top of page

Hypnosis for Alcoholism: Does It Work?

Hypnosis employed in a clinical setting can be a powerful tool for self-improvement and personal growth, with evidence suggesting it can help with addictions like alcoholism. Properly trained mental health clinicians may use hypnosis to access the subconscious mind and explore memories, traumas, and past experiences, allowing patients to better understand and overcome their emotional issues.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

Hypnosis leverages the power of suggestion to directly influence the conscious and subconscious mind.  Think of the hypnotic state as a relaxed and focused state of clarity, allowing someone to bypass the superficial mind and access deeper levels of being.  Here, hypnotherapists can make suggestions designed to create positive changes in the client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

There are three types of hypnosis:

  • Authoritative Hypnosis: Clinicians typically utilize a confident and authoritative tone, which aids the client to feel relaxed and open to suggestions.  Clinicians are clear, direct, and straight to the point.  Scripts may be utilized with authoritative hypnosis.  A client suffering from alcoholism may be told, “You will no longer crave alcohol.”

  • Permissive Hypnosis: Clients are encouraged to explore their minds while clinicians utilize permissive hypnosis.  Individuals under permissive hypnosis are guided into a relaxed and meditative state.  They are encouraged to explore their inner thoughts and feelings with no judgment.  Visual storytelling, metaphors, and open-ended questions will be utilized to facilitate insight.

  • Self-Hypnosis: Self-hypnosis refers to inducing a hypnotic trance one oneself without the help of a professional.  They may use guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation techniques.  It is generally recommended to work with a trained clinician who can guide you in the practice of self-hypnosis, as it may not be for everyone.

What Conditions Can Hypnosis Treat?

Hypnosis can only be achieved when you are receptive to the process and fully committed to your transformation. While a therapist may facilitate hypnosis, your willingness to be hypnotized is critical to its success. For patients invested in a positive outcome from their hypnotherapy sessions, hypnosis can be an effective tool for treating several concerns.

The wide range of conditions hypnosis can treat include:

Does Hypnosis for Alcoholism Work?

Hypnosis can be an effective treatment for alcoholism (now known as alcohol use disorder) when used in combination with other therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing.  A recent study even suggests some can experience better outcomes after one year of therapy and hypnosis when compared to individuals who only received therapy for their drinking.1

However, hypnosis may not work for everyone suffering from alcohol use disorder.  As mentioned earlier, hypnosis will only work if the client is motivated and wants it to work.  Hypnosis will not magically erase the desire to drink, but it will shed light on thinking and behaviors contributing to excessive drinking.  In addition, further factors can impact hypnosis’s effectiveness, including the client’s support system, the therapeutic alliance, and external conditions causing triggers and cravings.  Think of it as a recipe. You can’t make a cake with only sugar.

What to Expect From Hypnosis to Stop Drinking

One of the most important factors in undergoing hypnosis is who you choose as your practitioner. Only work with clinicians who are qualified through reputable sources such as the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.  It is also beneficial if the practitioner is a certified mental health professional.  Consider “trance” as a mild meditation or level of focus. Don’t expect Hollywood portrayals of hypnosis where you lose consciousness and have no memory of what was discussed. Throughout your hypnotherapy session, you are always in control and aware of the process.

Steps for using hypnosis to stop drinking include:

Step 1: Discussion of Goals

In this step, you’ll establish the current level of motivation and commitment to change. You and your clinician will identify potential roadblocks or triggers making it difficult to stay sober.

Examples of goals you might set for your hypnosis for alcoholism session may include:

  • Reduction of cravings

  • Increase in motivation to stay sober

  • Introducing new coping skills,

  • Improving self-esteem

  • Overcoming past traumas and negative beliefs

Step 2: Overview of the Process:

It’s important for you to completely understand the process when discussing the steps of treatment.  The general process should include a proper assessment, goal setting, induction, suggestion, association, training, and maintenance.  Other modes of treatment are often recommended throughout your addiction recovery, such as group therapy and support groups, intensive therapy, and medical intervention.

Step 3: Relaxation & Breathing Exercises:

Most hypnosis sessions utilize relaxation and breathing exercises to facilitate a sense of calm and control.

Relaxation and breathing exercises may include:

Step 4: Mental Imagery

Deep focus amplifies the imagination, allowing you to play out future scenarios where you normally would be triggered to drink.  While imagining these scenarios, the hypnotherapist can encourage you to respond successfully to triggers. The mental imagery process may utilize vivid descriptions and sensory details.  Often this imagery is repeated from session to session to reinforce change.

