A Guide To EMDR And Substance Abuse Treatment

EMDR And Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance abuse is a complex issue that often involves underlying trauma, triggers, cravings, and co-occurring mental health conditions. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach that has shown promising results in addressing these factors and supporting recovery from substance abuse. In this blog, we will explore the techniques involved in EMDR for substance abuse, its benefits, and why it may be a suitable treatment option. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, read on to learn more about the potential of EMDR in the recovery process.

What Is EMDR?

What Is EMDR?EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a therapeutic technique used to treat trauma and other psychological disorders. It involves the use of bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, hand taps, or sounds, while the client focuses on a distressing memory or thought.

This process is thought to help the brain reprocess the traumatic memory, reducing its emotional intensity and helping the client to develop more adaptive coping strategies. EMDR has been widely used and researched for the treatment of various mental health conditions, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Does EMDR Work For Substance Abuse?

EMDR is effective in treating substance abuse in some cases. By addressing underlying traumatic memories or other psychological factors that may contribute to addictive behaviors, EMDR can help individuals gain insight, process emotions, and develop healthier coping skills. However, EMDR is typically used as part of a comprehensive treatment approach that may include other evidence-based therapies and support services for substance abuse, and its effectiveness may vary depending on individual circumstances and the severity of the addiction.

EMDR Protocol For Substance Abuse

EMDR Protocol For Substance AbuseThe EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) protocol typically involves the following steps:

  • History Taking: The therapist collects information about the client’s history, including their current symptoms, past traumas, and any relevant medical or psychological history.
  • Preparation: The therapist helps the client develop skills for managing distress and establishes a safe environment for the EMDR session. This may include teaching relaxation techniques, grounding exercises, and establishing a plan for handling distress during and after the session.
  • Assessment: The therapist and client identify specific traumatic memories or targets to work on during the EMDR session. These targets are usually memories that are associated with distressing emotions, beliefs, and sensations.
  • Desensitization: The client focuses on the target memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, which can involve eye movements, hand tapping, or auditory tones. This helps the client process the memory and reduce the emotional distress associated with it.
  • Installation: The therapist guides the client in installing positive beliefs or adaptive cognitions to replace negative or maladaptive beliefs associated with the target memory. This helps the client develop healthier ways of thinking about themselves and the traumatic experience.
  • Body Scan: The therapist and client check for any residual distress or sensations in the body related to the target memory and work on processing and resolving them.
  • Closure: The therapist ensures that the client is in a stable state before ending the session, and may provide grounding techniques to help the client feel more grounded and present.
  • Reevaluation: In subsequent sessions, the therapist and client review progress and identify any new targets that may arise as a result of the processing. The process repeats until the client experiences resolution and relief from distress associated with the target memories.

Techniques Involved In EMDR for Substance Abuse

EMDR for substance abuse typically involves the following techniques:

Resource development

EMDR therapists help clients identify and strengthen internal resources that can support their recovery from substance abuse. This may include identifying positive self-beliefs, such as self-worth, self-compassion, and self-efficacy, as well as coping skills, healthy relationships, and other positive aspects of their life. These internal resources can be “installed” using EMDR techniques to create a foundation for healing and resilience.

Targeting cravings and triggers

Targeting cravings and triggersEMDR identifies and processes the memories, emotions, and sensations associated with cravings and triggers for substance use. This may involve targeting memories of past substance use experiences or memories and triggers. Such as people, places, or situations that have a link with substance use. By processing these memories using EMDR techniques, clients can reduce the emotional charge and distress associated with cravings and triggers, which can help them develop healthier coping strategies and responses to these triggers.

Future templates

EMDR can also involve creating positive imagery of a substance-free future. Clients are guided to visualize themselves engaging in healthy behaviors, managing stress, and achieving their recovery goals. This helps clients create a positive template for their future selves, which can serve as motivation and inspiration for their recovery journey.

In vivo desensitization

EMDR can combine with exposure therapy techniques, where clients confront and process real-life situations that trigger cravings or other addictive behaviors in a safe and controlled manner. For example, clients may imagine or role-play situations where they would typically engage in substance use, and then use EMDR techniques to process their emotions, memories, and sensations. This can help clients reduce the distress associated with these triggers and develop more adaptive ways to respond to them in real life.

Cognitive interweaves

EMDR therapists may use cognitive interweaves during the desensitization phase, which involves integrating cognitive-behavioral techniques into the EMDR process. This may include challenging and reprocessing maladaptive thoughts and beliefs related to substance abuse, such as negative self-talk, irrational beliefs, or distorted perceptions about substances. By integrating cognitive restructuring techniques within the EMDR process, clients can develop more adaptive thoughts and beliefs related to their substance use, which can support their recovery efforts.

Benefits Of EMDR For Substance Abuse

Benefits Of EMDR For Substance AbuseEMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has shown several benefits when used as a treatment for substance abuse:

  • Addressing Underlying Trauma: EMDR is effective in addressing underlying traumatic experiences that may have contributed to the development of substance abuse as a way to cope with unresolved emotional pain. By processing and resolving these traumatic memories, EMDR can reduce the triggers and cravings associated with substance abuse.
  • Resolving Triggers and Cravings: It can help individuals identify and process the triggers and cravings associated with substance abuse, allowing them to develop healthier coping strategies and reduce the urge to use substances as a way of coping with emotional distress.
  • Treating Co-occurring Mental Health Issues: Many individuals with substance abuse also struggle with co-occurring mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. EMDR is effective in treating these mental health issues, which can help reduce the need to self-medicate with substances.
  • Empowering Internal Resources: EMDR helps individuals tap into their internal resources and strengths, allowing them to develop a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy in their recovery journey. This can boost self-esteem, motivation, and resilience, which are important factors in overcoming substance abuse.
  • Quick and Long-lasting Results: It is relatively quick and long-lasting results. Many individuals report significant reductions in distress and cravings after just a few sessions of EMDR. These effects can sustain over time with ongoing treatment.
  • Non-Invasive and Client-Centered: EMDR is a non-invasive therapy that does not require clients to recount their traumatic experiences in detail, making it suitable for individuals who may be hesitant or uncomfortable with traditional talk therapies. Moreover, it is a client-centered approach that allows clients to actively participate in their healing process. So, this can enhance their sense of ownership and engagement in their recovery journey.


In conclusion, EMDR can be a valuable treatment option for individuals struggling with substance abuse. It addresses underlying trauma, resolves trigger and cravings, and easily combines with other evidence-based therapies. However, it’s important to seek help from a qualified and trained EMDR therapist as part of a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to individual needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, don’t hesitate to seek professional help and support for a better chance at recovery.

For more information, please contact MantraCare. Abuse is a serious and harmful behavior that can cause physical, emotional, or psychological harm to a person. If you have any queries regarding Online Counseling experienced therapists at MantraCare can help: Book a trial Online therapy session.

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