Many people who struggle with mental health challenges use drugs and alcohol to control their symptoms. For those suffering from PTSD, the memories around a terrifying event can be so extreme that the brain and body return to a state of terror or horror. Survivors of severe physical trauma, assault and war can suffer from PTSD and many try to control it by medicating themselves because they are unaware of other therapies. EMDR is one of those therapies. Is EMDR therapy right for you?
EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. During an EMDR session, you will be guided back to one of the memories that triggers a PTSD reaction. During that memory, you will bee asked to divert your visual focus by movements of the therapists hands. Some therapists use tapping of the fingers or toes, as well as musical tones to help you break the pattern that your brain and eyes fall into during a panic attack.
Serotonin is Key
There are drugs that can also help to manage PTSD and severe anxiety. These drugs lower feelings of unhappiness by boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can
- stabilize your mood
- boost your feeling of well-being
- improve your memory
When your brain is fighting off panic and anxiety, your serotonin levels will drop. In addition to prescription drugs that increase serotonin levels, legal drugs such as alcohol can increase serotonin production, as can illegal drugs like cocaine. The problem with these illegal drugs as a treatment for PTSD and severe anxiety is that the dosage has to change to get the best effect. You may find that one glass of wine at the end of the day soothes worrying thoughts or lowers the risk of a nightmare. Eventually, you will need two glasses of wine or something harder to gain the best effect.
Over time, this form of self-medicating can damage relationships and raise your anxiety level. It can damage your liver and limit your life, which can increase feelings of despair. The positive short-term benefits of alcohol will eventually fall apart, leaving you with no coping skills to address the original problem as well as an addiction that is harming your body, brain and spirit.
One of the biggest benefits of EMDR is that it is gentler to the spirit than prolonged exposure therapy. During prolonged exposure therapy, the survivor is exposed to the traumatic event with new tools, such as breathing retraining and refocusing. The survivor learns to disconnect from the intensity of the experience and treat it as a memory.
If you’re struggling with severe anxiety or chronic PTSD, prolonged exposure therapy may call for more resources than you feel you have. While this therapy is the gold standard, many PTSD survivors find that EMDR is less intense and they have less dread around the therapy sessions themselves. It can be easier to go home after EMDR, relax, and sleep.
It’s important to note that a PTSD episode is not just a memory. While you may be aware that you have moved forward in time, your brain and body experience the same duress you were under during the event that triggers your most severe PTSD episodes. EMDR can help to unravel the threads that tie you to that event by slowly lowering your sensitization to that place, time and experience.
PTSD and severe anxiety sufferers who are self-medicating may not be able to face giving up the alcohol or illegal drugs that are, to at least some extent, serving a need. Without effective treatment for the underlying condition, you may not be able to face or even tolerate the stress of detox and rehab. If you are facing the damage caused by addiction in your life and unable to move forward because traumatic events in your past increase your need for drugs and alcohol, EMDR therapy may be an excellent first step in addressing your mental health concerns.
Because EMDR requires no medication, it can be an ideal therapy choice as you undergo rehab. Starting EMDR before you go through detox may make it possible to lower the uncomfortable symptoms of detox, such as nausea, by boosting your natural serotonin production. Healing is possible. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call 833-820-2922.