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Art Therapy for Addiction 

Art Therapy for Addiction

While substance abuse disorders themselves are a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol, these problems often stem from underlying mental health problems and can bleed into several areas of a person’s life. For a person to find lasting recovery from addiction, their treatment plan should consider all these factors. Art therapy is one effective tool used in some treatment programs that can promote comprehensive healing for those in recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. Banyan’s Chicago addiction treatment center is sharing more about the benefits of art therapy for addiction and some art therapy activities that can make recovery more positive. 

Benefits of Art Therapy for Addiction 

Sometimes words fail us, and it can be hard to articulate emotions or fears. Art therapy is a form of therapy that uses the creative process to help people explore their emotions. The goal of art therapy is to make people more aware of their feelings and give them an alternative way of working through them to promote better mental health.  

Because mental illness and addiction are often connected, recovery art therapy ideas for substance abuse specifically focus on helping patients address their underlying emotions that may be contributing to their addiction and, in some cases, making their substance abuse worse. Using a variety of art therapy group ideas for addiction, patients, under the supervision and guidance of a trained art therapist, can use creative outlets and mediums to connect with their deepest emotions. 

Cognitive benefits for addiction recovery include:   

  • Improved communication skills  
  • Personal breakthroughs  
  • Reduced stress and anxiety  
  • Improved patience   
  • Increased self-reflection  
  • Increased self-confidence   
  • Emotional healing  
  • Relapse prevention  
  • Self-discovery  

Especially when patients are hesitant to open verbally with their therapist, art therapy helps them to express themselves in nonverbal ways. Art therapy activities for recovering addicts have been shown to help break down a patient’s walls, promote emotional healing, and even improve a patient’s communication skills.1 To see the best results, art therapy should be used as a treatment method at a residential or partial hospitalization rehab. 

Substance Abuse Art Therapy Activities 

Art therapy is about more than just painting a pretty picture. Trained therapists will use different art therapy prompts and techniques during addiction support groups to boost the healing process and see the best results for their patients. 

Below are some common art therapy techniques used to treat addiction:   

  • Gestalt method: This method focuses on processing the present moment, without the burdens of past feelings or experiences. Using Gestalt principles, patients can draw out their feelings. Gestalt art therapy is highly effective in uncovering past trauma and initiating the healing process.2  
  • The third hand: This technique of substance abuse art therapy activities involves the therapist working in conjunction with the patient. The therapist works with the patient to create the finished product, gaining a better understanding of the patient along the way. This art therapy method is crucial when therapy first begins and the bond between therapist and patient is not yet there.3  
  • Association through art: Everyone derives a degree of emotion from most art. This approach to therapy helps patients pinpoint emotions through interpreting or creating art. 

Patients receiving art therapy for their addiction may also engage in group therapy with other patients to encourage peer support and help them interact with others in similar situations. By adding art to the mix, patients can bond over their activities and connect. 

Art Therapy Ideas for Substance Abuse Groups 

Along with the different techniques used to induce healing, various substance abuse art therapy activities utilize different mediums. At our Illinois addiction treatment center, we encourage patients to engage in these various creative outlets throughout their recovery journey.   

So, art therapy activity ideas that you can incorporate into your addiction recovery include: 

  • Journaling: Journaling has been proven to help reduce stress, manage anxiety, and lower depression.4  
  • Listening to classical music: Classical music makes people more emotionally available and helps relieve anxiety.5 
  • Drawing, painting, or molding something out of clay: These three art mediums have also been proven to help people deal with traumatic events in their life.6 The cognitive benefits of painting and other physical techniques are renowned in a variety of unique scenarios. 
  • Dancing: Some studies have found that “dancing your feelings” can help people who struggle with mental illness.7  
  • Singing: Singing in a group can help people maintain or improve their mental health, especially for people with mental health problems like anxiety and depression.8  
  • Playing an instrument: Playing an instrument can not only have cognitive benefits but also decrease stress, a large trigger for people with mental health or substance abuse problems. Group music lessons have the added benefit of promoting socializing.9  
  • Create a collage: Visual art, such as making collages, can help people focus on positive life experiences, enhance self-worth, strengthen identity, and promote emotional expression. 
  • Write a letter: Many recovering addicts struggle with how they hurt people when they were addicted. If they cannot find the words to apologize aloud, writing letters can help them express the feelings that they may not be ready to say face-to-face with their loved ones. It may also help them learn more about their true feelings.  

If you are not working with an art therapist, you can still use these art therapy activities for substance abuse on your own. Do not be afraid to get creative with your personal resources. There is no wrong way to do art. The important thing is that the form of art you choose leaves you feeling better.  

Finding Addiction Treatment 

At Banyan Treatment Centers, we believe that art therapy and the brain go together and can be an effective means of helping some people heal and recover. Our Illinois drug rehab offers a variety of substance abuse art therapy activities to give our patients a comprehensive approach to recovery. This holistic approach to treatment gives each patient the greatest chance of finding lasting success in their sobriety journey.  

For more information about our other therapies offered, call Banyan Chicago today at 888-280-4763. 



  1. ArtTherapy.org - Outcome Studies on the Efficacy of Art Therapy: A Review of Findings  
  2. Psychology Today - Cool Art Therapy Intervention #5: Show Me How You Feel Today  
  3. Psych Central - 5 Quick Facts about Art Therapy  
  4. University of Rochester Medical Center - Journaling for Mental Health  
  5. Reader’s Digest - 10 Wondrous Things That Happen to Your Body When You Listen to Classical Music  
  6. NCBI - The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature  
  7. BBC News - Dance therapy for mental patients  
  8. Science Daily - How singing your heart out could make you happier  
  9. NCBI - A Prescription for Music Lessons  


Related Reading:   

Mental Health Awareness Month 2022: How to Do Your Part  

Benefits of Gestalt Therapy 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.