EMDR and its Role in the Treatment of Addiction

Helping To Address Trauma During Addiction Treatment

The Redpoint Center is a trauma focused substance abuse treatment center in Longmont, Colorado. We understand that trauma is a risk factor for addiction and substance use disorder. Our treatment of trauma is key in helping individuals recover from their addictions. We use several different types of treatments for trauma, which differ from talk therapy.  One reason talk therapy doesn’t effectively address trauma is that those memories are stored in the hippocampus, part of the mid brain. Our talk therapy doesn’t effectively access these memories stored in the mid brain—it tends to involve utilization of our frontal lobes.

 

Using EMDR to Cope With Trauma and Stress

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy is a helpful tool used to treat trauma. It helps us access and process memories stored in the mid brain. Our use of EMDR is expanding, and helping more people with issues that are causing them distress. We’ve found that people with substance abuse issues commonly have a history of trauma, struggle to cope with stress, and often benefit from EMDR.

Research has shown that EMDR causes changes in the brain chemistry that reverse the damage caused by trauma or acute stress. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert and researcher in the field of brain chemistry and trauma, has performed several brain studies. His work involved taking PET scan photographs of the brain before and after EMDR sessions.

The PET scans of someone who is remembering trauma show the amygdala in the brain to be well lit. This is part of the limbic system (in the mid brain) that is responsible for emotions, survival instincts and memory. The amygdala is well lit when trauma and acute stress exist. It is the “smoke detector” that scans the environment, and lets us know if there is something going on that is relevant to survival.

When people experience a threat, the amygdala becomes activated and is well lit in a PET scan. The frontal lobe, where cognition and understanding take place, is quite dim because the amygdala is more activated. When people are experiencing “normal” memories, the frontal lobe is bright and outshines the amygdala.

 

Studies About the Benefits of EMDR

In one study, van der Kolk had several individuals go through EMDR sessions. Before the sessions, the PET scans showed a brain in a trauma state. After the EMDR sessions, the brain appeared normal when the client was bringing to mind the same stressful event. The memory was no longer held as a traumatic memory but as a normal, processed memory.

We found another study where van der Kolk showed that subjects with a complicated traumatic history, after six EMDR sessions, had greatly reduced PTSD symptoms that continued to decrease even more for up to six months after the study.

We do not know exactly how psychotherapy affects the brain’s neuro-biology. However, we do know that when people are upset, their brains cannot process information normally. EMDR is similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

During REM sleep, the information from the day is being processed. When people experience trauma, the amygdala becomes hyperactive, and stores the traumatic information and memory. This makes it difficult to process this information. EMDR creates the same stimulation that occurs during REM sleep. This assists the brain in processing the trauma or issues related to stress.  The end result is that people see disturbing information in a new and less distressing way.

 

Getting Started with EMDR in Your Treatment

We know addiction is connected to acute stress and often trauma. Once our client has dealt with trauma and acute stress through EMDR, he or she is better able to experience healthy relationships, cope with stress and live a more successful life.  In addition, people can recover from addiction since they are no longer, or less affected, by their distress.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, drug addiction, Mental Health problems, The Redpoint Center is here to help. The Redpoint Center treats both adults and youth struggling with addiction and alcohol. Learn more about our Longmont Drug Rehab, by calling 888-509-3153.

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