If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, you’re probably wondering how treatment actually works. Addiction is a complex mental health disorder. There is no single approach to treating it that works for everyone. What works for some individuals might not work for you.
This is why it is so important to find addiction programs with a focus on individualized care. When a treatment team gets to know your story, personal struggles, and strengths, they can begin the process of finding an addiction treatment that resonates with you.
The core of many addiction programs is psychotherapy. Sometimes known as talk therapy, this involves developing a therapeutic alliance with a skilled counselor. Psychotherapy helps to identify and change the thoughts and actions that contribute to drug abuse. The information you share plays a large role in how your treatment will take shape. As a result, you may have a better chance of staying motivated and engaged during treatment.
Many people have found eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) to be helpful in dealing with difficult emotions that may be fueling addictive behaviors. But what is EMDR therapy, and how does it work? Use this guide to get a better understanding of how EMDR therapy can help you get clean.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals deal with the emotional distress associated with disturbing life experiences. Using many of the same concepts of other forms of psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychoanalysis, EMDR adds an extra element to help neutralize the psychological impacts of traumatic experiences.
Trauma and Addiction
We all go through traumatic experiences at some point in our lives. These are events that shake the core of our well-being and sense of security. Some are single events like a car accident, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or being a victim of a crime. Other traumatic events have multiple occurrences, like domestic violence in the home or repeated bullying at school. Even just witnessing a disturbing event can be traumatic to some individuals.
People deal with trauma differently. Some can process the events and put the situation behind them within a few months. Others continue to feel the stress brought on by a traumatic experience long after it is over. For example, a person may get extra tense or anxious when driving into an intersection months or years after a bad car accident.
The inability to deal with traumatic events can be devastating. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can seriously impact the way a person functions in everyday life. Many people associate PTSD with soldiers coming home from the battlefield; however, it can happen to anyone. The anxiety of an event can cause long-term effects like nightmares, flashbacks, increased arousal, irritability, and avoidance of places and people that remind them of the trauma.
Those suffering from trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to self-medicate and deal with difficult emotions. Sadly, substance abuse only offers temporary relief. When the root causes aren’t addressed, using substances to deal with inner turmoil often leads to addiction.
EMDR treatment can help neutralize the troubling thoughts and emotions brought on by traumatic experiences. As a result, it can create a solid foundation in your recovery.
How EMDR Therapy Works
The basis of EMDR involves using the body’s natural healing abilities to help with mental health issues. Your body intuitively knows how to heal a cut or scrape. Once the area is cleaned and protected, the healing process begins. Similarly, your mind can start healing from trauma once mental and emotional blocks have been removed. EMDR treatment involves neutralizing imbalances caused by traumatic events so the mind can re-orientate and restart the process of moving towards better mental health.
EMDR uses many of the same principles as other psychotherapies. It involves developing a relationship with a trained therapist to explore the root causes of your issues and how they are affecting your life. As therapy progresses, you and your therapist can discover any particularly emotionally charged events and the associated beliefs.
At this point, the EMDR therapist will guide you in specific exercises, like eye movements or tapping, as you revisit these memories. Over time, the exercises help neutralize the emotional impact these events have on you.
With the emotional charge neutralized, you can start reframing your beliefs about a certain experience. For example, if you were the victim of domestic abuse, instead of believing “I am unlovable,” you may adopt the belief “I am okay as I am.”
EMDR and Substance Abuse
Trauma could be a major factor contributing to addictive behaviors. Many turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate from the unpleasant feelings and symptoms brought on by trauma. EMDR helps you deal with the mind’s hyper-aroused response to a certain traumatic event. As a result, the trauma no longer controls your behaviors and reactions. From there, you have a better opportunity to process your trauma and regain mental balance.
Cravings and withdrawal are often a major contributor to relapse. EMDR can help modify the brain’s circuits related to addiction memories. This includes feelings of satisfaction from using and planning to use the drug. With these powerful impulses reduced, you may find you have more control over the substances you are addicted to.
The Benefits of EMDR: What to Expect
Does EMDR work? Studies have shown it is effective in treating addiction and factors related to addictive behaviors. For example, a study involving individuals with chronic alcohol dependency using treatment and two sessions of EMDR therapy found a significant reduction in cravings at the end of treatment and a month afterward. In the same study, those who only underwent treatment without EMDR did not have the same craving reductions.
Of course, like most psychotherapy, it will take time, effort, and a therapeutic relationship with a dedicated professional who is specifically trained in EMDR. You may be surprised, however, to find out some individuals suffering from single-trauma experiences no longer exhibit the symptoms of PTSD after just three 90-minute sessions. Even a good portion of multiple trauma victims found significant symptom relief after six 50-minute sessions. Results such as these are typical but may vary based on your personal and drug history, willingness to change, and any other co-occurring mental health conditions.
EMDR and Your Recovery
The results of EMDR are encouraging, especially if you have suffered a traumatic experience. EMDR has a solid foundation in clinically proven psychotherapy techniques. If you have suffered from trauma and are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, consider giving this therapy a chance during the process of your recovery.