Hypnosis for addiction recovery treatment – what is it?

Hypnosis has been on the fringe of psychology and mental health treatment for centuries. Seen as a pseudo-science by the medical establishment, hypnosis has been gaining evidence-based ground recently. But can suggestions made during a hypnotic state really release old patterns of thinking? Can hypnosis transform our fears and break our addictive tendencies? Is hypnosis a verifiable science or an art?

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Hypnosis is defined as a trance-like state of mind.  Trance is a natural state and occurs in everyday life.  Like when you get absorbed into reading a good book, zoned out when you’re driving, or stare blankly at a television screen.  The hypnotic trance, however, differs from everyday trance activity in that it is an intentional shift into an altered state of awareness, into a state of highly concentrated attention and absorption.

During a hypnosis session, a person is open to extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination.   This is why the suggestions of a hypnotist (or your own ideas) can be considered as real.  In fact, studies of hypnosis have demonstrated that major changes in thinking patterns and behavior can be accomplished purely by the psychological technique of suggestion.  The end goal is that the patient follows suggestions to achieve an alternative way of experiencing the suggested focal point of attention.  For addicts, this means observing or reacting to compulsive thoughts in a new light … and gaining mastery over them.

This is great news for addicts looking to master an addiction.  Given that addiction is at base a physical illness with mind-body interactions, hypnotherapy seems a natural fit to re-programming both the mind and the body.  Psychiatrists theorize that the deep relaxation and focusing exercises of hypnotism relax the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process, allowing you to access the deeper subconscious, which controls automatic behaviors and processes the physical information your body receives.

I look at it this way: HYPNOSIS is a crash course in setting strong intentions.

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I think hypnosis is a great option for addicts and speak from experience about the receptivity of a truly relaxed mind.  Hypnosis has helped me investigate the roots of stress and anxiety, and to begin to experience freedom.  For all addicts, treatment plans are flexible can vary from groups to individuals, and results are trackable.  Again, as with other modalities, it is not the end-all-be-all of treatment modalities, but hypnosis can complement ANY treatment plan.  Relaxing the mind can get to the heart of unhealthy thoughts and beliefs…and we can begin to re-program our habits by replacing our thoughts.

But it’s not all advantage.  The major issue for me is TRUST.  Trust is implicit to this process.  You’ve got to trust the person you’re following to ensure that your subconscious reinforces positive messages.  But how to know which hypnotherapists you can trust?  Additionally, I see potential problems for people who are not open-minded.  I think that hypnotherapy will only work for those who can suspend disbelief and allow the process to happen.

What do you think?  Given these basic precepts of hypnosis, do you think that addicts can benefit from hypnosis?  How open minded should addicts be?  Is hypnosis a hoax?  Are there particular risks for addicts that would make this therapy unhealthy?

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Something makes you choose the drug, or the drink, or whatever else you are using to escape. You can have therapy all day but if you do not reprogram your subconscious it will take you back to whatever negative programming is driving you toward the addictive behavior. Hypnotherapy helps you reprogram the subconscious but you have to be open to it and want to change. I had success with hurtful things in my past that I could not let go of (this lead to some drinking and alot of anger). No matter how much normal therapy I went through when I got mad or upset my subconscious programming would kick in and all those painful memories would overtake me. I was literally amazed that after 20 years of dealing with this hypnotherapy changed it quickly. I still get mad sometimes, but the old thoughts and painful memories do not pop into my mind to make the situation worse; I am able to stay in the present and not let the garbage of the past reside in my subconscious and invade my conscious state. Hypnotherapy is definitely worth trying because it is very difficult for conventional therapy to reach your subconscious (if not impossible).

    1. Hi Dan. Thank you for the insight. You shared an informative and interesting point of view that I am sure many will find useful.

