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What to Know About Hypnosis for Alcoholism

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 27, 2021

Hypnosis isn’t magic, even if it's sometimes presented that way — it can’t cure alcoholism on its own, but hypnotherapy can make a useful addition to a treatment plan for alcohol use disorders or other substance abuse issues. A trained therapist can use hypnotic suggestion to help you stop drinking.

How Hypnosis Works

Hypnosis can help you focus on issues with which you struggle and believe in your potential to overcome them.

Hypnosis can be described as a meditative state or “trance” in which your attention is focused on inner experiences rather than outer ones. A trained hypnotherapist will help you achieve a relaxed state in which you are free to focus on the suggestions they provide.

Clinical hypnosis relies on the imagination and the connection between mind and body. It uses therapeutic suggestions to promote both physical and mental wellness. Hypnosis shares many attributes with yoga, art or music therapy, t’ai chi, and guided meditation.  

There are different styles of hypnotherapy: 

  • In the authoritative style, you passively get suggestions from the clinician. 
  • In the permissive style, the clinician encourages you to take a more active role in the process.
  • In self-hypnosis — or auto-hypnosis — you follow recordings or meditate to achieve a hypnotic state and focus on your goals.

Your therapist may use these styles independently or blend them together.

Can Hypnosis Help Treat Alcoholism?

The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association both approved hypnosis as a treatment in the middle of the 20th century, but it fell out favor. Over the past 20 years, researchers and therapists have been rediscovering its potential.

Hypnosis has been studied as a treatment to help control the following:

It has proven particularly helpful to manage pain and anxiety. 

People with alcoholism — also known as an alcohol use disorder or AUD — may benefit from a combination of hypnotherapy and other forms of counseling, but more scientific research is needed in the field. 

Not everyone will respond the same way to hypnosis. You may have more or less hypnotic suggestibility and be more or less responsive to your therapist’s suggestions.  

What You Can Expect During Hypnosis for Alcoholism

Many people call themselves hypnotists without being officially qualified or following any regulations. Make sure that any therapist you see belongs to one of the two national organizations for licensed clinical hypnotists: the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.

A trained clinician should review your goals with you and explain the process beforehand. Despite what you may have seen in the movies, you will remain both in control and aware of your actions.

Your therapist will use images and gentle speech to put you in a receptive state. Once you are relaxed, they will suggest ways for you to stop drinking. They may also have you focus on images of you achieving your goals, talking you through situations in which you successfully manage cravings and temptations.

Risks of Hypnosis

In most cases, hypnosis is a perfectly safe alternative or complementary treatment. There may be some risks if you have severe psychosis or other mental health issues. 

Side effects are uncommon, but some people have: 

  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Sleepiness
  • False memories

You also shouldn’t expect hypnosis to miraculously cure alcoholism. Alcohol use disorders need ongoing therapy and work.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy: “Intense therapy: utilizing hypnosis in the treatment of substance abuse disorders.”

Children: "Clinical Hypnosis, an Effective, Mind–Body Modality for Adolescents with Behavioral and Physical Complaints."

Harvard Health Publishing: “Hypnosis as mental health therapy.”

Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy: “Effect of Hypnotherapy in Alcohol Use Disorder Compared to Motivational Interviewing: A Randomised Controlled Trial.”

Mayo Clinic: “Hypnosis.”

Neuroscience of Consciousness: “New directions in hypnosis research: strategies for advancing the cognitive and clinical neuroscience of hypnosis.”

Palliative Care: Research and Treatment: “What is hypnosis and how might it work?”

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