Can Hypnosis Help with Addiction?

Posted under Alternative Therapy on June 11, 2009
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As researchers search for a cure for addiction, it’s tempting to look for a quick fix in the meantime. You may already have suffered through countless bouts of binge drinking, or a downward spiral caused by addiction to street drugs or prescription drugs. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just get hypnotized to stop your addiction? If hypnosis can help someone stop smoking, why not help someone quit alcohol and drugs?

If only it were true.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to how much help hypnosis can provide to individuals genuinely trying to overcome their addiction to alcohol and/or drugs.

The good news is that hypnosis may help temporarily overcome some destructive behaviors. The bad news is that it doesn’t get at the underlying physical and/or psychological causes that drive the addict to use.

What Is Addiction?

In the case of alcohol and drug addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the essence of addiction is “uncontrollable, compulsive drug-seeking and use even in the face of negative health and social consequences.”

Addiction has both physical and psychological roots. It is an illness, and addicts have usually experienced several failed attempts or relapses trying to overcome their addictions. Their hurt is always equated with rejection and depression. They resist change, because to them, it’s better to assuage the hurt with something they believe they can control – such as drinking and doing drugs – than to try to overcome the addiction.

Why Do Addictions Occur?

Addictions occur for three main reasons.

  • The individual uses the alcohol or drug to relieve pain and stress, whether that may be emotional and or physical.
  • By drinking or doing drugs, the individual obtains instant gratification – an immediate high which, in itself, becomes a psychological craving for more.
  • Repetition of the behavior (drinking, doing drugs) moves the person into addiction through classical conditioning response. The addict sees people he or she associates with drinking or doing drugs, or goes to a certain location where this activity occurs. It could even be a certain time of day (“happy hour”), or a sound of glasses tinkling. When the addict drinks and uses drugs, this conditions them to do it again.

Underlying Causes of Addiction

According to experts in the field of psychology, underlying pre-cursors to addiction include low self-esteem. This may include repeated rejection, abuse, child abuse, neglect, and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. Such harsh and destructive experiences lead addicts to seek refuge in alcohol and drugs. In effect, they’re compensating and masking deeper personal underlying causes that may have occurred long ago and have been repressed.

What Hypnosis Can Do?

Hypnosis can give some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion to create a distraction or diversion when the addict feels compelled to engage in his or her addiction. But hypnosis cannot get at the underlying causes of the addiction.

Some of the behavioral triggers (emotional/psychological) can be helped through hypnosis. But digging deeper into personality problems during hypnosis veers past true hypnosis into regression hypnosis. Experts recommend that the addict may be better off with long-term therapy or counseling.

Hypnosis can help the addict relax and be more receptive to the message of recovery. Along with other alternative treatments, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), individual and group counseling, hypnosis can give the addict better tools with which to combat addiction.

As the NIDA counsels, addiction can be treated behaviorally and, in some cases, with medications. But it is not simple. While a range of effective addiction treatments exist, they are not enough. The NIDA continues to invest in research, to improve existing treatments, and develop new approaches to help addicted individuals deal with their compulsions.

Bottom line: hypnosis is a very good therapy. But it is not the best for treating addictions – at least, not by itself.