Music Therapy for Teens Suffering From Addiction | The Right Step

Compared to recent generations, teenagers today are increasingly less likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or abuse several kinds of drugs and medications. Still, teens all across the country continue to develop serious substance problems, up to and including addiction. For a number of reasons, substance treatment facilities must find ways to tailor their programs to meet the unique needs of teenage participants. One specific approach that can have significant benefit for adolescents in treatment is music therapy.

The Teen Brain and Addiction

Anyone who repeatedly uses an addictive substance can undergo the brain changes that lead to the onset of physical dependence and addiction. However, teenagers are in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to involvement in substance use. That’s because, unlike the adult brain, which has fully completed the process of growth and development, the adolescent brain remains a work in progress. Specifically, teenagers lack full development of the part of the brain responsible for:

  • Controlling impulsive behavior
  • Thinking logically
  • Making sound decisions

In real-world terms, this means that adolescents respond to the pleasurable effects of addictive substances just like adults, but don’t have the same ability to avoid patterns of substance intake that could lead to addiction.

Music Therapy Essentials

Music therapists use a variety of music-based techniques to address the needs of people dealing with a broad range of physical and mental/emotional health challenges. Examples of these techniques include:

  • Making improvised music
  • Making composed music
  • Moving or dancing to music
  • Singing along with music
  • Listening to music

On both a group level and an individual level, music therapists tailor their approach to help people with specific types of problems. Music therapy for addiction typically has several goals, including relaxation, relief of stressful or painful emotional states, encouragement of emotional exploration and reduction of relapse risks.

Benefits for Addicted Teenagers

A large number of studies from the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s support the usefulness of music therapy as a secondary or complementary treatment in substance programs. Several of these studies indicate that teens may especially benefit from music therapy for addiction. That’s because, just like drugs and alcohol, music can play an important role in relieving mental/emotional distress. While in treatment, teens in particular may have an easier time avoiding substance use if they can rely on participation in music therapy instead. Music therapy may have even greater benefits for teenagers suffering from addiction when combined with art therapy.   Resources National Institute on Drug Abuse: Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment – A Research-Based Guide                                  American Music Therapy Association: What Is Music Therapy? Journal of Addictions Nursing: The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs                                               

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