Hope and Healing in Music City: Recovery Unplugged Heads to Nashville

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 11, 2019

  (Source:Getty Images)

Music City is booming. Over the past half-decade, the Tennessee capital has boasted job growth of more than 20 percent, with its population increasing a whopping 45 percent from 2000 to 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But while Nashville residents may take pride in the dozen or two tower cranes that now routinely dot the skyline, the city's expansion has brought with it skyrocketing rates of drug overdoses. In early June, over five days alone, there were 10 overdose deaths in the city.

But help is on the way. Recovery Unplugged, which uses music to aid addicts and alcoholics in their quest to achieve and keep sobriety, is putting the finishing touches on a new treatment facility in Brentwood, a Nashville suburb. It follows in the footsteps of Recovery Unplugged centers in Florida, Northern Virginia and Texas. According to Paul Pellinger, the company's co-founder and vision leader, the decision to open a Recovery Unplugged location in Nashville was not only about going where the need was but also about going where the help was.

"In 2013, when we opened in Fort Lauderdale, we decided, 'Listen, using music as the catalyst for sobriety is helping a lot of people. It's not a gimmick. It's based on science.' So, we were thinking about where we could go next. The best choices were Austin, the live music capital of the world, and Music City. The hardest part of implementing our method is finding professional musicians who have a clinical background and instinctively get what we're doing."

To find the staff he requires to get the in-patient detox and residential treatment center running at full strength from day one, Pellinger has been networking at Nashville music industry conferences and working with local legends like Doc McGhee, who has managed the careers of KISS, Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. He predicts an outpatient facility will eventually open, as needed, like it did in Austin.

Pellinger's already secured the necessary licenses and permits for it, a process made more complicated, because, as he says, "Addiction is the bastard child of the medical profession, and so many times when people such as myself are attempting to open up these facilities it's like, 'not in my backyard.' But part of what I'm doing here is helping to change the stigma that's attached to addiction. That's why I'm grateful that the American Medical Association finally just recognized addiction as a brain disorder."

Music helps brains — disordered or not — feel better. "I recently saw a program on hospitals in Turkey that are using music in pre- and post-op because it calms patients down and helps lower their blood pressure," Pellinger says. "There's a lot of research that shows that listening to music releases endorphins, which helps the brain heal. In essence, music appeals to the same pleasure centers of the brain that drugs and alcohol do. So what we're doing at Recovery Unplugged is teaching clients how to get high without using drugs, which makes recovery more of a payoff than getting high. That's probably why our success rates are four times better than the national average."

From the moment clients enter Recovery Unplugged when they are asked to talk about their favorite song to the day they're released with an MP3 player stocked with the tunes they listened to during treatment, music drives the rehabilitation process. It helps clients access and explore their emotions and remember the skill set needed for long-term sobriety that they learned from the Recovery Unplugged team.

And because there is nothing that unifies like music, all are welcomed with open arms at Recovery Unplugged. That includes LGBTQ clients, who work with therapists well-versed in the particular challenges they face in an often-hostile world. It is these pressures that organizations such as the CDC believe account for the higher rates of substance abuse in the queer community.

Recovery Unplugged also welcomes non-musicians — 90 percent of the treatment center's clients can't play a note. "The creator of this whole method, which is me, is not a musician," says Pellinger, chuckling. "Music is simply a form of communication that communicates to the soul, where long-lasting change occurs."

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction? Visit RecoveryUnplugged.com.

Sponsored content.

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.

How Music Medicine Heals

This story is part of our special report titled How Music Medicine Heals. Want to read more? Here's the full list.