EMDR therapy and addiction

In clinical settings it is understood that a high number of individuals seeking substance abuse treatment have a trauma history in childhood, adulthood, or both. For many of them, this leads to long-term PTSD symptoms which reduce the quality of recovery and makeit difficult to have extended periods of abstinence. These symptoms include flashbacks, irritability, nightmares, heightened reactivity and vigilance, as well as a tendency to numb out. All of the aforementioned symptoms could negatively impact every aspect of life, from intellectual achievements to interpersonal relationships. Numerous clinicians view PTSD as a significant factor that influences addiction treatment outcomes. Developing more efficacious interventions for this condition is the key to improvement. PTSD symptoms make it difficult to get clean and sober and to have an enjoyable life without the use of alcohol or other drugs. Another thing clinicians have noted is that even subthreshold symptoms which do not meet PTSD criteria can still impactthe mastery of recovery tasks. Online EMDR can provide an effective treatment model for PTSD whether clients are in Melbourne or further out.

Systematic work is in progress to create treatments which can be utilised in any setting, and research plays a crucial role in this. For instance, a 2014 pilot study investigated the efficacy of EMDR therapy in chronically dependent individuals. The authors randomly assigned 12 participants with alcohol and/or drug dependency to either treatment as usual (TAU) or to TAU plus 8 EMDR sessions (TAU+EMDR). Measures of addiction symptoms, PTSD symptoms, alexithymia, anxiety, self-esteem, and depression were included in the study. The results showed that the participants in the TAU+EMDR group had a significant decrease in symptoms of PTSD, but not in addiction symptoms. EMDR therapy was also linked with a major diminution of depressive symptoms, while those receiving TAU showed no improvements in this area. The TAU+EMDR group also had significant changes in alexithymia and self-esteem post treatment. This study concludes that PTSD symptoms can be efficaciously treated in substance abuse patients by using standard EMDR protocol.

Similarly, a 2008 study also investigated the potential of EMDR in the treatment of alcohol dependency. In this case, EMDR therapy was used in chronically dependent participants to reprocess the addiction memory. 34 individuals with chronic alcohol dependency were randomly assigned to TAU or to TAU plus 2 EMDR sessions (TAU+EMDR). Pre treatment, post treatment, and 1 month after the treatment, the Obsessive–Compulsive Drinking Scale (OCDS) was used to measure the alcohol craving. The TAU+EMDR group showed a major decrease in craving both post treatment and 1 month after the treatment, while the TAU group did not. Findings indicated that EMDR could be an efficacious approach for treating addiction memory, as well as any other associated symptoms of craving.

A 2018 pilot study was conducted in Italy to assess the efficaciousness of a combined AF-EMDR and trauma-focused EMDR (TF-EMDR) intervention in treating stress-related and post traumatic symptoms of individuals with substance use disorder. 40 participants with different substance use disorders were included in the study. 20participants underwent TAU, while the other 20 were treated with TAU plus 24 weekly EMDR sessions. All individuals were evaluated for several psychological dimensions both before and after the intervention. The TAU+EMDR group showed a significant post traumatic and dissociative symptom improvement, along with a decrease in anxiety and overall levels of psychopathology. The TAU group only showed a significant reduction in post traumatic symptoms. While the results can only be regarded as preliminary, this study concludes that a combined TF- and AF- EMDR protocol could be an efficacious add-on treatment for individuals with substance abuse disorder.

However, not all studies that investigated the efficacy of EMDR in treating addiction focused on substance dependency. A study conducted in 2020 involved 8 individuals with gambling disorder who were provided Addiction-Focused Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (AF-EMDR) therapy. 6 weekly sessions of AF-EMDR during the treatment phase were preceded by a baseline phase involving3 to 7 weeks of non treatment. The participants kept a daily diary in both phases. An interrupted time series analysis along with visual inspection demonstrated mixed findings. Results indicated that two participants did not respond to treatment,3 experienced spontaneous recovery in the baseline period, while 3 others showed improvements in the EMDR phase. There were no adverse effects. To sum up, AF-EMDR therapy could be useful in the treatment of gambling addiction. Even so, more research is required regarding the focus, efficacy, application, andcontra-indications of this form of therapy.

While women are more likely to have a substance use disorder and comorbid PTSD, their unique needs have often been overlooked. In order to change this, a 2010 study explored the experiences of several women taking part in EMDR treatment during their addiction continuing care, as well as the impact EMDR had on them as individuals who are recovering from addiction. Overall, the participants showed positive results with EMDR therapy as part of the addiction continuing care. All 10 of the individuals who participated in the established recruitment process expressed positive emotion sregarding their EMDR treatment, and they all concluded that it was an essential component of their processes of addiction continuing-care. The EMDR therapy sessions were provided in a manner which sheltered their individual safety. The treatment program structure and the encouragement that the staff conveyed were crucial to the reinforcement of safety. A similar qualitative study which assesses negative cases is required for clinicians to obtain even more relevant insights regarding the situations in which the use of EMDR therapy can be inappropriate with a recovering addict.

EMDR provides much promise and significant challenges to the providers of addiction treatments and delivering online EMDR can help provide treatment to a wider range of clients. EMDR is a valuable trauma resolution tool, but it has to be integrated carefully into addiction treatment. Both individual and organisational safety structures must be in place in order to offer this opportunity under conditions that maximise the chances for success of vulnerable individuals. Efforts are being made to gain funding for controlled trials, and it is aspired that further research will clarify any questions regarding safety or efficacy, along with numerous clinical issues which arise as more clinicians use this method.

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