Kreed Kleinkopf
January 10, 2018

How is EMDR Therapy Used for Addiction Treatment?

PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder is a mental health issue associated with past trauma and is a major factor affecting most people’s addictions. Often, the individual will self-medicate for their PTSD, or other mental health issue with drugs or alcohol, whether or not they even realize that’s why they’re doing it.  The connection between stress, anxiety or past trauma and addiction has been thoroughly researched in the scientific community. New discoveries about mental health and diseases like addiction are coming out all the time. EMDR therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a very helpful and successful treatment method for people who are struggling with addiction. EMDR has been shown to help patients address and overcome their past traumatic experiences, in a constructive and lasting way. Addiction treatment centers who utilize EMDR therapy can directly target the underlying causes of a patient’s addiction.

EMDR is an effective treatment for PTSD, epilepsy, anxiety, and a wide range of other physical and mental health issues. This includes addiction along with any underlying mental health issues or dual diagnosis. EMDR processes any past experiences that are causing pain and their relationship to current situations that contribute to the person wanting to compulsively use drugs or alcohol. This greatly helps the client incorporate changes into their lives to fit their individual needs and make healthier choices in the future.

For people in a drug rehabilitation program, EMDR treatment shows exceptional results in helping them attain long-term sobriety.

From 2004-2009, the Thurston County Drug Court Program in Washington state performed a study of 220 non-violent, felony drug offenders. In the study, participants were offered an “Integrated Trauma Treatment Program” (ITTP), which combined 2 empirically supported treatment methods, EMDR therapy, and Seeking Safety groups. The preliminary research found that individuals who voluntarily completed the ITTP, graduated from drug court at a rate of 91%. This was far higher than for those who did not complete the program, who graduated at a significantly lower rate of just 57%. This, along with many other follow-up studies have given credence to EMDR therapy as an effective substance abuse treatment method.

Numerous other studies have shown lower rates of recidivism and relapse for participants who received EMDR therapy. For participants that received EMDR therapy, the recidivism rate was 12%, while people who declined EMDR had a much higher recidivism rate of 33%. One of the major reasons people who struggle with addiction continue to relapse (or re-enter the court system) is partially due to their co-occurring mental health issues going untreated. Detox and some cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, or legal threats from authorities can only do so much in helping a person quit using drugs or alcohol.

Addiction is a complex disease. Drugs and alcohol can easily become a coping mechanism for people to deal with past traumatic experiences.

In the addiction treatment industry, co-occurring disorders are the rule, rather than the exception for people who suffer from a substance use disorder. Comprehensive treatment options can offer the best outcomes for a patient’s ultimate recovery, which includes complete abstinence from substance abuse.  When a person exhibits a substance use disorder, their brains commonly have inhibited responses in adaptive information processing (AIP). This term refers to the theory in the psychological community, that all instances of trauma are stored in the brain’s neural network, causing the brain to behave irrationally at times. As your brain encounters new experiences, the information that is processed gets installed into a network of pre-existing neural pathways. Once there, your mental responses can be distorted by past or current emotionally-traumatic experiences. These integrated memories are stored with your emotional responses, which inherently guide your future actions and decisions.

To read more about EMDR Therapy as a treatment for addiction, check out Huntington Beach, California drug recovery at:

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