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Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy

Many people think of hypnosis as a stage trick. They imagine a magician waving his hands and snapping their fingers. Then the subject clucks like a chicken or does a funny dance.

However, it is a simple and powerful tool used in many fields of scientific study. Essentially, hypnosis is a method to put someone in a relaxed state.

It can help improve your focus and turn your attention internally. Many compare it to a meditative or trance-like state.

Hypnotherapy is an alternative treatment that combines hypnosis with psychotherapy. A hypnotherapist uses hypnosis to achieve a medical benefit for the patient.

Hypnotherapy works by relaxing the conscious mind. This allows the subconscious mind to become more focused.

The patient’s consciousness is more exposed in a hypnotized state. Therefore the likelihood of them gaining psychological insight into their thought processes increases.

While the patient is under hypnosis, the hypnotherapist will introduce positive suggestions to the patient's subconsious. These help the patient make a positive change in their life.  

Some studies show that hypnotherapy can help patients to curb bad habits and influence positive behavioral change. Hypnosis has been proven effective in smoking cessation.

One study of smokers that were hospitalized found that 36% of people who received hypnosis were still nonsmokers after 26 weeks. Only 18% of those who received standard NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) were still nonsmokers.

Hypnotherapy is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation: results of a randomized controlled trial

Because of its success in treating tobacco addiction, many believe hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for other addictions. Alcohol use and other substance use disorders are no exception.

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. More research is needed to understand the full effects and potential.

Can You Get Hypnosis to Stop Drinking?

Hypnosis is used to treat alcohol dependency, addiction, or abuse. Hypnotherapists help patients curb binge drinking, address problem drinking, or quit drinking altogether.

When used to stop drinking, hypnosis should only be performed by qualified healthcare professionals. This includes psychologists, 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 an addiction specialist. They may determine whether a patient is a good candidate for hypnotherapy and provide a referral to a licensed hypnotherapist.

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How Does Hypnosis for Alcoholism Work?

During a hypnosis session, you will discuss your problems and goals with your hypnotherapist. Then they will explain the entire process to you and make sure you are calm and comfortable.

When you're ready, your therapist may ask you to close your eyes or focus on a visual stimulant (such as a candle flame). They will guide you into a state of relaxation. This is often called a hypnotic trance or a hypnotic state.

While in this state, they may ask you to visualize certain situations. Perhaps a time you chose to abstain from alcohol.

They will give you suggestions to encourage positive changes in your behavior or relieve symptoms. For example, a hypnotherapist may suggest that the patient no longer finds drinking alcohol pleasurable or necessary.

Once you are finished with these exercises, your therapist will slowly guide you out of the hypnotic state.

The goal of hypnosis for alcoholism is for the patient to integrate the positive behavior suggestions into their unconscious mind. This should help them 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

Is Hypnosis for Alcohol Abuse Effective?

While some patients have had success with hypnosis for alcoholism, hypnosis has not been studied thoroughly in a clinical setting. Therefore it cannot be considered proven to be an effective treatment for alcoholism.

However, limited research has shown hypnosis to be about as effective as motivational interviewing — one of the most popular and effective treatment methods.

A recent study was carried out at an inpatient facility center in Norway. Half of the participants received motivational interviewing. The other half received hypnotherapy. These were only small features of a broad recovery program.

This small randomized trial found that the patients who received hypnotherapy reported slightly less emotional distress. In addition, nine of them reported complete abstinence. Only seven reported complete abstinence in the control group.

This study had limitations including the small sample size and the fact that the two therapies were part of a larger treatment program. However, it suggests that hypnotherapy can be effective in treating alcohol use disorders.

Can Your Body Heal if You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Alcohol causes a wide range of negative impacts on the body. Drinking in excess can increase cancer, diabetes, and liver disease risk, among other severe conditions.

Drinking alcohol causes several other unpleasant effects, such as:

  • Depression
  • Sugar cravings
  • Excess calories
  • Liver fat
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Dry skin
  • Foggy concentration.

Living alcohol-free offers many health benefits.

Alcohol lowers the body’s immune system. 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 the previously mentioned study, patients receiving hypnotherapy as an alcohol addiction treatment used alcohol less and experienced less mental distress than those undergoing motivational interviewing.

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 as a supplement 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

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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/

Hasan, Faysal M et al. “Hypnotherapy is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation: results of a randomized controlled trial.” Complementary therapies in medicine vol. 22,1 (2014): 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.012. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24559809/
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