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A Neurobiological Foundation for Including Music Therapy in Addictions Treatment

Addiction is a worldwide problem. It is estimated that 29.5 million people around the world had a substance use disorder in 2015 (United Nations, 2017). While originally viewed as a character flaw and moral failing, it is becoming more widely understood that addiction is a complex brain disorder. As such, addiction involves the brain, genetics and epigenetics, and is also influenced by one’s social environment. A complicated disease which often includes psychiatric comorbidities like anxiety disorders, mood disorders, ADHD, PTSD, and TBI (Batalla, 2018), addiction can be managed or cured with effective treatment(s) that are determined by the person’s unique circumstances and addiction.

To better understand what addiction is and how to treat it, it is important to understand the neurobiology of addiction. Addiction impacts many areas of the brain that are involved with emotional regulation, impulse control, reward seeking, and craving. Addiction also affects neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and neuroreceptors. These changes influence a person’s ability to regulate their emotions, control their impulses, and manage their cravings and reward seeking behavior. When one is addicted to something, they will have a difficult time controlling the urge to use because of the ways in which their brain and brain functioning have been altered by the addiction.

Research suggests that both music listening and music making have a positive impact on neuroplasticity and the production of dopamine and endorphins. Music impacts the same areas of the brain as drugs and alcohol. Music listening may be useful in treating reward deficiency syndrome, which has been linked to addiction and relapse (2010). and music interventions may enhance white matter plasticity through dopaminergic recruitment.

This presentation will offer an overview of the neurobiology of addiction and music and offer a proposed neurobiological rationale for the use of music therapy in addiction treatment.

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