EMDR: Treating Addiction Complicated by PTSD

woman at therapist with her eyes closed, leaning back on couch - EMDR and PTSD

Numerous therapeutic approaches are used to treat co-occurring substance abuse and mental health diagnoses. At Cottonwood Tucson, in Arizona, we aim to educate our guests about the various options available to support their recovery. One such option is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR was developed to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has been found to be especially beneficial to substance abuse recovery in cases where the patient also struggles with PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

When a person experiences a traumatic event, such as abuse, war, the death of a loved one, or a natural disaster, it can lead to lingering mental health problems, which may include PTSD.

According to WebMD, symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Potent Memories – these may take the form of nightmares or flashbacks. The person may relive the event as if it’s happening for the first time. These memories could leave them feeling anxious, afraid, guilty, or suspicious and could be accompanied by physical symptoms such as chills, headaches, and panic attacks.
  • Avoidance – trying to stay away from anything that will trigger memories of the traumatic experience.
  • Behavior Changes – Sometimes called “arousal symptoms,” these include:
    • Irrational, angry outbursts
    • Difficulty focusing and completing tasks
    • Feelings of danger and being under attack
    • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood Swings – Even if people with PTSD don’t experience nightmares and flashbacks, their mood changes can signify the effects of trauma. The person may feel hopeless, numb, or ashamed. They may lack interest in activities or relationships they previously enjoyed, and may even be suicidal.

What Are Co-Occurring Conditions?

An article published in the Journal of BioMed Central Psychiatry indicates that up to 45 percent of people with substance use disorder also have PTSD. It is not uncommon for people who’ve struggled with the symptoms of PTSD to try to fight those demons with substances. Therefore, it is often difficult to treat one condition without simultaneously impacting the other. This is why, at Cottonwood Tucson, we take a whole person approach to treatment and address co-occurring conditions such as PTSD with treatments such as EMDR.

What Is EMDR?

The EMDR Institute describes the treatment as:

  • A psychotherapy that enables people to heal from disturbing life experiences
  • Faster than traditional psychotherapy
  • A way to remove a barrier to emotional healing
  • Clinicians helping clients through a series of detailed protocols and procedures
  • 12 sessions for a full course of treatment

How Does EMDR Work?

The brain stores traumatic memories in its neural networks, and EMDR is a way of re-activating those networks so that the client can return to those memories but do so in a relaxed, supported state. The therapist directs the client to make specific eye movements during one phase of the process to help activate certain parts of the brain that help with both memory and with relaxation. EMDR helps to decrease the vividness and emotional impact of the traumatic memories. Clients should conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the experiences that once degraded them.

What Does EMDR Treat?

EMDR was developed to address the trauma associated with PTSD. There have been numerous studies of EMDR’s impact on trauma, which have supported its use for this purpose. Studies of EMDR’s effectiveness in treating other conditions have had mixed results, and it has not been as effective in treating any other mental health condition as it has been in treating PTSD.

Who Should Consider EMDR?

According to an article in US News and World Report, the people in substance abuse treatment who are most likely to benefit from EMDR are:

  • Ready and willing to work through trauma
  • Committed to staying for the whole duration of treatment
  • Either receiving in-patient treatment, so they may be monitored throughout the day and have staff nearby for support, or receiving out-patient treatment with a good support system at home
  • Willing to develop healthy coping mechanisms to process trauma
  • Aware that EMDR is a supplement and not a replacement for traditional substance abuse treatment

Cottonwood Tucson, in Arizona, seeks to educate our guests and their support systems about the various therapeutic techniques that have been shown to be effective for co-occurring disorders while also recognizing the uniqueness of each specific situation. To learn more about our full spectrum of addiction treatment, please contact us today.

Looking for an Arizona addiction rehab? For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, call (800) 877-4520. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.

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