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Music has a profound impact on our mood, and it has been shown that music can be highly beneficial to recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). Because it impacts the limbic system, the brain’s emotional center, music helps drug and alcohol addiction recovery through emotional regulation. It is utilized as a healing method in many treatment programs. 

Music and the Mind

Music is universally present across human cultures. It is a social tool used for communication via sound expression. We are able to glean the feelings or intent of composers from music made outside our home culture. 

Listening to music can support or change our moods. It can keep us motivated and can be a tool to work through the challenges associated with drug and addiction recovery. This is accomplished through the stimulation of the limbic system, our emotional center. The limbic system regulates more than moods. It also controls involuntary responses such as breathing, temperature, and appetite.

The History of Music

According to Psychiatry (Edgmont), music has been documented for thousands of years, dating back possibly to early man’s speech being vocalized as a song. It can be enjoyed as vibration as well as sound, the deaf composer Mozart being an example. 

Music has been documented and employed since Ancient Greece, when “Greek physicians used flutes, lyres, and zitters to heal their patients.” In addition, the vibration was used to improve digestion and mental health, as well as to induce sleep. Think of rhythmically rocking a baby as an ancient and modern example. Today, music is studied in conjunction with other treatment methods to treat any number of disorders, including those associated with memory. 

Using Music to Heal 

Volume 29 of the Substance Abuse Journal defines music therapy as “[T]he use of musical interventions in a therapeutic setting to accomplish health-related goals.” Music therapy may be of greatest use when clients do not yet have words to describe the experiences driving the need for recovery. 

Music can be employed according to need. For example, some individuals turn to music as an outlet, relieving stress by cranking it up and moving to the rhythm. Others use it to calm down, turning it on as soothing background noise. 

Music can also be used to maintain energy. Think about listening to a Spotify running mix at the gym. For some individuals, music may be more about the expression: the discovery or creation of sounds, knitting them together in a freeform composition reflecting a moment in time.

How Music Helps Recovery

Addiction is often a result of a set of unhealthy coping mechanisms developed in response to emotional or physical pain. Substance use creates an “out” for the individual, moving them into an alternate headspace. Music can do the same, but without the negative impact of substances on the mind and body. 

If you are recovering from addiction, you might use music to do the following:

Practice Mindfulness

Music and mindfulness can go hand in hand. Whether you are listening to birdsong, waves, or your favorite band, allowing yourself to sit with music and breathe gives your body the opportunity to release stressors that otherwise feed addiction.


As with mindfulness practices, curating a playlist or listening to one curated by someone else can help you ease out of the day and into a rewarding night’s sleep.


Music can be a great motivational tool. For example, you may create a running playlist for the gym. Music makes a great accompaniment to all types of movement. It provides a base rhythm for walking. It can also lift and swell with your yoga practice and calms when you are ready for rest.

Receive Soothing Touch

Massage therapists frequently offer music in the background of your session to help you feel at peace.


Music can aid in focus, making your reading that much more pleasant.


Dancing can be a social or solitary activity. You can build up your speed, reduce it or ignore it and move to your own rhythm.


Music can help you in the process of writing. You can create your own soundtrack and have a journaling session. Music may help you in the process of getting your words onto paper.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is a therapeutic method often used in treatment programs. Music therapy uses music with various techniques to promote overall health, emotional wellness, and commitment to recovery. In music therapy, clients hear or make music in some way. They may also:

  • Sing
  • Talk about lyrics and what they mean
  • Move or dance
  • Write music or lyrics
  • Have a group discussion about how music makes them feel

In drug and alcohol treatment, music can improve memory, reduce pain, regulate negative emotions, promote self-growth, and more. 

You may already be familiar with music as a coping tool. Turning on a song that matches or changes your mood is an example of taking advantage of what music can do for you. This is because music has a profound impact on your mood. It stimulates the limbic system – the emotional center – in a way that can benefit recovery. Music therapy in addiction recovery can help improve mood and memory, reduce pain, and more. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we employ the power of music to help our clients along their path of recovery. Our music therapists can help you achieve your treatment goals. Combined with traditional methods of treatment, music therapy can help you find lasting and self-determined recovery. For more information on music therapy and how West Coast Recovery Centers can help you heal from addiction, call (760) 492-6509.