Does Hypnosis Work for Drug Addiction?

Categories: Addiction News, Articles, Parent Resources
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Hypnosis or hypnotherapy is the process of using relaxation techniques to induce suggestions on the mind, which then affect the conscious mind, which is thought to be effective in treating substance use disorders related to behavioral problems. While often a subject of contention in medical circles, hypnosis is a commonly sought out treatment for drug addiction, with patients and their families relying on professional and non-professional hypnotics to relieve damaging behavior patterns related to drug abuse.

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, hypnosis can seem like a relatively easy treatment solution to help work around compulsive drug use symptoms. However, there is a lot you should know about hypnosis and its effects on the mind and drug addiction before relying on it as your only solution.

What is Hypnosis?

Most people have an idea of hypnosis as a magic trick, where someone is hypnotized using a focus such as a spinning pendulum to focus attention and lull the patient into a trance-like state, after which they become incredibly susceptible to suggestion. While the reality is much less extreme and often involves a long series of relaxation techniques, hypnosis does allow a hypnotherapist to bring the patient into a state where they feel awake but completely relaxed. This is a state of disassociation, where the unconscious mind comes forward and the person often isn’t entirely aware of what they are doing or what is real. This process is similar to that experienced by meditation, some hallucinogens, and other drugs, which are used to increase suggestiveness in patients (for example, LSD was used by the CIA to induce suggestiveness).

About 15% of the population is very easily hypnotized where about 25% of patients cannot be hypnotized at all.

Once under hypnosis, a trained hypnotherapist works to implant a suggestion, typically a new behavior. Here, repulsion from your drug of choice is a common tactic, where the hypnotherapist works to create a feeling of loathing or disgust whenever that drug is mentioned or present.

What is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy combines hypnosis with traditional psychology and behavioral therapy, typically with the intent of using hypnosis as a short-term fix and behavioral therapy as a long-term solution. Here, a registered psychologist or therapist performs the hypnosis and supports that hypnosis with treatment. The therapist may use the hypnotized state to try to access memories and trauma which might be underlying the addiction or to implant suggestions to change their perspective on drugs or their own behaviors.

Does Hypnosis Cure Drug Addiction?

While hypnosis is widely used to treat drug addiction in the United States, it is not a cure. No one will go to one session and walk away recovered. Some studies show that hypnosis can help a therapist or psychologist to connect with the patient, to implant suggestions which can help patients avoid drug use and abuse, and to learn more about underlying problems, but it’s not a cure.  Instead, hypnosis is one in a range of tools that could be useful in treating drug addiction. It’s a complement to traditional treatment, not a replacement for it.

For example, if someone is given a suggestion while under hypnosis, they still have to follow through with it and do it. Most hypnotherapists suggest that hypnosis will only work for those who are open to change and ready to implement it but only need an additional suggestion to keep moving.

Because substance abuse including drug abuse is primarily a behavioral problem rather than purely a physical addiction, complementary treatment solutions like hypnotherapy can be valuable supplements to traditional behavioral therapy. In one study, ten heroin addicts were treated using hypnosis, with 90% of patients completing treatment and 78% remaining clean after 2 years. While the extremely small size of the study is notable, it does suggest that hypnosis may be a valuable complementary therapy to traditional therapy.

Most hypnotherapists use hypnosis with the intent of:

  • Alleviating the severity of withdrawal symptoms through suggestion
  • Creating suggestions of repulsion or aversion to undesirable behaviors such as drug use
  • Developing deeper and meaningful conversations with patients without the impingement of the conscious mind

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Should Hypnosis Be Used as Part of Drug Addiction Treatment?

While it’s understood that hypnosis isn’t a permanent cure for drug addiction, and even suggestions don’t last in the brain, it isn’t worthless as an addiction treatment tool. Suggestions made under hypnosis can temporarily convince the hypnotized patient of ideas or concepts, such as that needles are terrifying, their drug of choice is repulsive, they will feel nauseous when they use, and so on. These suggestions in the unconscious mind can manifest in real and very physical reactions to substances and substance use, possibly preventing short-term relapse or drug use during outpatient care.

However, there are numerous problems with using hypnosis as a treatment therapy, the most concerning of which is that there are no set standards for what it means to be in a hypnotic trance, no defining medical body creating guidelines for safety and privacy, and only a 6-8 week training available for most practitioners. These standards are far different from the strict and lengthy training undertaken to learn hypnotherapy. This is in stark contrast to behavioral therapists and psychologists, who devote years to learning about the human mind and how it works in combination with the body. While some psychologists and behavioral therapists also practice hypnosis, most do not and most will have very limited training on what hypnosis is and how it works.

So, while hypnotic suggestion could be useful in helping individuals to steer clear of drugs or substances temporarily and could be useful in behavioral therapy by helping individuals to get to the root of their underlying problems and could potentially be used to complement existing therapy solutions, it isn’t necessarily recommended as part of addiction treatment and certainly not as a replacement for full addiction therapy.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug addiction, hypnosis may seem like an easy way to fight cravings and get your life back. However, there is no replacement for traditional addiction treatment with behavioral therapy, addiction treatment with hypnosis will still be a long uphill battle, and you can typically get treatment with withdrawal symptom reduction through medically supported detox rather than through hypnosis, but with the benefit of a controlled medical environment. Seeking out traditional treatment, attending detox, and going to counseling, therapy, and group therapy is the best and most proven way to treat addiction. In addition, the largest barrier to recovery for most people suffering from drug addiction is that as many as 80% don’t receive evidence-based care (behavioral therapy, counseling) but rather seek out quick and short-term fixes. Any true recovery will involve months and even years of ongoing therapy and support and it will be an uphill battle.

While getting help and going into detox is the first step, hypnosis isn’t a proven or valued way to recover on its own unless you support it with ongoing evidence-based care. Going to an evidence-based recovery center, with either outpatient or inpatient care, receiving medically supported detox when necessary, and then following an evidence-based program complete with group therapy and counseling from qualified (licensed and highly educated) staff is a much better long-term solution to drug addiction.

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, and you have questions about hypnosis or other aspects of treatment, we can help. For more information please contact us today and we can talk about treatment options that will fit your needs. The Anaheim Lighthouse is a modern and effective drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Southern California.

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