A wise person once said, “Music can heal the wounds which medicine cannot touch.” Music is a part of the human experience and has the power to transform and heal us.

From the lullabies many of us enjoyed as children to blasting the radio or attending concerts as adults, music has stood the test of time as a quintessential part of human life. The creation and performance of music is an art deeply intertwined with emotion, not just for the artist but for the listener as well. We can define music as happy or sad based on how it makes us feel and how connected we feel to it—it is because of this connection that music therapy can be used as a treatment intervention in addiction therapy.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy, according to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)1, is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship to be carried out by a licensed music therapist. Rather than simply building a playlist for a patient to listen to, music therapists use all aspects of musical art, including creating, singing, dancing to, and listening to music.

So, what exactly does that mean? What would someone potentially do in music therapy?

In simple terms, you’ll be able to express yourself through music. Your instructor may guide you through the following options during music therapy sessions for substance use addiction recovery:

  • Create music: You could create and compose your own music, write lyrics, or work collaboratively to make music with your instructor or someone in the class.
  • Sing music: Singing can bring so much joy. You’ll be able to use your voice to share music.
  • Listen to music: We all know music can heal as well as help you process your emotions. Enjoy the melodies while you listen to the lyrics.
  • Move to music: Maybe one day you’re just tapping your toes to the beat. Maybe the next day you’re learning a choreographed dance.
  • Discuss lyrics: Lyrics can really be like poetry. They have the power to transform you. You’ll be able to read or listen to the lyrics of a song and discuss its meaning.
  • Play an instrument: Maybe you already know how to play an instrument. Even if you don’t know the difference between chords and notes, there’s always time to learn. You’ll have the opportunity to play the piano, guitar, drums and more.

Music therapy for drug and alcohol addiction recovery can be a powerful tool to keep in your back pocket. Each therapy we provide at Cardinal Recovery will teach and give you the tools to help you recognize and deal with your triggers. If you’re not convinced yet, that’s okay. We understand some people may believe music therapy for substance use addiction recovery isn’t for them. The idea of singing in front of a group may make you nervous, and social anxiety could be one of your triggers. We understand.

We’re going to dive a little deeper into what music therapy actually is to help you make an informed decision on if the treatment is right for you.

Music Therapy for Substance Use Addiction Recovery

Music therapy is a complementary treatment meaning it is used to supplement other forms of addiction rehabilitation. Besides treating addiction, it treats mental health issues that could be intertwined with substance use like anxiety and/or depression. Music therapy for substance use addiction recovery has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.

As you may already know, excessive drug use affects the brain’s ability to release dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings like happiness and pleasure. Those in recovery often have decreased ability to produce natural dopamine resulting in reliance on substances to fill that void.

Music therapy, in essence, has the ability to help retrain the brain to produce dopamine naturally in the absence of drugs. This helps the patient focus more positively on themselves for the rest of their treatment. Because mental illnesses associated with drug use, like anxiety and/or depression, also affect dopamine transmitters, music therapy has the ability to remedy those as well.

Individuals can only be treated with music therapy by a music therapist certified under the AMTA’s guidelines. Depending on the specifics of the individual’s goal in recovery, music therapists will collaborate with the patient’s rehabilitation team to determine what steps to take. Because music therapy is used to supplement primary treatment, the main goals music therapists will set usually include relieving stress, improving mental well-being, re-developing cognitive skills like memory or attention and fostering social interaction between those with similar musical interests.

Again, they will do this by having their patients listen, create, and sing or dance to music. Music therapists will also use the specific style of music their patient enjoys to help them deal with cravings, reduce stress in specific, triggering situations and even help with self-esteem during addiction treatment. Just as most people have a unique genre of music they enjoy, there are unique ways for music therapy to be utilized to aid in addiction recovery.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Music, whether in recovery from substance use or not, can improve our mood in an instant. Music therapists use songs and dance to show those in rehabilitation that life can be enjoyable in the absence of drugs. Whether this is by using upbeat tunes to address emotions like loneliness or anger that may trigger a relapse or calming rhythms that serve to quench stress or the overwhelming feeling of being thrust into recovery, there are many ways music can shift how we feel in the moment.

As music therapy is a complementary treatment, it can also be used in conjunction with other means of rehabilitation such as exercising or socializing to create a positive environment for the patient. Music therapy, again, can also be beneficial in treating co-occurring disorders such as addiction with anxiety and/or depression by countering negative emotions and thoughts.

