How Rock Music Can Help You Overcome Addiction

For centuries, recovery centers have used detox, behavioral counseling, medication, and long-term follow-up to treat addiction. But these conventional approaches are not the only methods that clients can experience successfully during the recovery process. Less conventional techniques, like mindfulness and exercise, can be effective too, especially when used in conjunction with traditional methods. Our staff and clients have seen particular success with Rock to Recovery, a program that uses the healing powers of music to provide hope, friendship and a creative outlet throughout the addiction recovery process. It’s a rock and roll version of music therapy created as a result of musician Wesley Greer’s own recovery experience.

The History of Rock to Recovery: Wesley “Wes” Greer’s Story of Fame, Addiction & Finding Solace in Music

Prior to founding Rock to Recovery, Wes Greer was probably most known as the founder of American rock band Hed PE and as the former guitarist of the nu metal band Korn. Before that, though, he was an insecure teenager who found comfort in smoking marijuana.

“I took to it like a duck to water; I was stoned all the time, and I got kicked out of high school for smoking weed,” he told The Ties that Bind Us. That didn’t stop him from smoking. Instead, he moved in with his dad, kept smoking and started drinking alcohol, which helped give him confidence about his small size. Eventually, he started experimenting with cocaine.

After starting Hed PE, his life took a positive turn. He wrote many of the band’s songs, sold out clubs, and gained fame as a musician. Eventually, the group signed with Jive Records, which released their first three albums. Although some of the group’s hits landed on Billboard charts, poor sales led Greer down a black hole of substance use and depression.

“I had gone from drinking to back to drugs, meth and heroin, because I was depressed. Something bad would happen and I would use. That ended me up in rehab and introduced me to a 12 step program that taught me all about the disease I suffered from,” Greer told The Ties That Bind Us.

In between individual and group therapy sessions, Greer found himself playing song riffs. “Looking back to my time in rehab, there was no music. We were doing yoga and drawing pictures, but I had my acoustic guitar in the treatment center, and I would play these silly grooves – boom-chaka-boom-chaka and we would get silly and dance around, and that stuck with me.” Admitting that treatment centers can get “cliquey,” he especially enjoyed the way the music helped tear down walls and brought everyone together. He also noticed how much playing music helped him process his emotions.

“I’ve always had a desire to teach and help people through music,” he explains on the Rock to Recovery website. “But it was when I was in treatment that I realized how much music could help [me] get through those tough emotions that run so rampant, especially in the early days. Being totally sober and dealing with the bottom I had hit — strumming the guitar was the only thing that would bring me peace. Everyone would wait in line for their turn to play, even people who had never played guitar…this combination had the potential to be a powerful tool within the recovery community. It became my dream to create a music program that could help all those in need.”

Rock to Recovery Today: Using Music to Recover From Addiction

Today, Greer’s organization Rock to Recovery (R2R) conducts approximately 450 music therapy sessions per month. At Solution Based, our Rock to Recovery group, which consists of clients with both musical and non-musical backgrounds, gathers together to write and record original songs. After they’re recorded, songs are anonymously uploaded to R2R’s SoundCloud account so our clients can download and share them with family, friends, and colleagues.

Rock to Recovery is also a less formal opportunity for our clients to get to know each other and share life experiences while engaging in a creative process, sometimes even expressing those experiences in lyrics they write themselves. This unique process also allows our clients to learn new instruments and discover new skills in a fun, social environment.

At its core, Rock to Recovery is a form of music therapy that helps people overcome addiction by repairing neural pathways, promoting balanced brain chemistry and providing a healthier way to express and manage emotions.

What is Music Therapy?

Have you ever played a song and noticed how it seemed to immediately affect your mood? Maybe you were sad and your favorite song put a smile on your face. Or perhaps you were feeling upbeat and a particular song made you cry, releasing emotions you didn’t even realize were inside you at that moment. That’s what makes music so powerful, dynamic, and healing.

That same power is used in music therapy. British neurologist Olivier Sacks explains it this way, saying, “The power of music to integrate and cure is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.” As a discipline, music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music as a therapeutic way to address individuals’ physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.

Whether used by cancer patients, children with ADHD, people struggling with depression or anxiety disorders, or people in recovery, research has shown that music therapy helps with pain management, relieves symptoms of depression, eases muscle tension, and calms down patients.

