Since 2007, I have read several studies concluding that music should be used as an adjunctive component to substance abuse treatment. There are two main reasons why:
- Music can help clients learn to “change the channel” without the use of substances
- Music can provide clients with a way to confront negative emotions in a safe way
One of the reasons people give for using substances is to “change the channel.” This means that if they are feeling any negative emotion, they use a substance to change that feeling. But really, though it may be hard to believe, music really does get rid of bad juju. For example, if I’m worked up about something, say, a stressful day at work, I grab my iPod and immediately turn to Coltrane’s “Soul Eyes” and let it wash over me. I let the song run its course and as it does, I feel the negative emotions dissipate. Each of Night Train’s notes encapsulate and carry away my bad mood until there’s no bad mood left to process. Soul Eyes, for me, has proven to be an effective way for me to change my own emotional channel. Sometimes, it may take a few listenings, but the bad juju will go away. I think it’s a matter of focusing of the notes and rhythm and I’m sure that there’s a whole bunch of science-y reasons why it works, but music really can help to change the channel.
One skill that people in early recovery need to learn is the ability to regulate their moods. Music allows a “safe place” from which someone can face a negative emotion relatively safely. For example, several years ago, Trisha Yearwood released a song called, The Song Remembers When. Within the song, Trisha hears songs that take her back to different points in her life. Though she’s moved on from those past experiences, hearing those certain songs bring back the exact same emotions as though she were back in time and living through those same circumstances. I relate with that song because I have a whole batch of songs that take me back to both good times and bad times. I sometimes like hearing those songs, even if they draw up a bit of sadness, because now that I’m older, I can feel what I feel and then understand why I feel the way I do. Music helps me to, not only feel certain ways, but it does so in such a way that I can dig into the feelings and place some knowledge around the emotions such that if something new impacts me, I can draw from what I learned and not “act out” from being impacted
I know from personal experience about the power music has to heal and provide safe ways to explore and process emotions, whether those emotions are positive and negative. I recommend that everyone gives their favorite song a really focused listening and then reflect about the way the song makes them feel. I’m certain that those who do the exercise will learn a bit about themselves and grow, even if just a little bit. I have no doubt, also, that music can definitely be used within a treatment program and can is a far better option that continuing to use drugs.