By: Ava
May 17, 2021

What to Expect After EMDR in Addiction Treatment

Table of Contents

Trauma is often intimately connected and intertwined with addiction. For a sizable subset of those suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD), the genesis of their current problems – and why they’ve turned to drugs or alcohol to cope with it – can be tied to trauma in their past. A long-buried event tearing their present-day world apart at the seams.

Does this sound familiar to you, a family member or a friend?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes the link this way, “physically or emotionally traumatized people are at much higher risk for drug use and SUDs and the co-occurrence of these disorders is associated with inferior treatment outcomes. People with PTSD may use substances in an attempt to reduce their anxiety and to avoid dealing with trauma and its consequences.

The link between substance use disorder and PTSD is of particular concern for service members returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Given the dire needs of those struggling with trauma and addiction, treatment approaches have continued to evolve which is where EMDR therapy comes into play; a method that has proven effective for many.

What Is EMDR?

Knowing what the acronym stands for goes a long way in making sense of what it is and how it works to help you.

EMDR means eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. 

There’s a lot to unpack here, namely, how does focusing on eye movement benefit you?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a part of the government with extensive experience with PTSD, succinctly describes it as follows, “EMDR helps people process the trauma, which allows your loved one to start to heal. In EMDR, your loved one will pay attention to a back-and-forth movement or sound while calling to mind the upsetting memory until shifts occur in the way that memory is experienced and more information from the past is processed”.

This evidence-based treatment happens in 8 phases:

History Taking

Just as it sounds, this step is about getting background information, identifying the targets in your past and present stressors to process.


Understanding what’s to come.


The therapist will have you bring to mind a targeted event and “elicit the image, negative belief currently held, desired positive belief, current emotion, and physical sensation and baseline measures”


Processing that experience and incorporating eye movements that “allow the spontaneous emergence of insights, emotions, physical sensations, and other memories”.


Create more connections with positive cognitive networks and “enhance the validity of the desired positive belief and fully integrate the positive effects within the memory network”.

Body Scan

Finish processing of any and all lingering issues associated with the targeted event. 


Ensure your stability after/between sessions and how to maintain progress going forward.


Make sure that maintenance is taking place and an evaluation of the effectiveness of treatment.

Why Is EMDR Used in Addiction Treatment?

EMDR has become a valuable resource and tool for battling addiction and the underlying issues that caused it.

As one study notes, “the ability of EMDR therapy to rapidly treat unprocessed memories of distressing life experiences has multiple applications in medical practice, as such memories have been identified as the basis for a wide variety of clinical symptoms”.

The VA adds that even though treatment is roughly 1 to 3 months’ worth of weekly sessions (50 to 90 minutes), “many people start to notice improvement after a few sessions”.

So, what to expect after EMDR?

While it’s different for each individual, you can expect to truly and genuinely process the traumatic, stressful and distressing situations and events that lead to your addiction. Our goal is that through EMDR we can provide you with the long-term and lasting relief you yearn for.

To learn more about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, reach out to us at Multi Concept Recovery.

What to Expect After EMDR in Addiction Treatment