What is Hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy, often referred to as hypnosis or hypnotic suggestion is a type of alternative medicine that combines hypnosis with psychotherapy. During hypnotherapy, a hypnotherapist uses hypnosis, a trance-like state of heightened focus, concentration, and relaxation, to achieve a medical benefit for the patient. While the patient is under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist will introduce positive suggestions intended to help the patient make a positive change in their life when integrated into the patient’s subconscious.  

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Hypnotherapy works by relaxing the conscious mind while allowing the subconscious mind to become more focused. While in a hypnotized state, the patient’s consciousness is more exposed, which increases the likelihood of gaining psychological insight into their thought processes.

Hypnotherapy

Some studies show that hypnotherapy can help patients to curb bad habits and influence positive behavioral change. Hypnosis has been proven highly effective in smoking cessation. One study of smokers found that 20% of people who received hypnosis managed to quit, compared to 14% of those who received standard behavioral counseling.

Because of its success in treating tobacco addiction, many believe hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for other addictions, including alcohol use and other substance use disorders.

Hypnotherapy is also used to treat other medical conditions, including:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Pre-surgery anxiety
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Hot flashes in breast cancer survivors
  • Headaches
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Chronic pain 

Despite hypnotherapy’s success with smoking cessation, there is limited evidence of its efficacy in treating other medical conditions.

Can You Get Hypnosis to Stop Drinking?

Hypnosis is used in hypnotherapy to treat alcohol dependency, addiction, or abuse. Hypnosis has been used to help patients curb binge drinking, address problem drinking, or quit drinking altogether. When used to stop drinking, hypnosis should only be performed by psychologists and other healthcare professionals such as physicians, nurses, or therapists licensed for this technique.

A trained hypnotherapist should never be confused with a stage hypnotist, who uses hypnosis for entertainment and is unqualified to use hypnosis as a medical treatment.

Patients who wish to address their alcohol consumption through hypnotherapy should speak with their healthcare provider. A medical professional may determine whether a patient is a good candidate for hypnotherapy and provide a referral to a licensed hypnotherapist.

How Does Hypnosis for Alcoholism Work?

Hypnosis induces a state of relaxation, often called a hypnotic trance or a hypnotic state, causing increased suggestibility. While in this state, a hypnotherapist will give patients suggestions to encourage positive changes in their behavior or relieve symptoms. For example, in a hypnosis session to control the patient’s use of alcohol, a hypnotherapist may suggest that the patient no longer finds drinking alcohol pleasurable or necessary.

The goal of hypnosis for alcoholism is that after one or more hypnotherapy sessions, the patient will integrate the suggestion that drinking alcohol is no longer pleasurable or necessary into their unconscious mind. The successful integration of this suggestion will cause the patient to change their drinking habits or no longer drink.

Pros and Cons of Hypnosis for Alcoholism

Hypnosis for alcoholism offers the following potential benefits:

  • Relief of anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Increased relaxation
  • Improved immune system function
  • Successful treatment of addiction

Although rare, there is a chance that some patients may develop adverse short-term reactions to hypnosis. The potential negative consequences of hypnotism include:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety or distress
  • The creation of ‘false’ memories
  • Unsuccessful treatment of addiction

Hypnosis is not safe for a person with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. For patients with psychological disorders, the more serious consequences of hypnosis include:

  • Prolonged mental illness
  • Seizure
  • Stupor
  • Spontaneous dissociative episodes
  • The resurrection of memories of previous trauma

While some patients have had success with hypnosis for alcoholism, hypnosis has not been studied thoroughly in a clinical setting and is therefore not proven to be an effective treatment for alcoholism.

Can Your Body Heal if You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Alcohol causes a wide range of negative impacts on the body, including everything from inflammation to potential damage to the DNA. Drinking in excess can increase cancer, diabetes, and liver disease risk, among other grim conditions. Aside from the severe dangers of drinking too much, drinking alcohol causes several other unpleasant effects, including depression, sugar cravings, excess calories, liver fat, poor sleep habits, dry skin, and foggy concentration.

Living alcohol-free offers many health benefits. Alcohol lowers the body’s immune system, so when you stop drinking alcohol, your body will be able to heal from illness much more quickly. Research has also found that hypnosis can even alter a person’s immune function in ways that offset stress and reduce susceptibility to viral infections.

Alternative Treatment Options for Alcoholism

In one study, patients receiving hypnotherapy as an alcohol addiction treatment used alcohol less and experienced less mental distress than others. In another study, alcohol users who used self-hypnosis audio tapes reported the highest levels of self-esteem and serenity and the least anger and impulsivity compared to others. These results suggest that hypnosis can be a useful additional treatment in helping individuals with chronic substance abuse with their self-esteem, serenity, anger, and impulsivity.

Studies show that other alternative treatment options can help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression in patients with alcoholism. Many alternative therapy treatments offer overall positive wellness benefits. Other alternative therapy options include:

  • Sequential muscle relaxation
  • Visualization
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Acupuncture
  • Music Therapy

Because hypnotherapy is not a proven medical treatment, it may be beneficial when to aid in the recovery process in addition to traditional evidence-based techniques. Patients can find conventional treatment options for alcoholism at an inpatient, outpatient, or partial hospitalization program. These include:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Family counseling
  • 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or other support groups
  • Medication-assisted treatment

The best treatment plans take a comprehensive approach to care. Before seeking hypnotherapy for alcoholism, patients should consult with a licensed healthcare professional to determine if it is beneficial.

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Resources

Effect of Hypnotherapy in Alcohol Use Disorder Compared to Motivational Interviewing. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03583788

“Frequently Asked Questions About Hypnosis.” American Society of Clinical Hypnosis > Home, www.asch.net/Public/GeneralInfoonHypnosis/FAQsAboutHypnosis.aspx

Gruzelier, John. “Unwanted Effects of Hypnosis: a Review of the Evidence and Its Implications.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 23 Feb. 2006, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ch.207

Häuser, Winfried et al. “The Efficacy, Safety and Applications of Medical Hypnosis.” Deutsches Arzteblatt international vol. 113,17 (2016): 289-96. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2016.0289 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4873672/ 

Heid, Markham. “Is Hypnosis Real? Here's What Science Says.” Time, Time, 4 Sept. 2018, https://time.com/5380312/is-hypnosis-real-science/

“Hypnosis.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jan. 2020, www.nccih.nih.gov/health/hypnosis

“Mind and Body Approaches for Substance Use Disorders: What the Science Says.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/mind-and-body-approaches-for-substance-use-disorders-science

Montell, Amanda. What Immediately Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking Alcohol. www.byrdie.com/what-does-alcohol-do-to-your-body

Pekala, Ronald J et al. “Self-hypnosis relapse prevention training with chronic drug/alcohol users: effects on self-esteem, affect, and relapse.” The American journal of clinical hypnosis vol. 46,4 (2004): 281-97. doi:10.1080/00029157.2004.10403613 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15190730/

Smith, Brendan L. “Hypnosis Today.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Jan. 2011, www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/hypnosis

Vickers, A et al. “Hypnosis and relaxation therapies.” The Western journal of medicine vol. 175,4 (2001): 269-72. doi:10.1136/ewjm.175.4.269 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071579/

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Updated on: December 8, 2020
Author
Kyra Wilians
About
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Medically Reviewed
Annamarie
Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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