sober, we can still see life as a void of confusion. Crow takes that sensation and manages to somehow make it sound upbeat. Today may be a winding road of emotion, but that road will deliver us to as many good times as bad times.

Jonathan Butler took the stage next, opening with the James Taylor song “Fire and Rain.” Much of this song is deliberately about depression and drug addiction, and the sense that no one is watching over us. It might be difficult for some to hear this song on their own due to the darkness of the lyrics, so it might not be the best selection for music therapy. On the other hand, it is certain to put addicts in touch with their darker moments. Butler continued with Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” a song about growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood yet accepting that things will eventually get better. Many of us fall into addiction as a result of our surroundings, but that does not mean we cannot overcome them. Butler was joined by Tommy Sims for “Change the World” (originally written by Sims but made famous by Eric Clapton). A classic love song, the title represents the dream we all have, whether addicts or not. We all wish to make something of ourselves. From the standpoint of music therapy, this song can help remind people of their desire to be someone great.

After Butler and Sims, there was a brief appearance by Alex Newell of Glee fame. Newell sang the song “I Know Where I’ve Been” from the musical Hairspray. It is difficult from the tone of the lyrics and style of the melody to separate this song from the civil rights movement. Nonetheless, a major point of the rally was that addicts have suffered a great deal of stigma and undue adversity. While this may not be the best music therapy song (or even the best song for chemical dependency), it can at least provide some comfort for those who feel as if they have struggled to find a voice while in their addiction.

Steven Tyler, yet another fellow addict, capped off the night. His performance was absolutely awe-inspiring, not that we’d expect anything less. That said, for the purposes of music therapy, few of his songs have much application. “Love Is Your Name” describes a man willing to sacrifice anything for love, which might resonate with those of us who recognize our family’s need to see us get sober. Aside from that, he just performed a few classic rock songs. Our big regret is that he didn’t perform “Amazing,” a song that would be perfect for music therapy, not to mention an addiction rally. The song describes the possibility of a spiritual awakening after a life of bad decisions. It describes the feeling of living a lie, which drives many addicts to the brink of death. It describes uncertainty of the future, and the need to stay alive and continue our journey. It would have been perfect. “Dream On” would have also fit well, due to its focus on accepting that the past is behind us so that we may move forward into a brighter future.

The last song of the night was “Come Together” by the Beatles. Steven Tyler invited everyone else onstage for the song, making it just that much more powerful. While the lyrics of the song are largely meaningless, the title itself is quite meaningful. The notion that was must come together to fight addiction is at the heart of AA’s First Tradition: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.” Addicts and alcoholics, whether part of a 12-step program or not, cannot do it alone. Fortunately, with the power of music, we are never alone.

Other Therapeutic Music

Eminem is the only rapper who made it into this section, but we’ve included him for good reason. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Eminem is the only rapper who made it into this section, but we’ve included him for good reason. (The Hollywood Reporter)

The above section covered quite a bit of music already, but we’d like to talk a bit about some other selections you might use when therapeutically listening to music. We’ll reiterate here that simply listening to music is not technically music therapy. But it certainly isn’t the least therapeutic thing you can do for yourself, either. That said, here are some songs that you may find beneficial.

We’re going to start with the rap genre, because it doesn’t usually get too much of a mention as far as music therapy is concerned. There is only one piece we’d like to discuss in this genre, which is “Déjà Vu” by Eminem (it should go without saying, but the lyrics contain adult language). This song is about his relapse, and it sums up the experience quite well. A man (presumably Eminem himself) has been sober for a year, but decides a quick beer couldn’t hurt. Suddenly, time begins to skip around as he finds himself abusing more and more types of substances. He knows that what he’s doing will hurt his family, but he can’t stop himself. Those of us who have relapsed know exactly what this is like. Even those of us who haven’t relapsed can identify with the sense of déjà vu we experience as the days bleed together in a haze of chemical dependency. Since music therapy is supposed to be soothing, we should notice that this song isn’t particularly aggressive. While the lyrics of the chorus may be hauntingly unnerving for those who have lived them, the melody is quite soft.

Another fairly modern song we’d like to mention is “Habits (Stay High)” by Tove Lo. This brutally honest song talks about loneliness, vomiting in the bathtub, and throwing money away at the bar. “Habits” is about a person who has lost her love, and is trying to numb the pain by maintaining a constant state of intoxication. She develops an illusion of happiness which is just that—an illusion. Once this is realized, certain lyrics which at first seem to glorify substance abuse (“Staying in my play pretend / where the fun ain’t got no end”) suddenly seem almost sarcastic. The more we think of the singer’s state of mind, the more the sexual imagery in the music video becomes disturbing, to the point that we are almost frightened for her well-being. And yet many of us have either put ourselves in similar positions, or taken advantage of others who were as fragile as the singer describes herself to be. For those who have used drugs and alcohol as a way of managing their grief, and who have kept using out of denial, this song is practically an anthem. It could fit quite nicely into a regimen of self-prescribed music therapy.

Numerous songs in the rock genre may be applied to music therapy under different conditions. Bruce Springsteen’s “Tunnel of Love” is not about addiction, but speaks to the difficulty of maintaining a strained marriage. Creed’s “My Own Prison” is about the way we poison ourselves through anger and pride. “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers describes feelings of being lost and lonely. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That Smell” explicitly references numerous forms of substance abuse, with the warning that “the smell of death surrounds you.” The blues rock song “What It’s Like” by Everlast remarks on the feeling we sometimes have that our lives are worse than other people’s, while telling stories through verse that remind us just how bad some other people have it. The Eagles’ “Hotel California” is a drab song, but its lyrics should resonate with the addict who feels trapped in a lifestyle they once thought to be glamorous or otherwise appealing. Their song “Long Road Out of Eden” is also noteworthy for its powerful imagery and descriptions of uncertainty.

