The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as the clinical and evidence-based application of music to accomplish individual goals, in a therapeutic relationship with a trained music therapist. This is a form of art therapy, and it is sometimes offered as a complementary or alternative medicine that can be used alongside other traditional types of therapy in rehabilitation programs. While music therapy is not offered alone since it does not focus on understanding and overcoming addiction specifically, it can be a helpful way to relax among people who are working to end their addiction or substance abuse problem. This form of therapy has been applied as a holistic therapy in rehabilitation since the 1970s.
One study, published in 2014, showed that art and music therapy tend to be provided in treatment programs that require 12-Step-style meetings and programs that are geared more toward women and adolescents. The study found a positive correlation between long-term treatment outcomes and music therapy.
While music therapy includes the structured use of music, individuals in recovery can benefit from simply listening to music on their own. Music can be soothing, inspirational, encouraging, or relaxing, helping those in recovery to meditate, reflect on things in life, or feel motivated to engage in some activity.
Prescription for Music?
While few rehabilitation programs offer music therapy, and it is rarely mandatory, people working to overcome their addictions typically have positive results when they attend music therapy in addition to regular group and individual therapies. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those who attend music therapy sessions are better able to identify their feelings and less prone to justify or minimize their reactions. They are less likely to lie about what they feel or have experienced, and they are less likely to deny their condition or blame it on others. Music appears to help people overcoming addiction to better process their feelings and experiences. It also helps them maintain positivity about the future.
A study from the University of Oxford regarding music’s general benefits showed that listening to music, singing, or playing music can all alleviate stress, improve athleticism, and improve the brain’s functions. Listening to music improves blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. Music, in general, instills a sense of wellbeing by mildly regulating the body’s functions.
Music, like other forms of art, helps humans empathize with each other. Expressions of emotions are at once familiar and unique. When musicians or bands write songs about their own struggles, many people fall in love with these tunes because they identify with some of the painful personal history that is present in the lyrics.
Music can help those in recovery to feel less alone and inspire them to continue their journey.
Songs about Recovery
A lot of popular music glorifies drinking, drug abuse, or dangerous behaviors, but there is also inspiration for recovery found in certain types of music. Several musicians and pop icons have gone through struggles with substance abuse and then recovered. Based on their deeply personal journeys, some of these artists wish to inspire others and have produced songs about their recovery.
Here are a few of the best songs about recovering from addiction:
- Eminem, “Going Through Changes”: While the rap artist’s entire 2010 album Recovery was inspired by overcoming an addiction to prescription drugs, most of his fans agree that the single “Going Through Changes” highlights Eminem’s struggles the best. Lyrics include a frank admission of wanting to overdose: “inside I’m dying/I’m finally realizing I need help/I can’t do it by myself.” Getting help to overcome addiction is immensely important, and often, that initial admission of the need for help is what changes someone’s life.
- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, “Starting Over”: Macklemore has often been frank about his struggles with addiction to alcohol and heroin, and he recently admitted that he had struggled with a relapse. Lyrics include the heartbreaking but familiar “those three-plus years I was so proud of/then I threw them all away for two Styrofoam cups.” “Starting Over” specifically talks about losing faith in himself and the trust of his fans after relapsing when he became famous in spite of having several songs devoted to recovery and sobriety. “Starting Over” proves that relapse is not the end but another step on the journey of recovery.
- Aerosmith, “Amazing”: Lead singer Steven Tyler wrote this power ballad in 1993 specifically for his time in rehabilitation in 1986. Although the famous rock band leader has relapsed a few times in the past decades, he continues to work on maintaining his sobriety and building a better life.
- Warren Zevon, “Detox Mansion”: Zevon’s song chronicles the daily minutiae of a rehabilitation program, from “therapy and lectures” to “doing my own laundry” to playing “golf in the afternoon.” Zevon’s struggles with alcohol use disorder, which led him to rehab in 1984, are told in his biography, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, published by his wife, Crystal.
- Pink, “Sober”: This pop idol gave up substance abuse in 1995. This song, written in 2008, talks about being the only one not drinking or doing drugs at a party.
- Kelly Clarkson, “Sober”: Although a very different song from Pink’s ballad, Clarkson also discussed her struggle with vices, comparing substance abuse to a fraught relationship. She also specifically calls out the three-month mark for sobriety.
Listening to music can inspire creativity, make a person feel better, and help someone to stay on track during the recovery process.
Thousands of people in the United States struggle with substance abuse. While too few seek help through rehabilitation programs, popular songs can show listeners that help is available, and recovery is possible.