EMDR and Alcohol Addiction

EMDR and Alcohol Addiction

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is an evidence-based therapy for common underlying causes of alcohol addiction, such as trauma, panic disorders, anxiety, and depression. EMDR can help treat alcohol addiction by addressing these common co-occurring mental health disorders. EMDR therapy is proven to help overcome common underlying causes of alcohol addiction.

What Is EMDR?

EMDR was developed by American psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987. This type of therapy began as a way of helping people process and heal from traumatic events. When you experience trauma, the memories of the event could cause distress throughout your life. You might unexpectedly become triggered by reminders of your traumatic experiences, creating problems like panic, anxiety, or depression.

After a traumatic event, your central nervous system becomes “stuck” in survival mode. You might be hypervigilant, as you are ever wary of another life-threatening occurrence. Trauma can cause avoidant behaviors as a maladaptive response to triggers. You might abuse alcohol as a way of self-medicating for the distressing memories or negative feelings associated with trauma triggers.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR helps you reprocess your traumatic memories as you work through eight phases of treatment with your therapist. During EMDR, your therapist will guide you through your memories and feelings while teaching you calming techniques, like deep breathing and mindfulness. You can use these techniques throughout your sessions to decrease anxiety and feelings of panic.

Your therapist will also use bilateral stimulation, usually in the form of repetitive eye movements, which help to distract your stress response from activating as you recall traumatic memories throughout your sessions. Bilateral stimulation involves repetitive sensations alternating from the left to the right side of the body. This type of stimulation helps to prevent you from getting overwhelmed as you process your emotions.

Traumatic experiences can leave you with distressing negative thoughts and feelings, which negatively impact your quality of life. The overall goal of EMDR therapy is to replace the negative beliefs that you might have about yourself, other people, or the world due to your trauma with new, healthy beliefs. 

The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy

Throughout your sessions, you will go through the following eight phases of EMDR:

  • Client history and treatment planning: During this phase, you will discuss your current issues and your therapist will talk about how EMDR can help you. You and your therapist will develop a plan together to work through these issues with EMDR therapy.
  • Preparation: Recalling the memories and feelings surrounding your traumatic experiences can be overwhelming. However, to heal from trauma, you need to walk through the trauma. Your therapist will prepare you for the deep work of EMDR therapy by teaching calming techniques to help you along the way.
  • Assessment: You and your therapist will pinpoint specific memories and events to work on throughout your treatment. These will be the events that you will recall throughout your sessions. 
  • Desensitization: Your therapist will guide you through your memories while desensitizing your emotional responses with bilateral stimulation that keeps you calm. As you become desensitized to your trauma during treatment, you can learn to live with memories without reverting to stressful feelings.
  • Installation: As you work through your trauma memories, your therapist will help you replace your negative beliefs with positive ones. For example, you might believe that the world is an unsafe place for you. You can replace this unhealthy belief with “I can overcome adversity with the support of my loved ones and my coping skills.”
  • Body scan: Trauma triggers often cause physical responses, like tightening of the chest or shallow breathing. During this phase, you will identify the physical sensations associated with your trauma response.
  • Closure: Each session will end with your therapist going over techniques to help you between sessions. Your therapist might ask you to keep a journal of your progress and triggers to review at the next session.
  • Re-evaluation: At the start of each session, you and your therapist will discuss your progress so far and identify areas to continue your work in EMDR. 

The Link Between Trauma and Alcohol Addiction

Treating alcohol addiction with EMDR therapy helps you overcome the underlying issues driving your addiction. Many people with a history of traumatic experiences develop an alcohol addiction as a way to deal with the emotional impact of trauma.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Early-childhood trauma is strongly associated with developing mental health problems, including alcohol dependence, later in life. People with early-life trauma may use alcohol to help cope with trauma-related symptoms.”

Treating alcohol addiction involves more than quitting drinking. You also need to address any underlying issues, such as trauma, panic, and anxiety, that contribute to your addiction. By getting treatment for both alcoholism and underlying mental health issues, you can increase your chances of success in recovery.

EMDR Therapy for Alcohol Addiction in Denver

Alcohol addiction frequently co-occurs with trauma and other mental health disorders. Continuum Recovery Center of Colorado is here to help you address alcohol addiction and co-occurring trauma-related disorders with EMDR therapy. Call us today or visit our admissions page to reclaim your best life.