Many rock songs describe emotions or defects we must face in order to grow. Eric Clapton’s “No Alibis” is about the webs we weave through excessive lies. Poison’s “Something to Believe In” is about the need for faith, and Don Henley’s “New York Minute” is about the swift and unexpected nature of change (which can be either good or bad). “The Heart of the Matter,” another Don Henley song, discusses the importance of forgiveness. Alanis Morissette’s “All I Really Want” is about a lot of things, a veritable cornucopia of character defects and negative emotions that should provide a wide array of fodder for those whose music therapy depends upon lyrical analysis. Actually, that sentence describes a fair amount of Morissette’s music.

Country music is great for music therapy that involves lyrical analysis, as many country songs describe drinking and depression with raw sincerity. Zac Brown Band’s “Sweet Annie” is a story of love and broken promises by a man who’s reached the bottom of a bottle too many times. Collin Raye’s “Little Rock” is another love song, this one about a man who’s learning to reconnect with his feelings after nineteen days of sobriety. “The Cowboy in Me” by Tim McGraw explores feelings of pride and restlessness, feelings which have often led us to consider our substance abuse a form of rebellion. Meanwhile, McGraw’s “Angel Boy” is about regret and the desire for forgiveness. Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night” examines our reasons (or lack thereof) for drinking, and our tendency to “swear it’s the last time every time.” Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” mentions alcohol early on, and goes on to discuss the feelings of insanity that sometimes accompany our drinking, as well as the pressure of feeling that others see our emotions as invalid. Kenny Chesney also has a number of songs that might make for excellent music therapy. For instance, “You and Tequila” reminds the alcoholic that “one is one too many, one more is never enough.” While this and “A Lot of Things Different” focus on the mistakes we make as addicts and alcoholics (as does his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “One Step Up”), “That’s Why I’m Here” is the story of sobriety and all the good that can come from it.

Some music is hard to fit into a specific genre, but absolutely warrants discussion here. Those who are a bit homesick (possibly those in sober living facilities) might be able to squeeze out a few years when incorporating Michael Bublé’s “Home” into their music therapy. While the song has a happy ending, it is easy to identify with the pain of feeling that a good life is still incomplete when separated from the home we love. Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life” is a bit more uplifting, describing the feeling of maintaining faith in the future, even when all is not well in the present.

In fact, while many of these songs cover the bad in life, other potential music therapy songs focus solely on the good. John Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” was about the hiatus he took from the music industry, but it applies equally well to recovery. Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying” is a song about getting the most out of life while we still have the chance. Many other songs mentioned above have the capacity to send positive messages. Do not get wrapped up in the wreckage of your addiction—take time to celebrate the next step. Music therapy can be an extremely positive experience when we allow it to be.

Helen Bonny, whose speech on guided imagery we mentioned earlier, is a big proponent of using classical music in music therapy. Classical music is great because there is no lyrical analysis; the patient is able to let the imagery flow through them without distraction. When lyrics are present, they are often song in a soft, sweeping style that blends with the instruments. Bonny mentions two pieces which engaged her love for classical music—“The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saëns and “Ave Maria” by J.S. Bach and Charles Gounod. Other classical pieces we might recommend for music therapy include Ludwig van Beethoven’s classic “Moonlight Sonata” for something a bit slow (we might also recommend “Für Elise”), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Elvira Madigan” for something uplifting, and “Nänie” by Johannes Brahms for something a tad more contemplative. A personal favorite of ours is also “Raindrops” by Frédéric Chopin, a song written after he had taken ill and was forced to become something of a shut-in. This happy little tune mimics the music of the world outside, the perfect music therapy for those who are tired of watching life pass them by as they succumb to addiction.

We’ve talked about quite a bit of music in this article, but we’d talk about even more if we could. We would like to say again that we would love to hear from you in the comments section. Tell us a bit about your favorite song(s), artist(s) or genre(s) of music and why you find them therapeutic. You never know—simply talking about your favorite music might be therapeutic in and of itself!

This article is part of our series on substance abuse.

 

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2 thoughts on “Music Therapy and Addiction”

  1. Hello Everyone,
    I have been in a 12-Step program for sex addiction for the last 10 years. Six years ago, I start Karaoke just because I enjoy singing so much. Two years ago, I started using a computer to stream in karaoke songs. Soon after that, I bought speakers, microphone and a projector. For the last two years, I have provided Karaoke experiences for my church, friends and even a group of parolees.
    Recently, I provided Karaoke to my 12-Step group, which became so successful that that I plan to have regular karaoke sessions with them. It really is extraordinary, once 12 Steppers over come their fears, how they become enthusiastic about expressing themselves, how they find songs on their own and how it becomes part of their recovery.
    For me, karaoke, music and singing have enhanced my recovery by simply substituting a bad habit with a positive one. I am convinced that once an addict has some degree of recovery, the challenge becomes finding his/her Spiritual, authentic person inside through positive, meaningful “muses” that take priority over the darkness of addiction.
    You’re the first group I have shared this experience with, and maybe, you could add karaoke to your addiction program.
    Cheers… Matt

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