Drumming and Addiction

Robert Lawrence Friedman

Al was an angry recovering substance abuser in a drug rehabilitation center. When music therapist Tony Scarpa approached him about participating in a drum circle, Al said, “Are you crazy? I don’t need to know how to play the drum. I need to know how to stop my drugs!” Al finally agreed to try drumming, “but just once.” His reaction afterwards surprised everyone – himself most of all. “Man, that was fantastic. The greatest thing I’ve ever done.” Al went all over the facility hugging people, saying things like, “You are my brother.” According to Scarpa, it was like the drum opened the doorway to Al’s love.

Every 15 minutes someone dies from an alcohol-related incident. Over three million teenagers are alcoholics and twelve million Americans use illegal drugs. The statistics for addiction-related deaths are staggering. One of the bright lights in the recovery of substance abusers is the use of drum circles as a therapeutic tool.

Christine Stevens, Director of Music Therapy and Wellness for Remo, Inc., (www.remo.com) points out that the key components of drumming in a health-oriented drum circle match the goals of recovery, specifically, building relationships, increasing awareness of one’s spirituality, and helping users to express their emotions.

According to Stevens, “Individuals in recovery are so numb they don’t even know how they feel. The drum is like an acoustical mirror. They get a taste of what they are feeling inside by hearing what they are playing on the drum. The drum seems to be able to repair the numbing that occurs through their addiction.”

Bob Davis, a Certified Addictions Counselor agrees. “Substance abusers become isolated from themselves and their community. Their primary relationship becomes their drug of choice. Drum circles break through the isolation and build relationships with people.” According to Davis, “Addicts become spiritually dead. Spirituality is about feeling something deeply, and drumming helps users to feel in a nonthreatening way. They can express their emotions without having to find the correct words.”

On the forefront of the battle against substance abuse, there is a powerful new weapon– a counselor-led drum circle.