EMDR Therapy: Helping Addicts Heal from Childhood Traumas
Alcoholics and drug addicts don’t just wake up one day and decide to abuse a dangerous substance. Each of these individuals has a life and a story of how they got to a place of drug or alcohol dependency. For many of these men and women, that story begins with a traumatic event in their childhoods.
How do childhood traumas affect alcoholics and drug abusers?
There is a long and heartbreaking list of potential traumas that children can face in their formative years. Physical or sexual abuse, parental neglect, and violence in the home or community can all have lifelong effects on a child.
One group of researchers dubbed these traumatic events adverse childhood experiences, “ACEs” for short, and found that a boy with 4 or more ACES is a startling 46 times more likely to become an IV drug user than a boy with 0 ACEs.
Children with safe and stable home lives can still be exposed to traumatic events in the world around them. Another study found that teenagers who attended school in close proximity to the twin towers on September 11th, 2001 later had much higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse than those who had physical and emotional distance from the terrorist attack.
For men and women with traumatic childhood events in their past, drug and alcohol addiction are often symptoms of untreated mental health wounds. Effective rehab will get to the root of the addiction, not merely putting a band-aid on the substance abuse but helping the addict process and heal from their painful experiences as well.
Hawaiian Island Recovery uses EMDR as a powerful tool in treating co-occurring mental health disorders and substance abuse among residents.
What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. As a psychotherapy technique, EMDR is proven to help victims of childhood trauma process and heal from painful experiences quickly and thoroughly.
To understand how this therapy works, you should first understand the power of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. During this phase of sleep, your eyes move rapidly back and forth as your brain restores and heals itself after undergoing stress throughout the day.
If you experience a major traumatic event in your childhood, it can overwhelm your brain’s ability to process and heal. When, as a result, a traumatic event is never properly processed, it is difficult to separate the feelings and emotions of that painful moment in your past from your present reality. Until you can make that separation, it is not uncommon to experience anxiety, panic attacks, or PTSD.
EMDR therapy allows participants to tap into that self-healing function of the brain while you are still conscious and awake by helping you mimic that rapid eye movement and reassigning new, positive beliefs to a negative and harmful event in your past. (EMDR is not hypnotic therapy, and participants remain in full control of their thoughts, words, and responses.)
During EMDR, a trained therapist will invite you to verbally process the emotions and memories attached to a painful life experience and replace negative beliefs with positive statements and emotions. A therapist can help you attach a positive statement or belief to a painful memory and separate the feelings and emotions of the past from a healthier understanding of the event in the present. EMDR taps into the self-healing function of your brain to impress the new associations on a deep level.
Participants will go through multiple phases of treatment, beginning with a “history-taking” to discover which traumatic events need to be processed during therapy. They will receive techniques for managing emotional stress during and between sessions before moving on to targeting and processing specific memories. EMDR helps participants’ brains process, restore, and heal by replacing any negative beliefs or emotions with positive ones. As a result, victims of traumatic events can learn to associate feelings of strength and confidence rather than shame or guilt with a specific event.
EMDR speeds up the participant’s mind’s ability to process emotions and beliefs, totally transforming one’s thoughts and feelings about a traumatic event in a very short period of time. Studies show that this is a highly effective form of treatment for the emotional trauma that so often leads to drug and alcohol abuse. Some studies show that 84-90% of participants with a single traumatic event no longer suffered from PTSD after three 90-minute sessions of EMDR. Many participants with multiple traumatic events still saw successful outcomes with additional EMDR sessions.
How does EMDR help me overcome my addiction?
If your brain has not yet processed a painful event from your childhood, those memories are far more likely to trigger unhealthy symptoms, attitudes, and behaviors—including drug and alcohol abuse or addiction. EMDR is a highly effective way to teach your brain to heal itself of those disturbing physical and emotional responses that often lead to addiction.
All therapists at Hawaii Island Recovery are trained in EMDR. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and underwent a traumatic event in your childhood, it is possible to achieve sobriety and mental health. Please contact Hawaii Island Recovery today to learn how you can personally benefit from the proven method of EMDR therapy.