Woman staring at pills contemplating if she should take them

EMDR Therapy for Substance Use Disorders

At Hotel California by the Sea, we understand the crucial connection between co-occurring mental health disorders and addiction. In some instances, co-occurring disorders can directly contribute to the development of substance abuse and alcohol addiction. Mental health conditions can make recovering from substance use disorders complicated and difficult. By incorporating Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) into our rehab addiction treatment programs, patients suffering from drug and alcohol abuse will be able to address distressing trauma-related symptoms that contribute to their addiction.


Request a Call

Trauma is defined as a highly distressing event or experience. Trauma can be physical, emotional or sexual and is relative to the individual who is suffering. Trauma can be a powerful force and when someone experiences traumatic stress, it can alter brain functions by increasing cortisol and modifying certain neurochemicals. It can also affect areas of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which in turn, results in lasting effects on a person’s psychological health.


A traumatic experience is any experience that causes significant distress to the sufferer. Trauma can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Trauma is relative to the sufferer, meaning that what is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to the next person.

In order to achieve lasting recovery, multiple factors contributing to their addiction must be acknowledged and addressed. For an individual suffering from trauma-related substance addiction, untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could contribute to a higher risk of relapse during their recovery journey. Hotel California by the Sea helps addicts and alcoholics achieve their goals of recovery by providing a multifaceted and holistic approach to healing.

What is EMDR therapy ?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) was initially created to treat those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma based mental health disorders. Designed by psychological experts, EMDR is used as an effective therapy treatment for substance use disorder to help alleviate the distressing symptoms of PTSD and trauma-related conditions. EMDR helps patients refocus their emotions, thoughts and behaviors in the brain associated with their addiction through the tracking of rapid eye movements. In conjunction with other substance addiction therapies, EMDR helps individuals refocus traumatic memories related to their substance addiction.

EMDR focuses on an eight stage therapeutic model that provides a structured and supportive method for recovery from trauma and tackling addiction. These eight stages include history taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure and re-evaluation of treatment effects. All of these stages of treatment involve focusing on the three main time periods. In the past, individuals address disturbing memories and past related events. In the present, individuals acknowledge current distressing situations. For the future, individuals learn and develop skills and attitudes needed to create a positive future outcome.

How does EMDR Therapy work?

EMDR therapy emphasizes eight main stages of treatment. The time and length of each phase as well as the timeline of the therapy treatment as a whole will depend on the needs of each individual. Therapists will continue to evaluate the patient’s progress throughout each phase of the therapy and determine the best possible treatment care plan for the patient.

Man putting his hand on shoulder of man who is struggling

The EMDR Therapy approach to treating Substance Use Disorders

EMDR therapy uses an eight phase approach to treating patients suffering from trauma-related substance use disorders. Therapists will guide patients through each phase of the therapy treatment evaluating and assessing throughout, in order to make necessary adjustments based on the needs of the individual. Mainly used to treat patients suffering from PTSD, processing a specific traumatizing memory can on average be completed in one to three sessions. Multiple sessions are needed to treat multiple traumatizing events in a person’s life. Each patient is different and receives a specialized and comprehensive plan throughout the duration of their EMDR therapy. 

Phase One: History taking

In this phase, the therapist will go over a comprehensive understanding of your psychological history. Patients will identify distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional stress. All of these thoughts and emotions are associated with their addiction. It is helpful for the EMDR practitioner to have a thorough understanding of a patient’s history to create a completely customized treatment plan.

Phase Two: Client Preparation

During this second phase, professionals will inform the patient of what they may expect during their treatment sessions. Together, patients and therapists will evaluate and set tangible goals and realistic expectations for treatment. Therapists will also teach patients a few self-control or self-soothing techniques to practice and utilize if and when they become uncomfortable during the treatment process. EMDR can be a very emotional process and by ensuring patients have the right tools to handle the emotional stresses that may arise, the treatment will result in a more effective outcome.

Phase Three: Assessment Therapy

In the assessment phase, together with the therapist, patients will identify the events related to their substance use disorder trauma. Sometimes clients find the assessment intimidating, but this is mainly an in-depth examination by the professional to record precise observational measurements that may be beneficial to the treatment plan.

Phase Four: Desensitization

During this phase, patients work to desensitize past distressing and traumatic memories associated with their addiction. The goal of this stage is to alter the patient’s maladaptive sensory experiences when associating with this particular event. While processing these negative thoughts and emotions, patients are simultaneously engaged in a set of bilateral stimulation such as rapid eye movement.

Phase Five: Installation

Once the traumatic event has been identified and desensitized, patients will work on replacing those distressing emotions with position affirmations. Patients are instructed to think of a positive belief associated with that once distressing memory. The goal is to replace negative thoughts and behaviors with neutral or positive emotions when associating with that specific memory related to their addiction.

