By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 16 April 2024 & medically reviewed by Morgan Blair

Treating substance use disorders can be a long process and many people find that utilizing numerous types of interventions can help improve their recovery. Alternative treatments, such as hypnotherapy, can provide many benefits in addiction treatment, particularly when used alongside traditional treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy.

Hypnotherapy for Substance Use Disorder

What is hypnotherapy?

Hypnotherapy, also referred to as hypnosis or hypnotic suggestion, is used as a therapeutic intervention for a variety of conditions.

It involves a professional guiding the individual into a trance or dream-like state, similar to that of someone who is daydreaming or engrossed in an activity. [1]

In this state, the individual is relaxed and can be susceptible to new ideas and introspection. With the use of imagery and verbal suggestions, the individual can understand, reflect upon, and change certain thoughts and behavior patterns. [2]

Hypnosis is often portrayed in the media as ‘mind-control’, magic, or malevolent, but in reality, it is none of these things. The individual remains in control of their thoughts and cannot be forced to think or behave in a way they do not wish to. Hypnotherapy is scientifically proven to provide numerous benefits to many who use this intervention. [2][3]

Hypnotherapy can be an effective treatment for individuals experiencing: [1][2]

  • Anxiety

  • Pain conditions

  • Physical health conditions

  • Trauma-related conditions

  • Sleep conditions

  • Phobias

  • Compulsive behaviors

  • Addictive behaviors and substance use disorders

How does hypnotherapy help with addiction?

Hypnotherapy is a beneficial intervention for addiction treatment, particularly when used alongside other treatments.

It can help individuals manage cravings to reduce and stop substance use, treat underlying causes contributing to substance use, and prevent relapse. [3]

Hypnotherapy can help people become more susceptible to suggestion and change, by reducing inhibitions and criticisms of new ideas. Processing experiences in a relaxed state can make it easier to reflect upon behaviors and attitudes around substance use. [2][4]

In this state, individuals can understand the harm of their substance use and recognize their subconscious desires to change their behavior. This can help increase awareness of underlying causes contributing to substance use and help individuals find motivation to alter beliefs and behaviors. [5]

Often, people with substance use disorders have co-existing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma-related conditions. Hypnotherapy can help alleviate some of these symptoms, thereby helping to treat addictive behaviors. It can also help improve self-esteem, reduce guilt and shame, and change self-perception. [2][6]

Does hypnotherapy work for everyone?

Hypnotherapy does not work for everyone. Although it is unclear precisely how hypnotherapy affects each person, various studies have found positive outcomes of its use. [1]

For example, one study (Potter, 2004) found that 20 intensive daily hypnotherapy sessions had a 77% success rate in treating individuals with alcohol use disorder. [7]

Another study (Kaminsky et al, 2008) investigated the effect of 10 weekly hypnotherapy sessions on individuals receiving methadone treatment for opiate addiction who were also continuing illicit drug use. This intervention had a 100% abstinence success rate at a 6-month follow-up and 78% at a 2-year follow-up. [8]

A study (Manganiello, 1984) showed a 94% abstinence success rate following six months of hypnotherapy alongside psychotherapy in the treatment of individuals addicted to methadone. [9]

Some people are more receptive to hypnotherapy than others and for some, the intervention may have little or no success. 

Is hypnotherapy used during rehab treatment?

Some rehab facilities offer holistic interventions, which can include different types of creative therapies, massage and acupuncture therapies, and hypnotherapy.

Rehab centers offer a range of treatments that vary from place to place. These types of treatment are gaining understanding and evidence around their effectiveness and may become more widely available. [2]

However, these treatments may not be available at all rehab centers, so it is best to research what is offered at various facilities before commencing treatment, particularly if you are looking for alternative therapies, such as hypnotherapy.

What to expect during hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy sessions may differ depending on the therapist and the condition being treated. However, a typical approach to hypnotherapy will involve a calm, quiet environment, with a trained therapist or a recording that provides verbal guidance to lead the individual into a relaxed state using imagery or relaxation techniques. [1][4]

The individual is not unconscious but is in a trance-like or meditative state. They remain aware of their environment and the therapist but can be responsive to suggestions and ideas if they want to be. [1]

The therapist guides the individual to reflect upon and recognize the problem, trauma, or behavior that is being treated. In the case of addiction treatment, the therapist will make suggestions or provide ideas that can help reduce drug use. The individual can give responses or discuss their thoughts during this process or this can occur when they have returned to their fully awake state. [1][2]

At the end of each session, the therapist gently guides the individual out of the relaxed state, at which time, further discussion can occur if necessary or desired.

Risks associated with hypnotherapy

Typically, hypnotherapy does not pose any risks if it is provided by a trained and licensed professional. Unfortunately, there are some people offering hypnotherapy services who do not have appropriate training. It is important when looking for a hypnotherapist to ensure that this treatment is being provided by someone with the necessary accreditation and qualifications. [4]

Receiving this treatment from an untrained professional could result in the use of inappropriate methods, an inability to properly monitor or evaluate the effects of the treatment, and can sometimes cause emotional harm. One such risk may be the forming of false memories. [2]

In some cases, hypnotherapy can lead to a feeling of drowsiness, dizziness, or anxiety immediately following treatment. [1]

People with a history of severe mental illness, psychosis, or certain personality disorders may be unable to receive this treatment safely, as it can worsen symptoms. It is best to discuss this with a professional before commencing treatment. [4]

Unlike certain depictions of hypnotherapy, people who are placed in a hypnotic state are not able to be controlled or manipulated by the therapist and are aware of the occurrences during and following each session. [3]

Is hypnotherapy right for me?

Hypnotherapy can be a helpful treatment for many people, although there are some cases in which it may not be appropriate. 

It can be a beneficial intervention if you: [1]

  • Want to be hypnotized and are receptive to this treatment

  • Want to achieve the goals of this treatment, such as reducing or stopping drug use

Those who are skeptical of this treatment or do not have a clear intention to make changes to their behaviors are unlikely to benefit. [2]

People for whom hypnotherapy treatment may not be appropriate include: [1][4]

  • People with severe depression

  • People with psychotic symptoms

  • People with certain personality disorders

  • People with severe undiagnosed pain

Aside from these groups of individuals, hypnotherapy is unlikely to cause any risk of harm. Some people may start treatment and find that it is ineffective, in which case they may wish to commence alternative treatments as well as, or instead of, hypnotherapy.