Hypnotherapy For Substance Abuse

Last Edited: September 30, 2020

Patricia Howard, LMFT, CADC

Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

What is Hypnotherapy and How Does it Work?

Hypnotherapy is a series of sessions with a highly qualified professional who puts the recovering addict into a trance-like state of mind. This trance is necessary as it calms the person and puts them into a state where they are more open to ideas and positive suggestions. The positive suggestions the professional makes are about sobriety, concurring their addictive behavior, and strategies for curbing intense cravings.

Hypnotherapy must be paired with other treatment modalities as this series of positive reinforcement only works if the addict is dedicated and motivated to kick their addiction and stay clean. Sessions of hypnotherapy can begin when the addict has overcome the detox process and has learned healthy coping mechanisms for their cravings.

This type of treatment does not change a recovering addicts mind about getting clean nor does it give the person a new outlook on life or sobriety. This treatment tends to use positive suggests to focus the mind on the drive to get sober by using the recovering addicts passion and ambition for getting back their life.

Hypnotherapy as a treatment for alcohol abuse has been used with 18 clients over the last 7 years and has shown a 77 percent success rate for at least a 1-year follow-up.

Effectiveness of Hypnotherapy

The hypnosis you may have witnessed on television or at a show is not the same hypnosis that you would receive from a qualified hypnotherapist. There is no word that can be uttered that will bring you in and out of a hypnotic trance. Someone cannot make you preform and action that you didn’t want to do in the first place.

It is also important when considering this treatment option for your recovery that this method is not a cure-all for your addiction nor can it make you make the decision to not use when they temptation is there. The positive suggestions given during each session, around 20 sessions, fortifies your will to remain clean, focuses the mind on the opportunities that arise during your new found sobriety, and decreases the anxiety one may feel around others who are drinking or doing drugs.

In fact, this type of treatment has been known to work well on those recovering from alcohol abuse as alcohol is not illegal and can be found at grocery stores, restaurants, and even airplanes. Hypnotherapy sessions focus recovering alcoholics to stay on the sober path, fortify their decision to be sober, and dull the anxiety one may feel when they see people drinking it. Hypnosis does not make someone quit drinking but reinforces they decision for sobriety. It serves as reinforcement, but not as a solution to addiction in itself.

The Limitations of Hypnotherapy for Treating Addiction

  • Hypnosis cannot stop or make an addict quit their addiction.
  • This type of treatment must be paired with another treatment modality that teaches healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.
  • 20 sessions or more is often needed for this to be an effective tool for staying on the right path.
  • Hypnotherapy sessions generally begin 30 days after detox.
  • Hypnotherapy is only effective if the person really wants to stay clean and has preexisting motivation for a life of sobriety.
  • The Hypnotherapist must be highly qualified with extensive training, and be experienced with this treatment method.
  • There is no ‘magic’ word that can be uttered to end a recovering addict’s cravings.
  • Hypnotherapy may not be suitable for all addictions, but proven to be effective in alcoholics.
  • An open mind is often needed for this type of treatment to be effective.

Hypnosis Reduces Anxiety Toward Triggers

When a recovering addict is in an environment where they are watching people drink or do drugs a sense of anxiety overcomes them. They can relapse to get rid of that anxiety or rely on a coping mechanism that was adopted in rehab to handle that anxiety. Hypnotherapy sessions helps the recovering addict feel less anxious when those temptations occur, so the right decision can be made at that time.

The hypnotic trance also induces a sense of deep relaxation that can change in metabolism, breathing patterns, and even brain patterns. During this trance, the person being hypnotized can explore the mechanics of their addiction to determine what will be a trigger and how they will feel when tempted. Knowing what triggers a craving before they are put into that situation can help therapists develop strategies to overcome them. For example, if the sound of a beer can being opened is a trigger for a recovering alcoholic, they know that every time that occurs they need to leave the room or recite the 1st step for strength.

Vickers, A., Zollman, C., & Payne, D. K. (2001). Hypnosis and relaxation therapies. Western Journal of Medicine, 175(4), 269–272.
Neukrug, E. (2011). Counseling theory and practice. Australia: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.