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  • Writer's pictureTanisse Epp

The Potential for Music in the Treatment of Addiction

Drug addiction is a worldwide epidemic, with the number of drug overdose deaths increasing by nearly 5% from 2018 to 2019 and has quadrupled since 1999. Despite the promising advances in biopsychosocial treatments, there still exists a significant gap between optimal care and currently available services, leaving many vulnerable to the grips of addiction. These challenges in creating successful addiction services have led to the development of various alternative and non-conventional therapies to address addiction treatment. Music therapy is an example of such emerging alternative therapy.

Throughout history, there has been a long line of various kinds of healers and practitioners that have treated psychiatric disorders with musical arts (1). Within substance use treatment, music therapy is a more recent development, dating back to the 1970s. Music therapy offers various unique benefits and addresses treatment in creative ways. For instance, music therapy can range from lyric analysis and songwriting therapy to relaxation training and musical games. The benefits of these non-conventional treatments have been shown to directly impact substance use behaviours, as well as other psychosocial outcomes that aren’t directly related to substance use or its treatment.

Current research has shown that music therapy can sometimes be as effective as traditional therapeutic techniques. In terms of music therapies' direct effect on substance use disorder behaviour, one study using educational songwriting showed a significant reduction in symptoms related to craving (2). It has also been shown to impact engagement in treatment, as one study found that music therapy increases the willingness to participate (3). Additionally, through the analysis of musical lyrics, one study showed that this approach helps address the negative or harmful behaviours associated with the lifestyle of substance use (4). This approach decreases the otherwise perceived stigma associated with clinicians/practitioners, provoking introspection and allows patients to analyze their own personal history of behaviours and facilitate self-directed changes in their behaviour.

Edited image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

It can also be shown to have additional indirect benefits. For instance, a study found that depression and anxiety symptoms were also shown to be decreased following music therapy in a substance use disorder population (5,6). While depression and anxiety are commonly comorbid with substance use disorders, music therapy may have an added beneficial impact on those who have concurrent disorders. Thus, music therapy has a wide range of benefits, both direct and indirect to substance use disorders and may become a non-traditional avenue to supplement treatment services while encouraging participation in conventional treatments.

Although there is very appealing evidence for the use of music therapy within addiction, there is currently a small amount of research dedicated to understanding the full effects of music within addiction. To encourage the use of music therapy within substance use disorder treatment, research will have to evaluate the effectiveness of this treatment over time and the effects of multiple sessions.


Blog by: Tanisse Teale


1. Covington H. Therapeutic Music for Patients with Psychiatric Disorders : Holistic Nursing Practice [Internet]. 2001 [cited 2022 Sep 28]. Available from:

2. Silverman MJ. Effects of a Single Lyric Analysis Intervention on Withdrawal and Craving With Inpatients on a Detoxification Unit: A Cluster-Randomized Effectiveness Study. Subst Use Misuse. 2016 Jan 28;51(2):241–9.

3. Dingle GA, Gleadhill L, Baker FA. Can music therapy engage patients in group cognitive behaviour therapy for substance abuse treatment? Drug Alcohol Rev. 2008 Mar;27(2):190–6.

4. Ghetti CM. Incorporating Music Therapy into the Harm Reduction Approach to Managing Substance Use Problems. Music Ther Perspect. 2004 Jan 1;22(2):84–90.

5. Albornoz Y. The effects of group improvisational music therapy on depression in adolescents and adults with substance abuse: a randomized controlled trial**. Nord J Music Ther. 2011 Oct;20(3):208–24.

6. Cevasco AM, Kennedy R, Generally NR. Comparison of movement-to-music, rhythm activities, and competitive games on depression, stress, anxiety, and anger of females in substance abuse rehabilitation. J Music Ther. 2005;42(1):64–80.

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