Can Hypnosis Help You Overcome a Drug Addiction?
Recovering from addiction is a lifelong process. Success is greatly dependent on changing attitudes and habits and maintaining those changes indefinitely. While motivation for change is often high early in the recovery process, how does one sustain the level of commitment and discipline that is necessary to make positive lifestyle changes last a lifetime?
Since habits – which are essentially the mechanism that govern lifestyle choices – are key, why not go directly to the part of our psyche where habits are formed and maintained in order to positively influence them – the subconscious part of our minds? Hypnotherapy, a psychological treatment method that directly accesses and “communicates” with the subconscious part of the mind, can often be more successful than conscious “talk” therapy in creating, changing or maintaining habits.
Hypnosis is a mental state involving highly focused attention and relaxation, which leads to increased suggestibility to ideas that are introduced to the mind during this state. Hypnotherapy refers to the use of hypnosis for behavioral and mental health purposes.
Suggestions made while a person is under hypnosis are often more easily accepted and more positively responded to than are directly stated conscious suggestions. While the conscious mind may exhibit resistance (Do I really want to give up my drug of choice?) or make use of denial or minimization (My drug use isn’t all that bad.), when you bypass the conscious mind and go directly into the subconscious where memories and habits are stored, you can “slip in” ideas that otherwise might be pushed aside and resisted.
Having said that, people under hypnosis are not under the control of their hypnotist. Our inner minds have an innate protective barrier that keeps the subconscious from accepting ideas that would normally be highly objectionable to us. In addition, there is variability in people’s acceptance of hypnotic suggestions. Generally, the more the conscious mind also wants to go along with the suggestion, the more likely the subconscious is to imprint it into memory and habit. You might think of hypnotic suggestions as reinforcement tools for your conscience, or moral fortitude, because they gently relay messages of positive intent from your subconscious to your conscious mind whenever you need to bolster your determination and commitment to your goal.
Research on the Use of Hypnosis for Substance Abuse Treatment
There is scientific evidence supporting the use of clinical hypnotherapy for substance abuse treatment. A study involving methadone addiction (American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 1984) found that subjects who received hypnotherapy as part of their treatment had significantly greater success in cessation of drug use.
At six-month follow up, 94% remained narcotic free. Another study (2004) reported a 77% success rate at one-year follow up in a treatment program for multiple types of addiction (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine). It was also found that the use of hypnotherapy was effective in reducing impulsivity and anger and increasing self-esteem in participants.
A meta-study reviewing the success of hypnosis in weight-loss treatment (1996; Journal of Clinical Psychology) found that study participants using hypnosis achieved almost twice the amount of weight loss as those not using hypnosis, and that the benefits of the hypnosis increased over time.
How Can Hypnotherapy Help During Recovery?
Hypnotherapy can positively affect one’s attitude and habits around drug use. Hypnotic suggestions can foster:
- Increase ego-strength and self-esteem: By suggesting to the subconscious mind ideas that foster one’s belief in their own strengths (you are innately capable) and abilities (you manage life situations with confidence and ease), hypnosis can bolster and if necessary, counteract, consciously-held perceptions one has of him or herself.
- Provide assistance in managing cravings: Hypnotic suggestions can “interrupt” problematic conditioned patterns (cravings), and divert attention to alternative conditioned responses. (Whenever you feel the craving for _________…insert drug of choice…. you will _______________…insert substitute action…. and feel extremely satisfied and relaxed.)
For example: Whenever you feel the craving for a cigarette, you will place a mint in your mouth and feel extremely satisfied and relaxed. Such substitutions allow enough detachment from a habit that one can gain control over it, instead of feeling helplessly dominated by it.
Hypnotherapy Methods Used in Substance Abuse Treatment
So how exactly does hypnosis work in the treatment of substance use? Below are some of the main types of hypnotherapy tools used in all types of addiction treatment.
- Direct Suggestion Method: Direct suggestion, as it implies, means that the hypnotist/therapist makes specific, direct statements to the client, such as the substitution suggestions mentioned above. This method works well when the client feels confident in the integrity and skill of the hypnotist and has a high trust level regarding their ability to help. Direct suggestions, when easily accepted by the subconscious mind, are very effective because they offer straightforward, clear instructions regarding the changes to be made.
- Anchors: Anchoring is the term used to describe pairing a hypnotic suggestion to a feeling state. An example is the pairing of a feeling of satisfaction and relaxation to the action of eating a mint, in the craving-reduction example above.
- Metaphorical Messages: A less direct method of imprinting the subconscious with ideas for change, but one that often works better for skeptics or those who like to feel fully in control, is the use of metaphors, rather than direct suggestions. Metaphors are words or phrases that imply meaning, usually in a more engaging way. Metaphors, cousins to similes (that state something is like something else), state that something is something that it is really not – as a way to make a colorful comparison. For example: He/she is the black sheep of the family; Love is a highway. Metaphors used in hypnotherapy are often embedded into a story to make them more easily accepted. In one methadone treatment program, participants used metaphors to reprogram their attitudes about methadone, a drug-substitution product that itself can be addictive. Imagery in stories first described methadone as” liquid handcuffs” (to acknowledge the addicts’ concerns) but later this image was changed, and participants were told to visualize methadone as “a safety net” or a “security blanket”, with the expectation that the need for such security would eventually become unnecessary.
- Cognitive Reframes: In both hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, reframes are essentially “spins” we put on communications to view them in a more helpful light. For example, a suggestion might be made to replace one’s view of holidays and celebrations as opportunities to increase positive relationships with friends and family, rather than as excuses for freewheeling drinking episodes.
Hypnotherapy, while not a magic bullet, can offer a welcome assist to one’s conscious determination and commitment to recovery goals. It may be worth checking out. To find a qualified clinical hypnotherapy provider, go to the website of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
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