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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

June 18, 2024 (Originally Published)

June 18, 2024 (Last Updated)

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EMDR for addiction is a therapy often used in drug and alcohol rehab programs. It helps treat substance use disorder and is especially effective for healing psychological trauma.

What Is EMDR?

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a special type of therapy that helps treat traumatic memories. Unlike regular talk therapy, EMDR uses a unique method involving eye movements to help the brain heal.

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During EMDR, you talk about your memories while moving your eyes in a specific way. This process is similar to the eye movements you have during REM sleep. These eye movements can help your brain process and reduce the strong feelings linked to those memories.

The EMDR protocol for addiction involves 8 to 12 structured sessions. These sessions use a three-pronged approach that focuses on your past, present, and future related to traumatic events. By working through these memories, EMDR can help reduce the emotional pain and triggers that often come with substance use disorders.

Many treatment centers now offer EMDR to help people with both addiction and mental health issues. However, since EMDR requires special training, not all rehab centers have this service. If you think EMDR might help you or a loved one, ask if the program has trained EMDR professionals. 

How Does EMDR Help in Addiction Recovery?

EMDR can be very helpful for people recovering from addiction. Here’s how it works:

  • Healing past traumas: Many people with addiction have painful memories that make their addiction worse. EMDR helps heal these memories, making it easier to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
  • Reducing triggers: Certain places, people, or things can trigger cravings for drugs or alcohol. EMDR helps reduce the power of these triggers, so you don’t feel as strong a need to use substances.
  • Managing stress: Stress can lead to relapse. EMDR teaches you ways to handle stress better, which can help you stay on the path to recovery.
  • Improving self-esteem: Addiction can hurt your self-esteem. EMDR helps you feel better about yourself by processing and reducing the impact of negative memories.
  • Building new skills: Through EMDR, you learn new ways to cope with problems without turning to drugs or alcohol. This helps you build a healthier, substance-free life.

EMDR is a powerful tool in addiction recovery because it helps heal the emotional wounds that often lead to substance use. By addressing these issues, EMDR makes it easier to stay sober and build a better future.

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What Happens in an EMDR Therapy Session?

In an EMDR therapy session, several steps help you work through your memories and feelings. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Talking about your past: First, you and the therapist will discuss the memories or experiences that bother you. This helps the therapist understand what you need to work on.
  • Eye movement exercises: While you discuss these memories, the therapist will guide you through eye movement exercises. You might follow their finger or a light moving back and forth with your eyes. Sometimes, other movements or sounds are used instead.
  • Processing feelings: As you do these exercises, you might feel different about the memories. The therapist will help you understand and process these feelings.
  • Changing thoughts: The therapist will help you replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example, if you feel guilty about something, you’ll work on feeling more forgiving toward yourself.
  • Building coping skills: During the sessions, the therapist will teach you new ways to handle stress and problems. This helps you feel more in control and less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol.
  • Reviewing progress: At the end of the session, you and the therapist will discuss how you feel and what changes you notice. This helps plan the next steps in your therapy.

Each EMDR session is a step toward healing and feeling better. It helps you understand and change how you react to difficult memories, making it easier to stay sober.

How Do I Find Addiction Treatment With EMDR?

Here are some steps to help you find addiction treatment that includes EMDR:

  • Research treatment centers: Look for rehab centers that mention EMDR as part of their therapy options. Many treatment centers will have this information on their websites.
  • Check credentials: Ensure the treatment center employs licensed and certified EMDR therapists. Proper credentials mean the therapists have undergone the necessary training to provide effective EMDR therapy.
  • Read reviews and testimonials: Look for feedback from others who have undergone EMDR at the treatment center. Reviews and testimonials give you a sense of the quality of care and the effectiveness of the treatment.
  • Ask about EMDR programs: Contact the treatment centers directly and ask detailed questions about their EMDR programs. Ask how EMDR is integrated into the treatment plan and what to expect during the sessions.
  • Consider location and environment: Decide if you prefer a local treatment center or one further away. Sometimes, a change of scenery can be beneficial for recovery. Also, consider whether the center provides a comfortable and supportive environment.
  • Check insurance and costs: Determine if the treatment center accepts your insurance and what costs will be involved. Understanding the financial aspect is important to ensure you can sustain the treatment.
  • Look for comprehensive care: Effective treatment centers offer a range of therapies and support services. In addition to EMDR, ensure the center provides other types of counseling, group therapy, and aftercare support.
  • Verify aftercare programs: Successful addiction treatment often includes aftercare support to help maintain recovery. Check if the center offers follow-up care, support groups, or other resources to help you after the initial treatment.

If you or a loved one needs addiction treatment with EMDR, call our friendly recovery team today for 24/7 help at 866.330.9449.

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Get Addiction Treatment with EMDR at Renaissance Recovery

We offer EMDR therapy for addiction at Renaissance Recovery in California and Florida alongside other science-backed treatments.

If you need help detoxing from drugs or alcohol, we can put you in touch with detox centers near you. After about one week of detox, you can move into ongoing outpatient treatment. Keep up with home, work, or school while attending therapy at one of our rehabs by the beach.

All addictions are different, so all treatment programs at Renaissance are personalized. Access treatments such as:

To get help for addiction today, call our recovery experts at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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