EMDR for Addiction

Trauma-Informed Treatment For Holistic Healing

Trauma is insidious and pervasive. We often don’t understand the deeper effects of trauma until they manifest themselves in maladaptive ways. Whether you’ve experienced a single traumatic event or you’ve been exposed to repeated, prolonged trauma, what it leaves in its wake can be life-altering.

Often, trauma results in self-medication in the form of drug use or unhealthy behaviors, and these coping mechanisms can develop into addiction.

Both trauma and addiction, no matter the type or severity, can be worked through. You do not need to live in the shadow of your trauma. EMDR treatment can help.

What is EMDR?

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy) is a form of trauma-focused psychotherapy that utilizes specific techniques to help individuals process traumatic experiences.

During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the individual through a series of eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation while the individual focuses on the traumatic memory. This process can help the individual reprocess traumatic life experiences in a way that reduces their emotional impact and decreases the associated distress.

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EMDR Information

How Does EMDR Work for Addiction Treatment?

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Trauma can often lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as addiction, as individuals may turn to substances to cope with painful memories or emotions. EMDR therapy helps by identifying and targeting these traumatic experiences, reprocessing them through a different lens, and helping the patient gain a better understanding of the root causes of their addiction and begin to develop healthier coping strategies.

Research has shown that EMDR can be an effective treatment for addiction, particularly when used in combination with other therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical  behavioral therapy (DBT), medication-assisted therapy (MAT), and holistic therapies.

EMDR can help individuals reduce cravings, address underlying history of trauma, and develop more effective coping strategies to prevent relapse.

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What to Expect During an EMDR Session

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EMDR sessions are not an in-and-out process where the patient immediately jumps into treatment. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing can be intense and requires the participant to be mentally and emotionally prepared.

If your substance abuse treatment plan includes EMDR, this is what you can expect:

First, the therapist will complete a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s history and symptoms to determine if the use of EMDR is appropriate. The clinician will also explain the process of EMDR and answer any questions.

Skills Development
Before starting EMDR, the therapist guides the patient in developing coping skills and relaxation techniques to use during the session. These techniques can include deep breathing, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Target Identification
The therapist and client work together to identify a specific traumatic event or experience that the client wants to target during the EMDR session. This can include past experiences that may be contributing to current symptoms or current events that cause emotional distress and tempt relapse.

Following detox, EMDR may be used in several levels of care, including during partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, outpatient, and dual diagnosis programs.

The EMDR Process: (Desensitization & Reprocessing Phases)
During the desensitization phase, the client is asked to focus on the traumatic memory while also engaging in bilateral stimulation. This can involve following the therapist’s hand movements or the therapist playing different tones that alternate between the client’s left and right ears.

The reprocessing phase involves replacing negative beliefs and feelings associated with the traumatic memory with more positive, adaptive ones. The EMDR therapist may ask the client to imagine a more optimal resolution or use affirmations to reinforce positive beliefs.

When the desensitization and reprocessing phases are complete, the therapist guides the client back to a state of relaxation and provides them with additional coping skills and resources to use post-treatment.

Processing past trauma can be a lot of emotional work, but the goal is to help the client process and overcome traumatic experiences in a safe and supportive environment. It is important that after an EMDR session, the patient has somewhere comfortable, safe,  and quiet to go as part of aftercare.

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How Long Does EMDR Treatment Last When Treating Substance Use Disorder?

The duration of EMDR therapy to treat addiction can vary depending on the individual and their specific situation.

However, there are several factors that can influence the length of treatment:

  • Complexity of Trauma

    The complexity and severity of the trauma can affect the length of EMDR treatment. Those who have experienced multiple traumas, severe trauma, or trauma over an extended period of time may require more sessions than those with a single traumatic event.

  • Duration of Symptoms

    The duration of the symptoms associated with the trauma can also impact the length of treatment. Individuals who have experienced symptoms for a longer period of time may require more sessions to achieve a successful outcome.

  • Co-occurring Disorders

    The presence of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, can also impact the length of EMDR treatment. Addressing these conditions may require additional sessions. Your individualized care plan will take any dual diagnosis into account when creating your addiction recovery plan.

  • Client Readiness

    The readiness of the client to engage in EMDR can influence how long the therapy takes. Patients who are motivated and engaged in the process may achieve the desired results more quickly. However, if the client has any trepidation about the process or has not adequately developed the coping skills needed to navigate through the process, EMDR therapy will not be an effective treatment option.

    Typically, EMDR treatment programs typically last between 6-12 sessions, although some individuals may require more or less depending on their unique circumstances.

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Move Forward With Epiphany Wellness

Whether you or a loved one are suffering from SUD, alcohol use disorder, or a co-occurring mental illness as a result of trauma, you aren’t alone, and you don’t have to heal alone, either.

At Epiphany Wellness, we take a holistic approach to treatment. We know that long-term healing requires healing the whole person. We implement EMDR therapy as part of our drug and alcohol addiction recovery plans so that you can heal mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

You CAN build a life outside of your trauma. Contact a member of our team today to learn more about how our treatment center can help you heal from addiction and live life to its fullest potential.

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Frequently Asked Questions About EMDR Therapy for Addiction 

What is the Effectiveness of EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has been shown to be an effective treatment for trauma and related symptoms. It has been recognized as an evidence-based treatment by several organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and event the US Department of Defense.[1]
Numerous research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR in reducing symptoms associated with trauma, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety. Some studies have also shown that EMDR can be more effective than other forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, for certain types of trauma.[2]

When is EMDR not recommended?

EMDR is not recommended for individuals with a history of seizures, epilepsy, or certain mental health conditions such as dissociative disorders. During your initial consultation with our admissions team, as well as throughout your treatment, you will undergo assessments to determine whether or not EMDR is a beneficial treatment for you.

Is EMDR the psychological treatment for addiction?

There is no one-size-fits-all resolution to substance abuse. The best treatment for addiction depends on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. EMDR can be an extremely effective modality and is commonly used in conjunction with other psychological treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy, and other holistic therapies.

What disorder is EMDR most commonly used to treat?

EMDR is most commonly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), although it has also been used to treat a variety of other mental health conditions, including addiction, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, and OCD.

What is the purpose of EMDR in addiction treatment?

The purpose of EMDR is to help individuals process and overcome traumatic experiences that may be impacting their mental health and contributing to addiction.

What is the difference between EMDR and CBT?

EMDR focuses on processing past traumatic experiences through bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements or tapping), while CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. EMDR tends to be a shorter-term treatment, while CBT is a long-term option.


[1] Shapiro, F. (2014). The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences. The Permanente journal. Retrieved February 24, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951033/ 

[2]McGuire, T. M., Lee, C. W., & Drummond, P. D. (2014, September 26). Potential of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychology research and behavior management. Retrieved February 24, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189702/

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If you have additional questions about EMDR for addiction recovery or you’d like to get started with Epiphany Wellness, contact our admissions team today.