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How Recovery Unplugged fights drug addiction with music

Richie Supa performs with Ty Dolla $ign at a group session (Image source: Recovery Unplugged)

The opioid crisis in the United States is a multiracial and multicultural phenomenon of epic proportions. Politicians have attacked the issue with increased sentences for drug traffickers and in most cases drug users as well. So far it has been a losing battle as images appear in social media of addicts passed out at the wheel of a car with a needle in their arm and in some cases children in the backseat. All agree that there is no one solution to helping those who are in a downward spiral, but the situation is not hopeless. Award-winning singer-songwriter Richie Supa had a unique perspective on addiction through his years of working with the legendary band Aerosmith and its lead Steven Tyler. A simple discussion about life turned into a hit song called “Amazing” and was part of a chain of events that created Recovery Unplugged.

Recovery Unplugged is a rehab and treatment facility with locations in Florida, Texas, Virginia and soon to be Nashville, that has a long reach because of its ties to the music world. But unlike other programs, music is the primary therapeutic tool used to break through the mental and spiritual walls of addiction to help the addict reach a point of peace and sobriety. Although 85% of the clients are not musicians, unique to the program is that it targets working musicians and artists who are frequently exposed to drugs and alcohol as well as the non-celebrity. At the head of Recovery Unplugged is Paul Pellinger, the co-founder, and chief strategy officer. A veteran of the addiction treatment industry, Pellinger has combined his decades of experience with his deep love of music to create the Recovery Unplugged treatment model that has helped so many patients reclaim their lives from addiction. Pellinger recently penned the novel Music Is Our Medicine, an in-depth account of his own personal and professional journey in the addiction treatment landscape.

Rolling out spoke with Pellinger about Recovery Unplugged and addiction.

Paul Pellinger, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Recovery Unplugged (Image source: Recovery Unplugged)

Why is your program more than just music therapy?

Music is not an add-on at Recovery Unplugged. We use it in everything we do from the preassessment to the discharge plan. We believe the long-lasting change needed for long-term recovery happens in the soul, not the head. Music is the only form of communication that consistently reaches the soul. Recovery Unplugged uses music(and everything related to it including lyrics, songs, Live performances,vibrations etc.…) as a catalyst to establish rapport with the client, engage the client, break down their defenses, help them stay in the present, assist them in emoting as well as an anchor in order to retain the necessary perceptions, skill sets and behaviors need it for long-term recovery. Not to mention that the utilization of music improves the mood of the practitioners, clinicians, and all staff which makes them more effective as well.

How does music truly engage the patient in a positive, impactful way throughout the recovery process?

Everyone loves music. Music is unifying. Everyone has a favorite song. Music can change your mood. Music can get you up and move and participate in treatment. Music is a universal truth. We were exposed to a form of music in our mother’s womb through the heartbeat. It’s instinctual. There’s no defense against it. Music assists clients with post-acute withdrawal symptoms as well as releasing the pleasure centers in the brain, including serotonin levels and endorphins.

Richie Supa and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith at Recovery Unplugged (Image source: Recovery Unplugged)

What is a “musical prescription”?

Drugs and alcohol [addictions] are a symptom of the problem. Some of the core issues for clients are distorted perceptions, low self-esteem, poor self-image, negative behaviors, etc. Each location [including West Palm Beach; Fort Lauderdale; Virginia; Austin Texas; and soon to be Nashville, Tennessee] has a studio where we record individualized soundtracks for each client (some songs that the clients have chosen, we’ve chosen or that they have witnessed performed) and then assign a specific song for their treatment plan which is used to combat those symptoms. The clients use the songs while in treatment and then are discharged with them in the form of an MP3 player/Recovery Unplugged app. We never have to tell the clients “don’t forget to play music when you leave” so it’s something the clients already want to do. We call these musical prescriptions.

What are three signs that a person is on the edge of addiction and may need an intervention?

  1. Withdrawal and tolerance.
  2. Hiding or lying about their use.
  3. Consequences as a result of their use.

A photo has made the rounds on social media of legendary singer Whitney Houston’s hotel bathroom. The image shows beer cans, cocaine and drug paraphernalia, a tragic glimpse of a superstar deep within their addiction, which led to death. What goes through your mind when you see this image?

That the disease of addiction does not discriminate. That this truly is a matter of life and death. Whitney Houston, in my humble opinion, was one of the best female singers of all time and despite her illness, we can only hope that the power of her voice and her music lives on versus the negative stigma attached to addiction. We actually have a picture of her in one of our group rooms among unfortunately dozens of other artists who have died from addiction to remind the clients of the severity of this disease. We also have pictures of dozens of legendary musicians that are in recovery also in a different group room to reinforce hope.

Can you give three reasons an addict might give for not going to rehab?

  1. I’m not that bad. Our creative director of recovery, Richie Supa [award-winning singer-songwriter and former touring member of Aerosmith] wrote a song about it called “I Got This,” which has over two million views.
  2.  I have to work or take care of my family.
  3. I can quit when I want to.

Why is it important that during an intervention there is a plan in place before confronting the addict?

Even if we’re all on the same page there are no guarantees. There is a guarantee, however, it won’t work if the participants in the intervention like family members or loved ones are not [included]. Chances of long-term recovery are severely diminished because there’s a difference between support and enabling. A good interventionist will educate and set the necessary strategies and boundaries beforehand to improve the chances of the client entering treatment. Explaining to the client and participants the possible consequences if there’s non-compliance is important as well.

Candle Box poses for a photo with RU Execs after group performance(Image Source: Recovery Unplugged)

What was your greatest triumph in helping someone at your program?

There are so many stories that come to mind so I will try to identify one:

We had a client come to us from the South Bronx, [New York], who was part of a gang and was talking about the need to continue to sell drugs even though he swore he wasn’t going to use them anymore. Instead of just confronting him, which just causes more defensiveness, I used a song written by KRS one called “Love’s Gonna Get’cha.” … By showing him I knew what time it was which lent some empathy, within 10 minutes he started crying like a baby. I could have spent hours with him with the normal traditional talk therapy and couldn’t have got him to get that vulnerable. To make a long story short, we put him in some vocational rehabilitation and at last count [he] had nine months clean and is working now to help others.

Has there ever been a point where you felt a person was beyond help?

In the 25 years plus I have worked with clients who have been in dozens and dozens of rehabs, multiple overdoses, multiple prison sentences, mental health issues, etc, I am done predicting who is going to make it or not. As long as they are alive there is hope.

If you are someone you know need the services of Recovery Unplugged:

Call 24/ 7  at 1-800-55-REHAB (73422)

or visit  www.recoveryunplugged

Mo Barnes
Mo Barnes

Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician. He has been writing for Rolling Out since 2014. Whether it means walking through a bloody police shooting to help a family find justice or showing the multifaceted talent of the Black Diaspora I write the news.

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