Drama Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a really tough thing to experience.

It can bring along really difficult emotions and thoughts that are hard to explain to others, or even to begin to understand ourselves.

This can leave us feeling confused and frustrated, and often, quite alone.

If you are experiencing addiction, or if you have a history of mental health issues, you may be familiar with these kinds of feelings, and how they can begin to severely impact your quality of life.

But how do we fix it?

Often, people tell us that the best way of getting better is to talk about our feelings: we’ve all heard the saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.

But what if talking about our feelings is too difficult? What else can we do?

Drama Therapy: An Overview

A young woman in a beanie and glasses, smiling

That’s where drama therapy comes in.

Often when we’re feeling stressed, after a long and difficult day, we might turn to media – to a book, a film, or music, to help us deal with our feelings, or even to just ignore them for a while.

This is because channelling our feelings into art can help us feel better.

The ancient Greeks even had a term to describe this feeling of release we get after watching or doing something: catharsis. [1]

Drama therapy techniques help us to tap into our feelings without sitting and talking about real life.

It allows us to navigate tricky topics and painful memories from a bit of a distance. This can help us to feel safer, ultimately meaning we can start to open up and share a little more than we otherwise might.

 So, What is Drama Therapy?

A man sitting with a female therapist who is holding a clipboard

Drama therapy is a kind of therapeutic approach that aims to help people holistically. [2]

This means that instead of just thinking about your mind, as some other styles of support (such as behavioural therapy) might, it thinks about how your body, mind ad soul can be connected, and how to use these connections to help you to process negative feelings and work towards personal growth.

During drama therapy, you’ll have a course of sessions led by a specialist drama therapist with extensive experience in the field.

Drama therapists are qualified clinicians and artists themselves, meaning they are very well-positioned to help you through the process of this type of therapy.

These sessions will allow you to think about and communicate any difficult thoughts and feelings in a safe and supported environment. [3]

Who Is Drama Therapy For?

Drama therapy can be helpful for a variety of different people.

Mental health professionals are increasingly recommending expressive therapies such as drama and movement therapy to neurodivergent individuals or those with specific mental health disorders, including people with diagnoses of:

Why Use Drama Therapy in Addiction Treatment?

1. Addiction and Difficult Feelings

Drama therapy sessions can be used to target a range of different difficulties or personal issues. [4]

For this reason, individuals who may struggle with their relationship to addiction could benefit greatly from engagement with creative therapies such as these.

This approach to therapy is designed to not only build a positive therapist-client relationship but to develop social skills, build confidence, and allow individuals the chance to develop healthier ways of dealing with difficult feelings. [5]

2. Addiction and Unhealthy Coping Skills

Addictive behaviours are known as maladaptive.

This means that drinking or using drugs in response to heightened or intense emotions and situations is harmful.

If turning to drugs and alcohol is not a healthy coping mechanism, then in order to resist doing this in the future, we need to learn to replace it with healthier coping skills. 

Unfortunately, when we’re trying to control a harmful coping mechanism, we can begin to pick up other unhealthy coping skills on the way.

These could include:

This means that addiction treatment is the best time to pick up healthier ways of coping that can replace your substance use.

Drama therapy sessions can help you during your addiction treatment in two key ways:

  1. it can help you to acknowledge difficult feelings, thoughts, memories, or events that may have led to the development of your addiction [7]
  2. it can help you to replace behaviours such as drug use and drinking with healthier coping skills [8]

This means that drama therapy can help you to heal your experiences of the past whilst equipping you with effective tools for managing in the future.

Drama Therapy: Different Kinds of Expressive Therapy

Two women hugging

There are many different types of drama therapy.

The activities that you may engage in during your sessions will depend on your personal circumstances and history as well as what your therapist believes will benefit you most.

Each activity has a different focus or goal.

Typically, each session you will attend will start with a bit of a warm-up activity. These are used to help you settle into the environment and allow you to feel a bit more comfortable engaging during the rest of the session.

Your therapist might refer to this as an icebreaker.

Following the warm-up activity, you will have a chance to engage in a range of different drama-oriented tasks.

Common activities in a drama therapy setting include:

  • Improvisation
  • Roleplay Therapy
  • Using Props or Puppets

1. Improvisation

Improvisation (sometimes referred to as improv in the drama community) is a way of responding to a situation on the spot.

In this way, improvisation can be a creative method of testing out different reactions to assess what may or may not be appropriate responses in a safe environment.

It can also be a positive way of identifying any compulsive behaviour and assessing how this may be managed in the future.

You may be guided in improvisation, for example, by being given a prompt by your drama therapist. These prompts could be:

  • pretending to be a different person
  • responding to a certain situation (these can be fictional situations or familiar situations)
  • being asked to imagine you are in a particular conversation or place

Improvisation is also used in other kinds of therapeutic intervention, such as in music or even comedy therapy. [9]

2. Roleplay Therapy

Roleplay therapy includes the assigning of different roles.

You may do a role reversal – this would involve pretending to be someone else and therefore trying to establish how it may feel to be in someone else’s shoes.

This can be a beneficial practice for developing empathy and learning to understand how other people may feel in different high-intensity situations.

