The Benefits of Using Hypnotherapy in Addiction Treatment

hypnotherapist talking to female client laying down
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Hypnotherapy is an evidence-based treatment for addiction, which can also be used to treat a variety of other psychological difficulties. Hypnotherapy combines the psychological process of hypnosis with psychotherapy. Hypnotherapy is conducted by a trained therapist, typically a licensed psychologist, with a client who is informed about and understands and consents to the process.

Hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness, known as a trance state, which is deliberately induced by one person—the hypnotist or hypnotherapist—on another individual person or group of people—the hypnotic subject or subjects. The change in consciousness that occurs under hypnosis is more than just a feeling, it can actually be measured and observed on the EEG readings of the brains of hypnotic subjects. In the hypnotic state, the subject is more open to suggestion.

Self-hypnosis (or auto-hypnosis) is the practice of inducing hypnosis in oneself. The main distinction between guided hypnosis and self-hypnosis is simply that self-hypnosis requires an understanding of how to induce hypnosis in yourself.

What Hypnosis Feels Like During Hypnotherapy

In a trance state, a person becomes less aware of what is going on around them, while instead focusing deeply on some aspect of their inner experience. These inner experiences can involve their thoughts, their feelings, their memories, their imagination, and their sensations—especially sensations associated with relaxation.

There are three central aspects of the hypnotic trance. These are absorption, dissociation, and suggestibility.

Absorption is a kind of deep mental focus. The person who is being hypnotized becomes deeply absorbed and mentally involved in whatever they are perceiving, imagining or thinking about. They are concentrating very intently, in much the same way you might become absorbed in a book you are reading, or a movie you are watching.

The dissociative aspect of the hypnotic trance means that the person being hypnotized separates out the aspects of the hypnotic experience that they are focusing on from other potential distractions that they would normally be aware of at the same time, to an unusual degree. For example, the hypnotist might suggest that the person being hypnotized lift their arm.

The person being hypnotized is actually in control of what they are doing, despite the dissociative experience that it might seem that their arm was being controlled by some outside force unknown to them.

How Hypnotherapy Helps With Addiction

While in a hypnotic trance, the person being hypnotized, or hypnotic subject, is more open to suggestion by the hypnotist or hypnotherapist. They generally become more passive and compliant with suggestions as directed by the hypnotist or hypnotherapist. Under hypnosis, people can become more imaginative, more open to fantasy, and sometimes, more able to access long-forgotten memories, although these memories are not always reliable.

This relaxed and suggestible state can help people to get a different perspective on their addictive behaviors. What normally seems impossible—quitting a substance or behavior that is central to one's existence—can seem achievable and desirable.

Though everyone responds differently to hypnosis, some people undergoing hypnotherapy treatments may develop a capacity to breaking free from certain long-term behavior patterns in the waking state.

There are many myths about hypnosis and hypnotherapy, and many of them raise the issue of whether or not hypnosis is effective or safe. Yet hypnosis is considered safe when performed by a trained hypnotherapist, and even self-hypnosis is also regarded as safe.

Some studies have shown that hypnotherapy can help with addictions since hypnosis can allow certain people through the power of suggestion to strengthen their willpower in overcoming their addictive urges and cravings. The hypnotic state decreases a person's peripheral awareness, heightening attention and suggestibility to potentially effectively alter the neurophysiological networks capable of rewiring certain patterns and conditioning. This means a person's feelings and behaviors continue to be influenced even after they have come out of a hypnotic trance.

However, those who think that hypnosis is somehow magical, and will erase their addiction in a single session are likely to be disappointed. Hypnotherapy is is a tool to unlock human potential through the power of suggestion, and is not a magic formula.

Hypnotherapy Is Not an Instant Fix

Hypnosis can help people to address both their addictions and associated problems, but these issues are complex and challenging both for the client and for the therapist, and hypnotherapy does not work for everyone.

5 Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Jackson, R. Stress Control Through Self Hypnosis. London: Piatkus Books. 1993.

  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Mind and Body Approaches for Substance Use Disorders: What the Science Says.

  • Pekalal, R., Kumar, V.K., Maurer, R., Elliot-Carter, N., Moon, E., Mullen, K. Suggestibility, Expectancy, Trance State Effects, and Hypnotic Depth: I. Implications for Understanding Hypnotism, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 52:4, 2010.

  • Posadzki, P., Khalil, M., AlBedah, A., Zhabenko, O., & Car, J. Complementary and alternative medicine for addiction: An overview of systematic reviews. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 21:69–81. 2016.
  • Waterfield, R. Hidden Depths: The Story of Hypnosis. London: Macmillan. 2002.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.