  2. Hiya-I don’t know if anyone can shed any light on this question-I hope so. I’m a substance misuse worker (employed) and a drug awareness trainer (self-employed). My role as SMW involves working in a multi-agency building where various “brands” of substance remedies are expressed-harm reduction, 12-step, criminal justice etc but at no time have I heard of hypnosis being applied to opiate addiction. My colleague is a self-employed hypnotherapist and frequently works with addictions, however, in addition to smoking cessation, he tends to only deal in cocaine use. This seems to mirror most hypnotherapy options I am aware of. It would be too simplistic to suggest that opiate users would not be able to provide the required fees (as opposed to the stereotypical “well off” cocaine users). Neither am I aware of councils buying into hypnotherapy whilst they will often finance (as they do in my building) auricular acupuncture (including “black box” options) and other complementary therapies. I am aware that there is conflicting evidence around the validity of these therapies. Why is this situation so? Is opiate use too “strong” an addiction? Is it because of the physical elements of opiate/opioid withdrawal? can anyone enlighten me? Thanks in advance.

  3. Thanks, some great information there. Beating an addiction is never easy and going through rehab treatment can be a difficult experience for any person. Hypnosis can help addicts relax and be more receptive to the message of recovery.

  4. It seems that hypnosis is a little like being high on drugs. Addicts are often in a trance state of mind when they are high and unaware of whats happening in present time unable to track with whats going on in the world around them. How can hypnosis be considered to help an addict recover from addiction when they are actually losing memories?

  5. Here Here! I strongly, very strongly believe in hypnotherapy as a tool in early recovery to get the ball Rolling. I was suffering from depression and anxiety in my early teens. My doctor had recomended “relaxation techniques” as an alternative to the barbituates he had prescribed me at the git-go. Anyway, being an avid reader at that time(Heinlein, Azimov, Dr who) I was very fortunate to find an old rag on auto hypnosis at the local library. Within a week I was hypnotizing myself, my friends, and anything else with a brain. And I was GOOD. The anxiety and depression were gone, my grades had improved, and then I found drugs.
    To make a long story short, after growing up stoned, then going through half a decade of cocaine addiction, I decided I was going to get clean. It took another five years of trying. A lot of things have to happen before you can make that leap. When I finaly figured out I was going to have to work a daily program of recovery, I decided to use everything I had to push myself toward accomplishing that. I actualy remember lying on that couch four years ago, relaxing my body from the feet up. Visualising that pasture full of herfordshire calves, with the little outhouse in the middle. Idylic puffs of coton in a vast blue sea of comfort overhead.I opened the door looking down the stairs into that powerfull blackness that was and is the enormity of my existence, infinitely powerfull ,in connection with all of this world and all worlds. I stepped through.
    Going down flight after flight of stairs. It was the deepest I had ever gone. To the very center. To that scared little boy. I was not alone. We told him what he needed to do. He hasn’t stopped.
    Thank you for taking me back there, and letting me share.

  6. Sounds nice….But…The evidence of empirical, clinically controlled outcomes for hypnosis being effective as a means of addiction treatment is sketchy, not conclusive.

    One of the mysteries of addiction treatment is that there is no clear winner of what constitutes THE most effective therapy.Several approaches have been shown effective, but, In fact,most studies show very little differences between these clinical approaches.

    I am willing to remain objective until hypnosis is clinically proven in controlled experimennts to be at least as effective as those therapies that have already been studied and proven effective. In this case the jury is still out, I’ll stick with what works.

    Addiction Therapist, MA, Caap-11

  7. Most of what you say here is very accurate. Hypnosis is simple, affordable, safe, and powerful. It does work for addictions. I am an RN certified hypnotherapist and I love what I do.

    Now, about addictions:

    In response to uncomfortable emotions, we take some action. We could manage the emotion directly, but we often don’t. Instead, we use a “distractor”. This is an action or behavior that makes us feel better temporarily. It could be eating, smoking, drinking, exercising, cleaning house. It may be something healthy, but the problem is, it doesn’t get to the root cause. We need to address the underlying issue, not the symptom.

    Hypnosis and hypnotherapy do this in a simple and effective way. We can learn to respond in a different way to stress and also remove some of the painful “Old Stuff”.

    In my experience, people don’t need to “believe” in hypnosis for it to work. (Do you need to believe in or understand how a computer works to benefit from it?) They have to want change to happen. I say this because many people have come to me as a last resort. I can’t tell you how many have tole me after the fact “You know I really didn’t think this could work”. One guy even paid me for 2 sessions telling me he knew it wouldn’t work in one session, if it worked at all. The change he wanted was accomplished in one session.

    Hypnosis was approved by the American Medical Association in 1958 – FIFTY Years ago. It’s time we availed ourselves more often of it’s huge potential for healing and wellness.

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