Knowing these feelings can help you assess the context of your situations and how you might go about interacting with people in the future. [10]

This can be a very good way to connect to feelings – both your own feelings and the feelings of others.

3. Using Props or Puppets

Props and puppets are very helpful tools for allowing us to express feelings.

They are particularly useful when we are unsure how to speak about something, or if we are struggling with developing our communication skills.

They can be a good way of storytelling because puppets and props can act to create a bit of distance between us and what we are saying or doing. In that way, it can be a great tool in helping us to discuss hard topics or even explore traumatic experiences with a reduced risk of extreme distress. [11]

What are the Goals of Drama Therapy?

One man with his hand on another's shoulder in support

1. Increasing Communication

Drama therapy aims to provide you with a space to communicate in a way that feels natural to you.

Through engaging with your drama therapy practitioner and peers in a group therapy context, the key goal of the practice is for you to feel that you have access to non-judgemental space.

This means you can begin to reconnect with your thoughts and feelings and find a way to share them in a healthier manner.

By strengthening your ability to communicate, the hope is that you will be able to release difficult feelings before they get too difficult to manage, meaning that you have a lowered risk of returning to drink or drugs. [12]

2. Connecting with Others

Another key benefit of this kind of therapy is that it can help us to learn that connecting with others can be helpful, safe, and even enjoyable.

Often, when we are dealing with intense emotions, or have done so in the past, it is easy to begin to withdraw.

But engaging with others, like everything else, is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

By remembering that connecting with others isn’t something to be afraid of – and learning how to do it in a way that helps us feel in control of a situation – drama therapy can help us to rebuild relationships, and even create new ones. [13]

This helps you to build a support network to move forward, as well as giving you the tools to develop it further down the line.

4. Building Confidence

It’s no secret that there is still a bit of stigma around addiction.

That means it can be hard to open up, as we may feel concerned about being stereotyped or judged by others.

Drama therapy offers you a space to be authentically you.

The aim of this is to show you that regardless of who you are, your current situation and your history with substances, you do not need to be ashamed.

Drama therapy, like many other kinds of addiction support, aims to empower you – to let you know that you do not have to live in shame, and on the contrary, that you deserve to grow in confidence, and will often find you will flourish when you do. [14]

Evidence for Drama Therapy: How Useful Is It?

The effects of drama therapy in addiction treatment have been studied by lots of researchers.

One research team, in particular, found that when drama therapy was incorporated into addiction treatment, individuals found that:

  • their well-being improved
  • they felt more able to accept themselves
  • they felt more able to connect with others
  • they felt more independent and free
  • they felt more in control of their lives
  • they felt as though they had an increased purpose in life
  • they felt less helpless
  • they felt that they did not need the approval of others so much
  • they felt more in control of and in touch with their emotions
  • they could cope better with problems [15]

All of these outcomes suggest a greater emotional control, and therefore, a general improvement in wellbeing.

These things improve mood and lower stress levels, therefore limiting the risk of needing to return to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as binge-drinking or taking drugs.

This suggests that drama therapy can be used to help you develop life skills that help you take back control of your emotional life and move forward into long-term sobriety.

Other Therapies That Can Complement Drama Therapy

Whilst the outcomes of drama therapy show it is a very effective form of support, a truly successful addiction treatment plan will incorporate different forms of therapy in order for you to establish what suits you best.

At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we offer many forms of support that you can access alongside drama therapy in a personalised treatment plan tailored to you and your needs.

Some forms of support that may complement drama and movement therapy include:

Contact Us Today

hands typing on laptop

If you are ready to access support for addiction or believe that a loved one would benefit from beginning formal support, we are more than happy to speak with you and learn more about how we can help you with your current situation.

We are a confidential service, and all our contact with you is designed to help give you peace of mind and make sure you stay at the centre of your own care.

You can contact our team at Rehab 4 Alcoholism to seek advice and to learn more about how to access drama therapy, what is involved and how it might help you, as well as to find out about other kinds of specialist services we offer at our rehab sites up and down the country.

You can contact us by:

  • using our online chat function
  • requesting a callback
  • calling our UK landline (0800 111 4108)
  • calling our freephone (+44 345 222 3509)
  • sending a letter to our postal address (Rehab 4 Alcoholism, 211 Beaufort House, 94-98 Newhall Street, Birmingham, B3 1PB)


[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/298473497_Psychoanalytic_theatre_therapy_-_Catharsis_self_realisation_and_creativity

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/A-Christson-Adedoyin/publication/271622364_Revisiting_Holistic_Interventions_in_Substance_Abuse_Treatment/links/58812a1aa6fdcc6b790dd6c9/Revisiting-Holistic-Interventions-in-Substance-Abuse-Treatment.pdf?_sg%5B0%5D=started_experiment_milestone&origin=journalDetail&_rtd=e30%3D

[3] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-28580-001

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9497558/

[5] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-28580-001

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4069282/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8064660/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4782444/


[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6593356/

[11] https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2020-92194-008


[13] https://substanceabusepolicy.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1747-597X-7-29

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8932605/