Benefits of Music for Addiction Recovery

written by Annie Murphy MT-BC

“Music, reflecting the norms, attitudes, beliefs and experiences of a group of people, serves a unifying function in groups, as in society. Music therapy utilizes the power of music to facilitate recognition of a common identity among addicted clients, as well as common beliefs and problems, thereby opening pathways for communication necessary for both group interaction and personal change.” (Treder-Wolff, 1990)

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, “9.5 million or 3.8% of adults over the age of 18 have both a substance abuse disorder and a mental illness.” Those diagnosed with substance use disorder along with co-occurring mental health diagnoses can greatly benefit from music therapy. 

Music therapy is a needed therapy treatment for those in addiction treatment centers and can help patients address goals such as:

  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Increasing the desire for recovery
  • Increasing emotional expression
  • Increasing vulnerability
  • Increasing knowledge of recovery topics

Along with these goals, music therapy has been proven to help patients reduce and/or distract themselves from cravings, be used as a coping skill when they are triggered, and be a safe place for stress relief.

What happens in a music therapy group?

Typically, music therapy groups in addiction treatment centers run weekly for anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. A variety of music-based activities may be used during the session, and each session is structured to discuss an important aspect of recovery. Some examples of these music-based activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Lyric Analysis
  • Singing
  • Group Songwriting
  • Active Listening
  • Discussion
  • Relaxation

Some sample topics discussed in these sessions can include: change, trust, self-awareness, emotional-expression, the 12-steps, codependency, environmental awareness/coping with environment, acceptance, and self-care.

What can a session look like?

“Coping with Change”

The music therapist (MT) leads the group in discussions about the eight core emotions (fear, hurt, lonely, sad, anger, shame, guilt, glad). The focus of the session will be on the emotion (i.e., fear), the impairment of this emotion (i.e., anxiety), and the gift of this emotion (i.e., hope). The MT will sing songs that have to do with change and anxiety to encourage discussions about these topics. 

Patients will be asked questions such as, “What does this song say about change?” and, “Did anything stand out to you?” The MT will then encourage discussions on common coping skills for feelings of anxiety and how to be more comfortable with change. The session would wrap up with a discussion about hope in times of change.

“The 12 Steps”

The music therapist (MT) will walk the group through a discussion about the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous. They are as follows:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

—Taken from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

As the group moves through the steps, the MT will have the group recite the step, along with the principle that goes with each one. The MT will then have the group listen to a song that describes the principle associated—for example, a song about honesty associated with the first step, or a song about hope for the second step. The group will be encouraged to share what stood out to them within the song and discuss the concept of honesty or hope. The MT will encourage these types of discussions for all 12 of the steps.


Journal of Music Therapy

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics

Metro Music Makers is excited to now be offering music therapy groups in addiction recovery treatment centers around the Chicago, IL area. To learn more about our music therapist located in the area, Annie Murphy MT-BC, click here.

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