Step 5: Suggestive Statements

Hypnotherapists often use positive affirmations, motivational statements, skill-building statements, and externalizing techniques as key elements of hypnosis for alcohol use disorder.  Those in hypnosis are more receptive toward addressing negative self-talk as well as recognizing their addiction as a separate entity.

Risks & Complications of Hypnosis to Stop Drinking

Hypnosis itself is not dangerous.  People do not lose control under hypnosis and definitively would not do something if their non-hypnotized self would not consent.  However, certain risks should be considered and discussed before starting hypnotherapy for addiction.

Potential risks of hypnosis include:

  • False Memories: There is a difference between repressed and suppressed memories.  Suppressed memories are voluntarily blocked. These are memories a person chooses not to recall because they don’t want to think about them. In contrast, repressed memories are unconscious and unwanted.  Hypnosis for alcoholism may involve recalling past traumas or events.  In some cases, these may be accurate or inaccurate, leading to confusion.

  • Emotional Instability: Hypnosis can bring up intense emotions. For some, these can be difficult to handle. For example, those who struggle with anxiety, depression, or a history of trauma, may experience emotional outbursts or relive traumatic events without proper guidance.

  • Increased Suggestibility: Some individuals are more suggestible than others, making them more susceptible to a hypnotherapist’s influences. In the wrong hands, the increased suggestibility could make them more vulnerable to an unethical or harmful experience.

  • Psychiatric Illness: Hypnosis is generally not recommended for individuals with certain psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder, as it may make symptoms worse or lead to unpredictable reactions.

  • Failure to Follow Through: Some participants may find the positive changse they experience during hypnosis does not translate to everyday life.  This could be due to stress, a lack of motivation, or other factors making the person more susceptible to triggers and relapse.

Under the proper professional care, hypnosis for alcoholism is typically a safe and complementary addition to a comprehensive treatment plan for addiction, where clients can receive the best of hypnosis and other evidence-based treatments suiting their personal needs.

How to Find a Hypnotherapist for Alcoholism

Finding a hypnotherapist for alcoholism requires careful research and consideration of various factors.

To identify a hypnotherapist for alcoholism, you’ll need to:

  • Clarify your goals: What does successful hypnosis for alcoholism look like?  This will help you find the right hypnotherapist who matches your personal needs and goals.

  • Seek referrals: Ask your primary care doctor for recommendations.  Talk to family or friends who have undergone hypnosis.  Professional associations like the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis; the National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy; and the International Society of Hypnosis provider directories may address located professionals in your area. You can also use an online therapist directory to find a hypnotherapist who meets your needs.

  • Check credentials: Look for licensed and certified hypnotherapists who practice hypnosis for addiction treatment.  Hypnotherapists should be trained in clinical hypnosis and hold a license in a counseling or mental health profession.

  • Read reviews: Feedback from previous clients can help you learn more about a hypnotherapist’s experience and reputation working with clients for hypnosis for addiction.  Make sure the professional provides safe, client-centered, and science-supported interventions.

  • Interview potential hypnotherapists: Schedule a consultation with potential hypnotherapists to discuss their treatment approaches, expertise, and to ask any questions necessary to assess their experience and suitability in accordance with your personal preferences.

  • Evaluate the cost and insurance: Confirm your hypnotherapist accepts your insurance (if applicable) and compare prices among professionals who offer the services you need.  Discuss payment and insurance options upfront, as many insurances may not cover hypnotherapy.

In My Experience

I wish I could tell you hypnosis is as magical and miraculous as it looks on tv and stage shows. If someone told me I could change anything about myself by simply following their voice and watching as they swing a pocket watch in front of my eyes, I’d pay a pretty penny.  (By the way, the watch thing absolutely does not happen. Sorry to disappoint!)

Hypnosis can be a beneficial addition to treatment, but it should not be the primary treatment.  I’ve worked with many clients who suffer from addiction. The biggest predictor of success was not in their hypnosis, their style of therapeutic approach, or even my expertise.  It was their motivation to change.  Think of recovery from addiction as a utility belt.  Hypnosis can be a beneficial addition to the belt, but it is only one tool.  The real change lies within you.

Sources

  • Shestopal, I., & Bramness, J. G. (2019). Effect of Hypnotherapy in Alcohol Use Disorder Compared with Motivational Interviewing: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Addictive Disorders & Their Treatment, 18(3) 169-175. doi: https://doi.org/10.1097/ADT.0000000000000170

bottom of page