Treatment Before EMDR

Alcoholism treatment has come a long way from its beginnings back in the 1750s. The lack of effective treatment options and social stigmas surrounding alcoholism and addiction issues resulted in many people choosing not to receive help at all.

Thankfully, our understanding of alcoholism and addiction has grown significantly from those early days, and now there are many forms of effective therapies, social services, support groups, and medication management options that have been developed to safely treat those struggling with alcoholism and other addictions.

One of the most important aspects of this evolution was understanding the impact of other mental health conditions for those who struggled with alcohol use and addictions. This development was one in which traumatic experiences were identified as a frequent occurrence in many people’s lives who struggled with addiction.

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It is common to hear in co-occurring treatment programs that when someone has an alcohol or other substance use disorder, they most likely also have endured some form of a traumatic experience. It can sometimes be tough to know which came first, like the classic chicken or the egg scenario.

However, it is well-known that for someone struggling with alcoholism or addiction issues to be treated, all elements needing care must be treated effectively. These elements may include physical elements, like chronic pain, mental elements, like a co-occurring disorder, or addressing a traumatic experience.

One of the more effective treatment solutions for alcoholism, addiction, and trauma issues is a treatment modality called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

What Is EMDR?

EMDR is an active therapy that is nontraditional in nature. Unlike traditional therapies, where the most common element is to process thoughts and emotions through verbal conversation, EMDR is more focused on reviewing memories that cause distress and uncomfortable emotions through a scripted procedure.

EMDR was developed in the 1980s with a focus on treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The treatment modality focused on helping people reduce emotional discomfort related to events within their lives, commonly identified as traumatic events. Some examples of traumatic events include physical abuse, acts of violence, grief, and sexual abuse.

EMDR has been proven to be an efficacious treatment for PTSD and other common disorders, including alcoholism and addiction disorders. EMDR is now considered an advanced training that only certain behavioral health providers are allowed to participate in due to the complexity of the treatment and the population of clients often receiving the service.

How Does EMDR Work For Alcoholism And Addiction?

Practitioners of EMDR have most likely been trained in a variety of different types of EMDR, called protocols. These protocols are each designed to treat certain conditions by targeting different aspects, including negative self-thoughts or beliefs about themselves such as “I am worthless” or “I am unsafe,” and finding new strengths through the development of positive self-thoughts and beliefs such as “I am loved” or “I am safe.”

The theory behind EMDR is the use of rapid eye movements, or bilateral stimulation (tapping, vibrations, or even sounds), to help information processing in both brain hemispheres become “unstuck” in the brain.

It often focuses on a network of negative or traumatic memories. These memories are seemingly tethered together outside of our conscious awareness, which results in what feels like unrelated memories connecting with each other. These memories are then desensitized through the scripted process of EMDR. This, of course, is a simplified version of the possible complexities that EMDR is designed to help resolve.

Most behavioral health professionals recognize a link between these thoughts, traumas, and unhealthy substance use behaviors. A common analogy would be that trauma is a raging fire, and the smoke is the unhealthy substance use behaviors. So, how do we stop the smoke? We must acknowledge the fire.

The Process Of EMDR

The EMDR process involves a script of questions that will assess:

  • The presenting issue that brought them into treatment
  • A history of traumatic experiences starting from their earliest memories
  • Identifying mental pictures that the memories bring
  • Recognizing emotions attached to those memories and how they feel
  • Reviewing somatic experiences within the body and their impact
  • Specific substance use triggers that are recognizable

The overall goal of EMDR is to help reduce the emotional intensity of the identified memories and desensitize recognizable triggers in their lives. This process can have transformative results when properly applied by professionals who have been well-trained.

Considering all the powerful benefits of this treatment, it is important to recognize that EMDR is not:

  • A quick-fix for complex trauma and substance use
  • For people who are actively using alcohol or drugs still
  • Helpful for people who do not have their basic needs met
  • Going to make you forget your memories or events in life
  • Recommended for very recent or continuous traumatic events

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Early Recovery And EMDR

It is often recommended that EMDR be a complimentary addition to trauma and addiction treatment as it alone does not resolve the many underlying factors that are found within these conditions. Depending on the practitioner, and the time frame someone is in during early recovery, they may suggest a certain period of being substance free before engaging in EMDR therapy.

Considering the benefits of the therapy and its capacity to reduce emotional distress, high-risk triggers, and improve one’s sense of self-worth, it is a highly recommended service within the behavioral health field. EMDR can play an important role during a residential stay for alcoholism or addiction treatment, if appropriate, or it can be just as valuable during the aftercare stage in the recovery journey.

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If you or someone you know is battling alcoholism or addiction to another substance, the time to get help is now. If you’d like more information about EMDR and it uses during treatment, contact a treatment provider today.

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