Relapse Prevention: Using Sound to Reduce the Probability of Recidivism and Suffering Following Detoxification

Robert Sewak
Neil I. Spielholz


The truth of the adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", is exemplified by the opioid crisis now facing the world. While the best way to rid society of drug addiction is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, this is highly unlikely in the near future given the many ways that individuals can be first exposed to some potentially addicting substance. When an addiction is established, the first treatment for it is detoxification, but the insidious nature of addiction is its propensity to relapse. Too often, detoxified addicts resume drug use despite knowing that they are exposing themselves to serious, sometimes fatal, consequences. In an attempt to ward off relapse following detoxification, drug treatment centers, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, half-way houses, etc., offer different types of programs to help addicts stay clean. Examples of such treatments are 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), faith-based programs, and so forth. In addition, narcotics like methadone and suboxone, are sometimes prescribed to control the cravings that drive relapse, but this approach simply substitutes one drug for another. We now hypothesize that the auditory system can be used as a sensory conduit to modify the hijacked brain reward system of recently-detoxified addicts. As a rationale for this hypothesis, we present evidence from basic science studies showing the effect of music (the sensory input) on the brain, and from clinical trials employing music in a variety of neurological conditions. We then summarize an IRB-approved randomized control trial we performed to determine if our sound intervention could reduce the probability of relapse in recently-detoxified subjects. We end with suggestions for further study.