EMDR to treat substance abuse and addiction


The comorbidity of PTSD and substance abuse provides sufficient reason for treating patients, who are addicted, with EMDR while focusing on the PTSD diagnosis. However, there are several pathways leading to addiction, and PTSD is only one of them. Thirty years of addiction research have provided sufficient evidence for the crucial role of memory in drug dependency. The Addiction Memory (AM) serves as a useful concept for "obsessive-compulsive craving" to be seen in drug addicted patients. The concept of an AM, and its importance in relapse occurrence and maintenance of learned addictive behaviour, has gained growing acceptance in the field of addiction research and treatment. The AM is interpreted as an individual-acquired memory following drug consumption in some individuals. The addiction memory is based on normal memory systems and systems of central nervous information processing. This neurobiological-based, imprinted, addictive behaviour seems to resist change under normal circumstances. The implicit nature of the addiction memory seems to qualify it as a target for EMDR treatment.

In a pilot-study group, 34 patients with chronic alcohol dependency in in-patient treatment for detoxification were randomly assigned to one of two treatment conditions: treatment as usual (TAU) or TAU+EMDR. In the TAU+EMDR group, patients received two sessions of EMDR focussing on memories of intense craving or relapse in order to activate and reprocess the addiction memory. The craving for alcohol was measured by the Obsessive-Compulsive-Drinking-Scale (OCDS) pre, post, and 1 month after treatment. The TAU+EMDR group showed a significant reduction in craving post-treatment and 1 month after treatment whereas TAU did not. The TAU+EMDR group showed lower relapse rates at the six-month follow-up. The results indicate that EMDR might be a useful approach for the treatment of addiction memory and associated symptoms of craving (Hase et al. 2008). Anecdotal reports show results with opiate and stimulant addicted patients.

This Workshop will address the EMDR treatment of comorbid PTSD and focuses on the application of EMDR as an adjunct in addiction treatment. Targets for a comprehensive EMDR treatment plan will be explained. A video demonstration, self-experience and discussion of cases shall contribute to learning.

REFERENCES Boening, J. A. (2001). Neurobiology of an addiction memory. J Neural Transm 108(6): 755-65.

Hase, M., Schallmayer, S. and Sack, M (2008). "EMDR reprocessing of the addiction memory: Pre-treatment, post-treatment, and 1-month follow-up" J EMDR 2 (3), 170-179.






Michael Hase

Original Work Citation

Hase, M. (2010, June). EMDR to treat substance abuse and addiction. Preconference presentation at the 11th EMDR Europe Association Conference, Hamburg, Germany



“EMDR to treat substance abuse and addiction,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 23, 2021, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/19548.

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