Phase Six: Body scan

During this phase, patients are assessed to see if there is still a physical bodily reaction to the areas of stress related to the trauma. Once assessments are made, professionals can decide upon the next treatment steps.

Phase Seven: Closure

Once a client reaches the closure phase of therapy, they have most likely made significant progress for substance use disorder treatment at Hotel California by The Sea. During this evaluation phase, therapists decide whether the tools given to patients to help alleviate the stress they experience related to the trauma is effective. This also helps remind patients to practice the new strategies they have acquired in order to cope with distressing situations.

Phase Eight: Re-evaluation of Treatment Effect

In the final phase of EMDR, the patient’s progress is examined and whether or not therapy has helped lessen their PTSD symptoms and traumatic stress responses. The goal of EMDR is to treat past and present distressing events and emotions, redirecting them to positive connotations and help create positive future feelings, thoughts and behaviors.

What conditions does EMDR target?

Generally EMDR is a targeted treatment therapy used to help patients suffering from PTSD and other trauma-related mental health conditions. These conditions can include bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and co-occurring trauma related substance use disorders. EMDR is used to help desensitize triggers, process feelings related to addiction and reinforce positive practices and resources to help an individual cope with distressing emotions. This evidenced-based approach to co-occurring mental health management has been proven to be highly effective in the treatment of unprocessed trauma for drug abusers and addicts. 

Why is it important to treat PTSD and Substance Addiction together with EMDR Therapy?

Substance addiction and PTSD often present simultaneously within an individual struggling with co-occurring disorders. In some cases, trauma can be directly associated with the eventual development of a substance use disorder. And vice versa, a substance use disorder can oftentimes be directly related to the development of a co-occurring mental health disorder. Depending on each individual case, one does not always cause the other. However, when they co-exist, treating both the addiction and mental health disorders is the most effective way of helping a patient achieve long-term sobriety.

Many times, those suffering from PTSD or other traumatic experiences and events, turn to substance use as a form of self-medication. These drugs and alcohol act to relieve distressing symptoms of PTSD. Continual actions of self-medication eventually lead to overconsumption and abuse of substances leading to a dual diagnosis. At Hotel California by the Sea, our inpatient and outpatient treatment programs offer medically managed detox for substance abuse. Detox alone will not be sufficient for long-term sobriety. Therefore, addressing the co-morbid mental health issues through effective therapies alongside medical detox creates a holistic and comprehensive treatment approach for lasting recovery.

Because addiction is significantly linked to past traumatic experiences, the recovery process for trauma can be a lifelong one. EMDR for substance use disorder and alcohol addiction has been proven to lessen the symptoms of PTSD. It’s easy to understand why treating addicts and alcoholics with PTSD could be complicated. However, researchers are discovering that EMDR has shown to be the answer to the distressing symptoms of trauma.

White couch, gray chairs, and brown desk in a therapy setting

EMDR Therapy is a specialized treatment therapy offered at Hotel California by the Sea

At Hotel California by the Sea, our unique approach to treating trauma related substance use disorder through EMDR therapy can help significantly alleviate specific intrusive and involuntary trauma symptoms. EMDR therapy, in addition to other substance use disorder therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help individuals suffering from trauma, achieve long-term recovery. The combination of various therapies and medication assisted treatments can lead to a higher rate of long term sobriety. Ultimately, the timeline for EMDR therapy will be customized per the needs of each patient in order to ensure the best possible outcome for recovery.

Our outpatient PHP and IOP are designed to support patients in need of trauma related substance and alcohol use disorders through EMDR. Our programs treat men, women and young adults suffering from co-occurring mental health conditions where EMDR therapy is used to help treat underlying traumas. We believe in a holistic approach to substance abuse treatment and use various treatment methods to address all aspects of an individual’s addiction.

Though a fairly new form of psychotherapy, EMDR has been clinically proven to help lessen the distressing and negative symptoms associated with those who suffer from PTSD. By treating these underlying issues, patients will in turn be able to recover from their addictions. EMDR practitioners will work closely with each patient creating a customized and individualized course of action in regards to their EMDR therapy session.

Get Help

If you or a loved one is suffering from trauma and a substance use disorder, our admissions team at Hotel California by the Sea is here to help! Reach out to us today to learn about the intensive therapeutic treatments used to significantly alleviate distressing symptoms of PTSD and other trauma related disorders. EMDR therapy is a specialized treatment offered to our clients in our inpatient and outpatient programs. Each patient in EMDR therapy receives a personalized care plan throughout the duration of their therapy session to ensure its effectiveness in lessening those negative trauma symptoms.

Request a Call

The road to recovery is full of uncertainty, leave your worries behind…
Our compassionate staff will answer all of your questions without any pressure. Learn about our evidence-based drug addiction treatment and rehab, the ease of entering our program, and the benefits of getting help from a reputable addiction treatment facility like Hotel California by the Sea.

Every member of our admissions team has been where you are today – be sure to ask them about their journey!