EMDR and Substance Abuse

We know that urges to use drugs and alcohol can be related to painful experiences from the past. These can get triggered in the present and cause distress. Using substances can temporarily make us feel good when we don’t want to feel stress or inner discomfort. Triggers that activate the urge to use substances may be identified and neutralized using EMDR. A more positive state of mind may be installed and a realistic treatment goal identified. This helps the client to explore what they want to be like in the future. Triggers become weaker and are less likely to cause clients to use. There is no such thing as failure. Relapses bring new information about triggers that need to be processed. EMDR helps neutralize painful emotional experiences clients encounter in recovery. These occur because they are no longer using substances to cover up pain. These painful experiences are used as EMDR targets. Examples include:  fear of speaking in AA meetings; shame attacks in situations where client feels inadequate and not good enough; depression; feeling overwhelming guilt about hurting self and others because of addiction. The therapist guides the client to understand how painful experiences in the present are linked to negative beliefs one has about oneself. These negative beliefs provide a link to painful memories in the person’s past. EMDR reprocesses these enabling clients to become more functional in the present.  (adapted from Popky’s Protocol, 1998)

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