The Healing Benefits of Music Therapy in Addiction Recovery

Last Updated on January 26, 2023

Music therapy, also known as Music Assisted Therapy or MAT, is a form of expressive art therapy that is often used in addiction recovery treatment programs to encourage those suffering from substance abuse disorder (SUD) to come to terms with the underlying issues that may have contributed to their addiction and to provide a constructive coping mechanism that will help prevent future relapse. Music therapy involves a broad range of activities, such as listening to music, singing, and playing musical instruments.

While music therapy alone won’t be enough to keep someone on the path toward sobriety, studies have shown that it can be a valuable part of an addiction recovery program that can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, encourage a more positive worldview, help foster communication, reduce feelings of loneliness, improve sleep quality, assist with concentration, aid in meditation, and even alleviate pain [1].

Music Therapy as a Treatment in Recovery

Music in its many forms has long been considered a holistic healing tool, and one of the key benefits of choosing music therapy as a treatment is that it can be used in nearly any context. MAT is commonly used today as means of treatment in a wide variety of settings such as in medical and psychiatric hospitals, cancer treatment centers, schools, alcohol and drug recovery programs, nursing homes, physical rehabilitation centers, and correctional facilities [2].

In addiction treatment centers MAT can be applied in intensive inpatient treatment programs, on an outpatient basis, in a group situation, and in nearly any other form of formal intervention. Music therapy is often used in the treatment of substance use disorders to ease stress, encourage relaxation, increase focus on recovery, and promote an overall positive sense of well being. MAT may be tailored to suit an individual’s treatment needs and can be beneficial to those who are having difficulty adjusting to the demands of recovery from their addiction/s.

Music therapists are trained to consult with each patient to identify his or her specific needs, and will then develop a treatment plan accordingly. In substance use disorder treatment patients may use music therapeutically in a variety of ways, such as to:

  • Deal with cravings by using music as a form of redirection
  • Decrease denial about the seriousness of one’s addiction
  • Come to terms with issues of remorse or regret regarding decisions the person has made in the past when they were under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Cope with negative emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, or depression
  • Develop coping strategies to deal with future stressful situations that may arise in recovery
  • Explore inner feelings such as those regarding motivation or self-esteem
  • Enhance mood [3]

Related post: What Is Experiential Therapy for Addiction?

Types of Music Therapy in Addiction Recovery

Music therapy in addiction recovery is an instrumental tool that can help fill the empty place that drugs or alcohol once occupied and can become a creative outlet to help patients express a wide range of emotions.

Lyric Analysis

Lyric analysis is a form of receptive music therapy that involves reading or listening to recorded or live song lyrics, and provides an opportunity for an individual to identify song lyrics that may correlate with his or her own experience. Participants in lyric analysis are encouraged to offer their own interpretations and insight into song meanings, and may also suggest alternative lyrics that better suit their personal situation.


Songwriting is a process that provides opportunities for creative expression in a positive and rewarding way and can aid in building positive self-worth. Patients can create lyrics that reflect their own thoughts and experiences, and then select instruments and sounds as accompaniments that best bring to light the emotions behind the lyrics. This form of music therapy can also instill a newfound sense of pride in patients as they are able to listen to their own personal creations.

Active Music Listening

In active music listening therapy, music can be used to regulate either a single patient’s or a group’s collective mood. Due to its rhythmic and repetitive aspects, music has been shown to have a calming effect on many. Music is often utilized in everyday life to match or alter a person’s current mood and while there are many benefits to this practice, it can also potentially keep a person unintentionally stuck in a depressive, angry, or anxious state. In active music listening therapy, a music therapist may play music to match the patient’s current mood and then slowly incorporate uplifting music to bring the listener into a more positive or calm state.

Improvisation Music Therapy

In improvisation music therapy patients are instructed to engage in some form of spontaneous music-making such as chanting, singing, playing instruments, songwriting, composing, or creating improvised rhythms. Playing instruments or vocalizing in this context can encourage a patient’s outward expression of inner struggles, anxiety, and other concerns that they may otherwise have difficulty speaking about in their everyday life [4].

Music Therapy as a Treatment for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Concerns

The diverse nature of music means it can be applied in the treatment of both physical and psychological problems. In some cases, the therapeutic use of music has been able to help people in ways that other forms of therapy have not, and it can sometimes provoke responses that may not appear through more traditional forms of treatment [5]. For example, expressing negative emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration and anxiety by writing song lyrics can be a tool for emotional healing, no matter the type of trauma or issue a person is trying to overcome. Those struggling with addiction and a co-occurring mental disorder might choose to write about the toll substance abuse has taken on their personal life, or they might use song lyrics to explore how underlying circumstances such as depression or anxiety may have complicated their recovery and how they can begin to overcome them.

Related post: What Is Holistic Drug Rehab?

Where Do I Turn For Help?

If you feel that you or a loved one need help with an addiction and would like to learn more about the benefits of music therapy in treating addiction at an inpatient drug rehab in Austin, TX, please call Nova Recovery Center at (888) 427-4932 or contact us online today.


  1. What is Music Therapy? | American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)
  2. Music Therapy & Substance Abuse Treatment (americanaddictioncenters.org)
  3. Music Therapy: What Is It, Types & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
  4. The Impact of Music Therapy on Mental Health | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
  5. Music Therapy (goodtherapy.org)

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