Those aren’t the only benefits of music therapy. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in multiple areas, including psychological, emotional, physical, spiritual, cognitive and social. More pros to music therapy for drug and alcohol addiction recovery include:


  • Music can help you recall repressed emotions that can then be addressed.
  • Music makes us feel less alone.
  • Improves our mood.
  • Decreased depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • Self-expression can help you reconnect with yourself.
  • Stress management.


  • Music can affect the body by changing your heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
  • Music can Improve your motor development or processing.
  • Makes you feel relaxed and it can improve sleep.
  • It can stimulate conscious or unconscious body movements, such as toe-tapping or dancing, and improve gait and speech.
  • It can help you manage and/or distract you from pain.
  • Music can reduce asthma episodes.
  • It can also reduce pain.


  • Music can be a very spiritual experience. Music therapy may allow you to connect and explore your own spiritual beliefs.


  • Music can help you feel more in control.

Coping Skills

  • You’ll learn to cope with strategies such as:
  • Breathing techniques
  • Relaxation
  • Distraction
  • Emotional expression.


  • Music has a way of bringing people together. Through music therapy, you’ll be able to connect with others over music and shared experiences. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet people and form relationships in a healthy environment.

If you would like to learn more about our music therapy program, please fill out this form or contact us by calling (855) 928-1987. At Cardinal Recovery, our music therapy for drug and alcohol addiction recovery program will help you on your path to a healthy, happy and sober life. You’ll learn life skills, form healthy relationships, and find new ways to cope. We are located in the Midwest in Franklin, Indiana, but we proudly serve patients from around the United States.

Possible Constraints of Music Therapy

Obviously, there is no one form of treatment that works for everyone, and music therapy is no exception. Logistically, to impose music therapy correctly, a certified music therapist is needed, and not every rehabilitation center will have access to one.

Additionally, specific types of music or songs, for some, are triggers that can lead to the opposite of what music therapy is attempting to help—anger, stress, and possibly even relapse. If participating in this kind of treatment does not yield a positive response from the patient, it is likely not the best route for them.

It is important to remember that music therapy is not to be used by itself. It is a complementary treatment meant to support the patient in participating in other forms of recovery. While simply listening to music can often improve the state of mind, music therapy is most effective when carried out by a licensed music therapist in an environment that facilitates other healthy rehabilitation measures.

Before you begin music therapy for substance use addiction recovery, consider the following constraints and potential ways to combat those:

  • One major problem we run into with music therapy is that some types of music may also have been associated with past drug use for some of our patients. Our instructors take great care when using music therapy, and you can always communicate with them if anything is triggering to you. We do not want our patients to be in a situation where listening to certain types of music becomes detrimental and increases the potential for relapse.
  • If you find yourself becoming aggressive, agitated, or another negative emotion comes to the surface, let your instructor know so they can discontinue the intervention.
  • Music therapy cannot heal a person all on its own. Music therapy for drug & alcohol addiction recovery must be used with another form of treatment to be effective. It should never be used as the sole form of treatment for a substance use disorder.

Before you take on this treatment, it’s important to have all the facts. While music therapy has so many benefits, it’s still important to consider the possible constraints.

Music therapy is a great addition to add to your current treatment plan. It can help you battle your addiction or alcoholism while finding more joy in life. The treatment can reduce symptoms from co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression. You will also have the opportunity to build relationships with others based on similar interests outside of drugs and alcohol.

However, some of our patients may not be ready for it. You or your care providers can make an informed decision on whether music therapy is right for you. Even if you are not ready for music therapy or the environment could be too triggering, we offer other various forms of therapy at Cardinal Recovery. Music therapy is only one tool you can use in your substance use recovery.

To find out if treatment at Cardinal Recovery is right for you, please fill out this form or call us at (855) 928-1987 to schedule an appointment. Our staff is available any time, day or night, to answer your questions. We provide free clinical assessments, there’s no obligation to enter treatment and you’ll be able to talk with a dedicated admissions coordinator who can guide you through the process. Even though we are located in the Midwest in Franklin, Indiana, we serve patients from all over the United States.

What Is the Benefit of Calling Us?

At Cardinal Recovery, our staff is available 24/7 to take your call. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, you are not alone and you do not have to do this alone. We give our patients evidence-based and holistic therapies that are held in an intimate, small group private setting. We are a dual-diagnosis facility that specializes in treating alcohol or drug addiction, as well as addressing underlying mental health issues such as bipolar, anxiety, depression, trauma, attention deficit and borderline personality disorders.

Benefits of calling us include:

  • Free clinical assessment
  • No obligation to enter treatment
  • Talk with a dedicated Admissions Coordinator
  • Taking the first steps to have a healthy, happy, and sober life

Call Cardinal Recovery Today – (855) 928-1987



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