EMDR as an Effective Approach to Treating Addiction

Many people wonder whether Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is effective for addiction treatment. Dealing with addiction continues to pose big challenges to both medical practitioners and drug addicts alike. EMDR is a relatively new and non-traditional type of psychotherapy. It is growing in popularity especially for treating post-traumatic stress disorder or PSTD.

According to the EMDR therapist Allen Teresa, research shows that about 60% of recovering addicts have experienced serious trauma at some point in their lives. But what is EMDR and how can it be used to win the war against drug and substance addiction?

EMDR basics

This is a therapy that uses bilateral eye movements to reduce and even eliminate emotional distress of negative memories. As such, experts in this field have identified the potential of this treatment in eradicating the psychological memories responsible for continued drug abuse. Beginning in the 1990s, EMDR specialists have created specialized treatment regimens to facilitate recovery from behavioral and chemical addictions. They use this approach to desensitize the urges, triggers, cravings and positive feeling associated with addictive behavior.

However, EMDR on its own will not rid a person of their addiction. It has to be used in combination with other addiction treatment programs in order to yield the anticipated results. There are three basic treatment protocols with each being specific to a specific state of addiction.

i) DeTur protocol

This was designed by Arnold Popky and focuses on current events or stimuli that bring up urges to abuse the drug or substance in question. By addressing these urges, this protocol aims at reducing the impact of current events and situations that trigger memories of the trauma that led to addiction.

ii) CraveEx protocol

This protocol uses the usual addiction treatment program together with EMDR treatment. It focuses on desensitizing or reprocessing of addiction memories, thus effectively getting rid of the effect of triggers of substance abuse.

iii) New feeling-state addiction protocol

Introduced by Robert Miller in 2012, this protocol is based on the fact that addictive behavior is comprised of strictly linked positive feelings which when triggered set off a psychological pattern of addictive behaviors. Isolating these positive feelings in an EMDR session isolates the memory and promotes the brain to more adaptive functioning that results in decided changes in behavior.

So far, several studies on EMDR practice gives credibility to the use of EMDR in fighting addictions. One parteculare study tracked a female patient who had kept relapsing even after attending traditional drug rehabilitation centers 12 times. Following this new procedure, however the patient reported 18 months of total sobriety and remarked improvements in her overall quality of life. Research is still ongoing but the results up to now are positive and very promising.