The Role Of EMDR Therapy In Addiction Treatment

Experiencing trauma can lead to overwhelming emotions. Those emotions can then cause you to turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of temporary relief. Eventually, this can lead to substance abuse, making you more prone to addiction.

Luckily, there’s a better way to cope. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can help you process traumatic experiences, talk about difficult memories, manage distressing emotions, and heal from unpleasant events in your past. By teaching you these skills, EMDR can help you address the root causes of addiction and learn new, healthier ways to cope, which can, in turn, help you reach and maintain long-term sobriety.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Unlike traditional talk therapies such as CBT, DBT, and REBT, EMDR uses rapid, rhythmic eye movements to desensitize your reactions to traumatic events. This unique method allows you to unblock repressed emotions, reprogram your brain cells, and change harmful behavior patterns. Once the desensitization has occurred, an EMDR therapist helps you reprocess your experiences in a helpful, productive way.

Even though EMDR isn’t a type of talk therapy, the treatment shares some similarities with CBT. As the name suggests, cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that what you think determines how you behave. By helping you think differently about traumatic experiences, EMDR aims to help you behave differently.

When used consistently, EMDR can help you:

  • Manage overwhelming emotional and psychological trauma
  • Let go of unpleasant thoughts
  • Overcome challenges in a healthier, more effective way
  • Lessen the difficulty of traumatic memories
  • Become less susceptible to debilitating emotions
  • Cope with unwanted and stressful experiences without turning to drugs or alcohol

Other benefits of EMDR include:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Healthier and more positive beliefs about yourself
  • Less stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Emotional regulation
  • Letting go of traumatic, circular thinking

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

EMDR therapy is an interactive, hands-on treatment that uses eye movement and touch as its central modes of communication. During an EMDR session, the therapist will move their fingers or a light back and forth in front of your face while you follow them with your eyes. As this takes place, the therapist will ask you about distressing memories and events you’ve experienced before gradually switching your focus towards more pleasant memories. Your therapist might also have questions about how you are feeling now compared to what you felt like before.

This process uses bilateral stimulation to lessen the amount of distress you experience when talking about or recalling disturbing memories. Bilateral stimulation occurs when something you can see, hear or feel moves back and forth across your body. A common example of bilateral stimulation is watching a hand or light move from left to right. You can also listen to tones that alternate between the left and right sides of your head or do butterfly taps where you tap your shoulders rhythmically.

Research shows that bilateral stimulation decreases worry by producing:

  • A relaxation effect that decreases psychological arousal
  • Increased attention flexibility, helping your mind let go of unpleasant thoughts
  • A distancing effect that makes problems seem smaller and farther away

After the bilateral stimulation phase of your EMDR therapy session is over, your therapist will ask you to rest your mind and let it go blank. Next, they’ll ask you to explain what you’re thinking and feeling. Once you’ve identified and shared your thoughts and feelings, your therapist will help you replace any negative thoughts with more helpful ideas. Since bilateral stimulation exercises help desensitize the emotional sting of traumatic events and reprocess painful events, consistently engaging in this process can help you heal and overcome addiction challenges.

How EMDR Therapy Can Help You Overcome Addiction

EMDR therapy can help you overcome addiction if your substance use has been caused by past trauma or emotional distress. As you attend EMDR therapy sessions, learn to manage your emotions, and think about hurtful events in a productive and empowering way, you won’t feel as compelled to use drugs and alcohol to cope. EMDR therapy can also help you overcome addiction by:

  • Helping you identify the emotional roots of your addiction. When you’re sad, downtrodden, depressed, and in pain, you may feel compelled to turn to drugs or alcohol to feel better. By helping you to identify and address past pain, EMDR can help you manage and heal the emotional distress, decreasing your need and desire for drugs and alcohol.
  • Teaching you how to reduce and manage stress effectively. Stress is one of the most common reasons why people turn to drugs and alcohol. The bilateral stimulation used during EMDR sessions helps lessen worry, anxiety, and stress. Other skills such as deep breathing or mindfulness and visualization techniques can also help reduce the stress you feel, making you less likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism.
  • Encouraging you to address and replace negative and unhelpful self-beliefs. Trauma and addiction can affect your mind and emotions, making you feel unsafe, rejected, trapped, and disconnected from your own body. Feeling this way can cause you to see yourself in a negative light, contributing to depression and anxiety. Fortunately, EMDR addresses many of these negative self-beliefs and teaches you to replace those harmful thoughts with positive self-belief that can help boost your self-esteem.
  • Desensitizing the brain’s response to emotional distress, which can help combat impulsivity and restore rational thinking and problem-solving tendencies. The more you’re able to think rationally, the more likely you are to make better, healthier choices. Behaving this way can help you maintain long-term sobriety.
  • Reprocessing painful and negative emotions, which can diminish your reliance on addictive substances and promote healthy coping strategies. Being able to experience challenges and process them in a productive, healthy way can help make you resilient. Having resilience can protect you from developing mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Being resilient can also help avoid being strongly affected by past, present, or future experiences that can lead to relapse.

Starting Healing Today For A Better Tomorrow

If you’re struggling with addiction, there is a good chance that your addiction is related to some sort of traumatic experience in your past. EMDR has been shown to be an incredibly effective treatment for trauma. Overcoming trauma can help set you free to overcome your addiction and live the life you want. If you’re ready to make a change, contact us today. We’d love to help you heal from trauma, recover from addiction, and live a thriving purpose-filled life.

Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies

Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

This low-impact magnetic stimulation activates neurons inside the brain, relieving symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

qEEG/Brain Mapping

Using brain scanning and readings, we create a map of our patients’ brains, helping us develop more targeted and effective treatments.


This process assists patients in visualizing their own brain functionality through continuous EEG readings.

Spravato Therapy

We use carefully monitored doses of Spravato to help patients struggling with complex mental health disorders, including severe depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Patients use this practice to help reframe intrusive or negative thought patterns and develop coping techniques for long-term recovery.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This practice helps patients learn to regulate emotions, communicate more effectively, and process their own thoughts and feelings..

Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR)

Licensed and trained therapists guide patients through this technique for managing stress and anxiety on an ongoing basis.

Individual Therapy

Patients experience one-on-one therapy sessions with a licensed therapist to provide a safe and private place to recover and heal.

Group/Family Therapy

Patients can practice the skills and techniques they have learned in treatment with others in a safe, therapist-guided space.

Contact StoneRidge Centers

5940 E. Copper Hill Dr. Ste B & E, Prescott Valley, AZ. 86314

We exercise progressive, leading brain science in our treatment approach for patients in our community and across the country who are struggling with mental health and addiction challenges.