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Trauma Informed Treatment For Addiction

Years of research and studies show an undeniable correlation between trauma and addiction. Many individuals who have been subjected to trauma or traumatic experiences in their childhood turn to substances as a coping mechanism when they become adults. Individuals who have been through physical, sexual or psychological abuse when they were children do not have the skills to process their experiences. Even events such as natural disasters, a difficult parental divorce, or becoming immigrants in another country which may not appear to be traumatic incidents, but because they can significantly impact their previous identities of self, they will need to integrate their traumatic past and rebuild a new self.

Trauma Informed Modalities for Addiction Treatment

With the recent attention on the connection between trauma and addiction, several trauma informed care (TIC) options are being developed in order to address the specific impacts of people showing PTSD or trauma related symptoms.

Some of the popular TIC treatments include :

  • EMDR
  • Brainspotting
  • Somatic Experiencing

Here at Buckeye Recovery Network, we have found EMDR to be extraordinarily effective on people who experience even significant traumatic injuries by helping them to free themselves of the association of those incidents, so the rest of this article focuses on how EMDR treatment can help provide trauma informed care.

EMDR 101

EMDR is short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing which uses a simple process of bilateral stimulation. By using this body-based process, EMDR bypasses the part of the brain (the amygdala) where trauma gets stuck and allows the individual to activate the prefrontal cortex again so they can think properly and process what is going on around them in a calmer frame of mind. This allows the individual to reprocess their trauma but without experiencing the impacts of the trauma.

Therapists use bilateral stimulation in several ways, and EMDR is one of them. In the EMDR process, eye movements are made to follow a finger or a pointer back and forth in order to recreate the process that happens during REM sleep. Sleeping and dreaming allows reprocessing all the events that happened during the day, which is a similar process that happens during EMDR.

Another methodology of EMDR uses two tappers that clients hold and they buzz left and then buzz right, in a continuous process, which activates stimulation. So as the bilateral stimulation is going the client reprocesses the memory. Whether the clients have their eyes closed or open, whether they are talking or not talking, they are still reprocessing their traumatic memory during the entire time. Each time they reprocess their memory it loses some of its effect, so that their body no longer has the same reactions to the event even though they still remember the incident. One example is PTSD patients who have nightmares, flashbacks and dysregulated emotions arising from their past traumatic incidents slowly overcome them and may completely free themselves of them, after reprocessing the traumatic events through EMDR.

Who Can Benefit From EMDR Treatment?

Traumas can be broadly classified into Big Ts and Little Ts. Big Traumas are typically single-time occurrences of significantly traumatic events. Little Traumas are typically repeated occurrences of smaller traumatic incidents. Repeated exposure to Little Ts can have the same impact as a Big T. Therefore, there is an entire range of people who EMDR can be beneficial for. It includes people who have or have been:

  • Diagnosed with PTSD
  • Experienced or witnessed physical assault
  • Experienced or exposed to domestic violence, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse
  • Witnessed crimes or been a part of crimes, first responders
  • Exposed to death, loss, grief
  • Experienced Bullying at school or work

Essentially any time a person’s body enters an altered state of consciousness where things are not processed by their brain, EMDR can work to alleviate some of that pain.

When To Start EMDR Treatment in Recovery?

Although each individual responds differently to treatment, there are risks to starting EMDR treatment too soon in recovery. Here are some guidelines.

  • Someone who has just completed detox and does not yet have the skills to maintain sobriety may not be ready to address their trauma and its impact.
  • Trauma reprocessing can create intense pain in the short term, and the individual must have the ability to self-regulate when distressing memories arise.
  • Trust and rapport must be established between the therapist and the patient before addressing traumatic memories.
  • EMDR is not recommended for victims of crimes such as sexual abuse or physical assault who are in the midst of a court case because it may alter their perspective of the incident, and should wait until after the court case is completed.
  • EMDR is also not recommended for pregnant women because it can be distressing for the baby to experience its mother’s trauma, so it should be postponed until after the birth of the baby.

Get Help Now

If you are suffering from addiction as well as trauma, you know that unresolved and unprocessed trauma continues to make the future look like the past. If you want to free yourself from the chains of the past, then looking at the appropriate time with the appropriate provider and the appropriate clinician to address trauma is something that is necessary for long-term success in the recovery world.

When you’re ready to start your recovery reach out to us at

Today is going to be the best day of your life.

Kelsey Gearhart

Director of Business Development

Kelsey carries multiple years of experience working in the substance abuse and mental health treatment field. Her passion for this field comes from her personally knowing recovery from addiction.

Prior to Buckeye she held titles of Recovery Coach, Operations Director, and Admissions Director. Kelsey was brought on at Buckeye Recovery as the Director of Business Development. She has a passion for ensuring every individual gets the help that they need, and does so by developing relationships with other providers.

Kelsey also oversees our women’s sober living environments – The Chadwick House for Women. She is committed to creating a safe, nurturing, and conducive environment for all women that walk through the doors of Chadwick.