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EMDR Therapy for Substance Use Disorders


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Hotel California by the Sea understands the crucial connection between co-occurring disorders and addiction. Some co-occurring disorders directly contribute to the development of substance abuse. Certain mental illnesses and other mental health conditions, such as PTSD, can make recovering from substance use disorders more complicated. That’s why we decided to incorporate Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) treatment into our addiction curriculums for addicts and alcoholics who’ve experienced traumatic events.

Trauma is a powerful force. Believe it or not, when someone experiences traumatic stress, it can alter certain brain functions, increase cortisol (the stress chemical), and modify certain neurochemicals. A trauma response can influence parts of the brain like the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus, and have lasting effects on someone’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.

For someone to stay sober, they must address each factor contributing to their addiction. If someone with PTSD doesn’t address their trauma, it could contribute to relapse later on in their recovery. At Hotel California by the Sea, we help addicts and alcoholics achieve long term sobriety by providing a multifaceted approach to healing. Read on to learn more about just one of the effective therapies offered at HCBTS.

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is a relatively new therapy initially created to treat people suffering from PTSD. However, researchers have recently studied the efficacy of EMDR against Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat Panic Disorder, finding that it was just as sufficient.

During EMDR therapy for substance use disorder, a client will likely talk about their traumatic event with their therapist and form a treatment plan with them for the duration of their stay.

Psychological experts designed EMDR therapy for substance use disorder to help alleviate distressing symptoms of PTSD. Along with other therapies, EMDR proves to be extremely useful in helping addicts recover from traumatic memories and focus on recovering from substance abuse. With an eight-stage therapeutic model, EMDR provides a structured and supportive method for recovering from trauma and tackling addiction.


EMDR Therapy at Hotel California By The Sea

EMDR therapy for substance use disorder at Hotel California by the Sea can help alleviate specific intrusive and involuntary PTSD symptoms mentioned in the DSM-5 such as:

  • Recurrent, automatic, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
  • Recurrent dreams related to the traumatic event
  • Dissociative reactions, like flashbacks
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
  • Physiological responses to triggers that remind the sufferer of the traumatic event
  • Efforts to avoid the traumatic memories or locations associated with the traumatic event

Hotel California by the Sea hires trained and specialize in helping clients alleviate these symptoms, and identify how they could contribute to their substance abuse issues.

EMDR therapy for substance use disorder

About half of the people that seek treatment for a substance use disorder also qualify as having PTSD.

Phases of EMDR therapy for substance use disorder

There are eight phases of treatment in EMDR therapy, including:

Phase One: History taking

Phase one in EMDR therapy for substance use disorder helps your trauma therapist get a comprehensive understanding of your psychological history. It’s helpful for the EMDR practitioner to have a thorough understanding of clients’ histories to create a customized treatment plan.

Phase Two: Client Preparation

In the second phase of EMDR treatment, Client Preparation, the therapist may inform the client of what he or she should expect during their treatment sessions. For example, the therapist may teach the client self-control or self-soothing techniques if they become uncomfortable during EMDR sessions. In this phase, the client and therapist also set tangible goals and realistic expectations for the patient’s treatment.

Phase Three: Assessment

In phase three, the therapist and client typically identify the event (or events) that triggered the development of their PTSD. Sometimes, clients find the assessment intimidating. However, this assessment is mainly an in-depth examination by their therapist. During this phase, the therapist may record precise observational measurements that could perfect the client’s treatment plan.

Phase Four: Desensitization

In phase four, our therapists work with a client to desensitize past memories. The goal in this stage is to alter the client’s maladaptive sensory experiences when thinking of or to remember the traumatic event.

Phase Five: Installation

Phase five is when a therapist continues helping the client replace their negative sensory experiences of their past trauma. Sometimes, re-living these experiences is difficult. Hotel California by the Sea’s trained EMDR therapists knows how to help clients experiencing distress from recalling their trauma.

Phase Six: Body scan

Here, our therapists use the clients’ body reactions to assess whether they still have significant stress over the trauma. From here, a therapist may decide upon the next treatment steps.

Phase Seven: Closure

Once a client reaches the closure phase, they’ve likely made significant progress in their EMDR therapy for substance use disorder treatment journey with a HCBTS therapist. This is another evaluation phase, where a therapist decides whether the tools given to the client to help alleviate the stress they experience from trauma are working.

Phase Eight: Re-evaluation of Treatment Effect

In the eighth phase, a therapist’s job is to determine whether the therapy significantly helped the client lessen their PTSD symptoms and traumatic stress responses. From here, a clinician will decide upon further steps for the client.

It generally takes more than one session of EMDR therapy for substance use disorder to help a client with PTSD. Please note that these phases aren’t definite – they are a rough guideline that many EMDR therapists follow. However, based on the client and their individual treatment goals, these phases may slightly change.


Why Treat PTSD and Addiction Together?

Treatment and recovery from PTSD go hand in hand. Many researchers believe that trauma is directly associated with the eventual development of a substance use disorder. Without addressing trauma in people struggling with addiction, a treatment team can miss a huge piece of someone’s addiction.

Addiction is significantly linked to past traumatic experiences. The recovery process for trauma can be a lifelong one. Still, clients often show significant improvement with just a few EMDR therapy for substance use disorder sessions in lessening their symptoms of PTSD.

According to, “forms of toxic stress, such as domestic violence or disasters, can negatively affect brain development. This includes changes to the structure and chemical activity of the brain (e.g., decreased size or connectivity in some parts of the brain) and in the emotional and behavioral functioning of the child (e.g., over-sensitivity to stressful situations).

It’s easy to understand why treating addicts and alcoholics with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could be complicated. However, researchers are discovering that EMDR may be a credible answer to the distressing symptoms of PTSD. With diligence and hard work, it’s possible to recover from PTSD and substance use disorders at the same time.

Treating trauma requires an intricate treatment plan designed for long term recovery and sobriety maintenance. Contact our addiction professionals today to discover more about how we can help you heal from trauma and substance use disorders all at once.

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