Music, Neuroscience and Addiction

Music is a cultural and scientific phenomena. Breakdown what music is with the effect it has on human beings and be totally blown away. Sound, or noise, put together in certain forms like chords and arrangements, enter our ears. Then, signals are sent like wildfire through the brain, interpreting and dissecting the sound, until there are emotions. Somehow sound waves turn into feelings and music makes us feel. Throughout the course of cultural history, music has changed and given generations the voice or the expression they needed. Different sounds can define different feelings. How music works on a neurobiological level is fascinating. Dilated pupils, increased blood pressure, blood flow to the legs and feet- and the brain area for movement is activated.

In a study of just ten people, scientists from Montreal combined brain imaging with PET scanning to watch the brain on music. The subjects were asked to bring in their favorite songs. Not just the songs they loved to listen to, but the ones that gave them chills every single time. Playing the music and watching the reactivity in the brain, scientists made some interesting discoveries, many of which resonate with the neuroscience of addiction.

“Anticipatory phase” is the term given to the buildup of excitement to the arrival of one’s favorite part of the song. While it would be assumed that dopamine would be in highest production at the peak, the study reveals it was greatest before the peak. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain, a small cell that communicates, specifically pleasure. The neuroscience of addiction largely involves the production of dopamine as a response to pleasurable stimuli like drugs and alcohol. Similarly with music, the scientists found that the region of the brain where dopamine was activated is responsible for learning rewarding responses for stimuli. Intravenous heroin users describe the initial penetration of a needle as more pleasurable than the drug itself.

Other revelations from the study show that dopamine is uninterested in predictability and prefers the suspension, chaos, and denial of pleasure. For addiction, this could explain the difficulty in quitting, and the addict’s peculiar need for chaos, only to be soothed by familiar drugs or alcohol.

Music therapy is a popular alternative modality for treating drug and alcohol addiction. Working with the healing foundations of music, music therapy is a means for expression, stress reduction, and creativity.

Refuge Recovery offers music therapy as part of their holistic treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction. Incorporating evidence based treatment with Buddhist based mindfulness practices, Refuge Recovery helps clients discover a life of peace and serenity. For more information call (323) 207-0276

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