Although it’s quite different from engaging with music as a form of entertainment, music therapy sessions do include different ways of interacting with music, including listening to, writing, or performing songs. Unlike passively absorbing music, though, music therapy accomplishes specific, therapeutic goals based on an individual’s psychological, physical, cognitive and emotional needs. Often those needs include improving mood, enhancing quality of life, strengthening coping skills, encouraging emotional expression and relieving stress and anxiety. Contrary to what people may assume, no one specific genre of music is more effective than other genres; rather the benefits of all genres are backed by science.

Two years ago, a systematic review published in the Cochrane Library found music therapy to be an effective way to treat depression in combination with other forms of treatment. Two years before that, the Journal of Affective Disorders published a study showing how music therapy helps reduce obsessive and depressed thoughts and anxiety in people with OCD.

Music Therapy Helps Repair Neural Pathways

One of the most damaging effects of alcohol and substance abuse is neurological damage. In addition to disrupting the absorption of nutrients needed by the brain, drugs and alcohol cause direct damage to brain cells, specifically neural pathways which help govern everyday habits like reading, driving, or riding a bike. Once damaged, the brain struggles with cognitive reasoning and functionality, which can make these “automatic” processes harder to do.

The good news is that music triggers networks of neurons into an organized movement.

“Music lights up neurons between the right and left hemisphere of the brain,” Emily Caudill, a board-certified music therapist, told The New York Times. “It can also aid in neuroplasticity, helping the brain form new connections.” In other words, when people in recovery listen to or play music, their brain’s neural pathways are repaired and strengthened, undoing some of the damage caused by long-term addiction.

Learning a musical instrument, which is a key component of our Rock to Recovery program, also helps improve fine motor and reasoning skills.

Music Therapy Helps Promote a Happy, Balanced Brain

For many Americans, substance use begins during their teenage years, when experimentation and overuse are often encouraged. These same ages are known for being critical years for developing and regulating dopamine, the chemical that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. During active addiction, alcohol and drugs replace natural chemicals as the brain’s primary source of dopamine. When individuals are in recovery and living sober lifestyles, their dopamine levels can sometimes lower as these substances are no longer influencing their brain. Music can help fill this gap because it stimulates activity in the exact same part of the brain that houses dopamine.

So as participants engage in weekly Rock to Recovery sessions, they often feel a pleasurable sensation associated with music and positive social interaction.

Music Therapy Is a Healthy Way to Express and Manage Emotions

Most people know that music has an innate ability to affect our mood and emotions, but did you know that our heartbeat changes to mimic the music we listen to? Try it. When listening to classical or instrumental music, our heartbeat slows down. On the other hand, when we listen to rock n’ roll, hip-hop or upbeat pop music, our heartbeat races to keep up with the melodies. That’s one of the reasons why when we listen to happy music, we tend to see and experience the world through “happy eyes” and vice versa. While strong beats tend to stimulate our brain to produce adrenaline, slower beats elicit a calmer, more meditative state. Faster beats with sharp notes promote better concentration. It’s all a result of music’s effect on our brain.

Music can help our clients express and manage their emotions in a creative and healthy way, even after Rock to Recovery sessions have ended.

Why Our Clients Love Rock to Recovery & Music Therapy

Rock to Recovery is a powerful form of music therapy that helps our members overcome drug addiction by repairing neural pathways, promoting balanced brain chemistry and helping them to express and manage their emotions. But mostly, they love it because it’s fun, social, unique, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Some of those benefits of Rock to Recovery include:

  • Transforming feelings of restlessness, irritability, and discontent into happiness and joy
  • Promoting connections with others and group learning
  • Channeling and releasing emotions in a healthy way
  • Building self-awareness
  • Generating and building vulnerability and moving out of a “comfort zone”
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Discovering hidden talents
  • Building social skills
  • Generating creativity
  • Realizing that sobriety and recovery can be fun
  • Enhancing memory function
  • Managing stress

In many ways, Rock to Recovery was responsible for Wes Greer staying sober. It kept him motivated and part of a healthy team of like-minded individuals. It also ignited his creative fire in an environment free from drugs and alcohol. It’s doing the same for our clients here at Solution Based Treatment & Detox.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction of any kind, reach out to a member of our staff today at 1-877-309-4311. We’re happy to have you join our band as you overcome addiction and reach your highest potential.

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