Hypnosis for relapse prevention due to alcohol, drugs and others : science-based

During the 19th century, hypnosis provided remarkable results in the treatment for alcoholism. Indeed, the success rate was 80% with samples of up to 700 people. However, around 1910, with the rise in popularity of stage hypnosis, image-conscious professionals began to use hypnosis less and less as a tool for medical or psychological treatment. After 1920, hypnosis was rarely used for the treatment of alcoholism, despite its proven success 1.

The American Psychological Association (APA) calls hypnosis a “therapeutic technique.”  Hypnotherapists use the hypnosis techniques to relax the conscious mind to be able to have access to the subconscious mind in order to work directly with the subconscious to: introduce the suggestions that the person wants to develop, change or decrease thoughts, limiting beliefs or behaviors. This allows the patient to experience

hypnotic trance state, a state of heightened awareness which influences habits, thought patterns, and addictions relapse. Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic practice that uses hypnosis as a tool to help various conditions, including addictions to alcohol and drugs, and is performed by certified professionals. With the help of a hypnotherapist, hypnosis can be an effective tool to use the mind better, in order to control and positively influence behavioral patterns, and addiction issues.

Hypnosis mainly for after detoxification, but…

Hypnotherapy is mainly used after the detoxification. This is explained by the fact that when the patient has already undergone complete detoxification from an alcohol or drug, they are increasingly prone to cravings due to the reward systems by the release of dopamine in the brain, which can lead to the relapse of addiction. As these cravings and the reward systems take place in the brain, hypnosis makes perfect sense as a relapse prevention tool. However, Hypnosis can be a great technique to modulate addictive behavior, which could effectively counter addiction during its early stages as well 2. Hypnotherapy can help remove physical and mental obstacles to rehabilitation and sobriety, as it can help manage withdrawal symptoms, anxiety, or pain and spasms, which are a result of the detoxification of the body, of the substance being abused 2. Therefore, hypnotherapy can help deal with these struggles, and allows to cope with withdrawal better, in order to continue the rehabilitation.

Hypnosis for relapse prevention

One of the major ways hypnosis can be beneficial in the treatment of substance abuse is by preventing relapse in alcohol and drug addiction. Indeed, over the last few decades, research on the benefits of hypnotherapy in dealing with drug and alcohol addiction has shown that hypnotherapy can be instrumental in successful rehabilitation.

Hypnosis can be a tool in helping patients regulate their substance dependency successfully and avoid relapses, by increasing their ability to refuse alcohol intake, and by reducing positive alcohol expectations, post-treatment for addiction, through conventional therapy. This further reduces their overall intake of alcohol, making hypnotherapy a better choice over regular therapeutic techniques 3. Consequently, the same effects can be expected in treatment of drug addiction through hypnotherapy as well, as modulation of addiction regardless of the substance being abused, follows similar therapeutic methods. A study involving people diagnosed and treated for drug addiction showed that hypnosis therapy is not only successful in controlling cravings, and helps regulate impulsive behavior, but also helps in preventing relapse. This is significant as modulation of cravings and impulsive behavior further contributes to the prevention of addiction relapse 4.

Another study of 18 patients, treated with hypnosis, reveals a success rate of 77% after one year. However, if one considers that the study lost contact with two patients and we subtract the number in total, this brings the study to 16 patients and gives a success rate of 88%. Among the 16 patients, 12 stopped completely after one year and 2 patients now drink moderately, which was their goal. It is noted that a patient had relapsed twice previously, using other techniques, before being able to stay cocaine sober with hypnosis 5.

Hypnosis for multiple drug addictions

Moreover, hypnosis treatment has also exhibited exceptionally encouraging results in treating groups of people who are struggling with multiple drug addictions, while they are being treated under the MMT (methadone maintenance treatment) program 6. The study reported 100% success in starving off the use of street drugs in patients, up to 6 months from the conclusion of the treatment. Furthermore, the study reported that 78% of the patients refrained from heroin intake, two years post-treatment. The study also stated that none of the patients reported long-term use of marijuana or cocaine either. Therefore, hypnotherapy can be effective in treating multiple addictions simultaneously, especially in cases where group dynamics can also influence addiction, and relapse of addiction 6.

Hypnotherapy faster than existing therapies even for multiple drug addictions

Another study has further explored the effectiveness of hypnotherapy in regards to accelerated rehabilitation of patients struggling with addiction, involving different types of drugs being abused, in as little as one to two therapy sessions only 7. This is highly promising, as just one or two sessions of two hour duration was reported to help patients overcome methamphetamine and cannabis addiction, where one case also involved codependent addiction patterns 7. Furthermore, hypnotherapy can also be highly productive in accelerating recovery, in patients dealing with addictions, and can be a faster alternative to existing therapies in use. This leads to greater success in prevention of relapse of addiction, through hypnotherapy, over the course of time 8.

Hypnosis with other psychotherapeutic techniques

Hypnotherapy in conjunction with psychotherapy is more effective in treating addiction, and in reducing withdrawal, leading to increased success of the rehabilitation program, as compared to programs relying on psychotherapy only 9.

The efficacy of hypnosis in treatment of addiction is not restricted to drugs and alcohol either, but to all forms of substance abuse, and is reported to be an effective method to assist one to quit smoking 10. It has been seen that hypnosis along with nicotine patches, was more productive in assisting smokers to quit long-term, as compared to conventional behavioral therapies 10 . Hypnosis was also reported to be significantly more efficient in helping smokers with a history of depression, to quit smoking in the long-term 11. It has also been reported that hypnosis is more beneficial than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), in helping hospitalized patients struggling with smoking-related disorders, to abstain from smoking 12.

Hypnotherapy a multidimensional approach

Hypnotherapy is an effective technique for treatment and prevention of relapse, in drug and alcohol addictions, as it approaches addiction therapy from multiple angles. Hypnotherapy takes into account the patient’s personal history, mapping potential causes and triggers that can lead to substance dependency, or make it harder for them to be successfully rehabilitated.
The multidimensional approach undertaken in hypnotherapy involves some of the following points which aim to holistically encourage rehabilitation in those struggling with addiction. This is achieved through hypnosis by helping patients deal with their cravings, and stay on course throughout their rehabilitation program, thereby preventing relapse of addiction. Some of these approaches are :

1. Withdrawal Management
One of the primary reasons recovering addicts do not successfully complete rehabilitation programs, or relapse on their addictions, is due to the extreme effects of withdrawal, post detoxification or abstinence, on both the mind, and the body. Hypnosis is a great way to help patients deal with withdrawal, as it eases the effects of withdrawal on the mind and body, ensuring greater success of rehabilitation efforts.

2. Pain Management
Hypnosis is an established method used to successfully treat pain, both physical and mental, and is instrumental in the treatment of addiction. This is because many use drugs and alcohol to manage sustained pain and distress, and hypnosis can help them reduce their dependency on drugs or alcohol, for pain management.

3. Controlling Behavioral Patterns
Addictive and impulsive behavior can make it harder to commit to rehabilitation, and is often triggered by emotional responses to various situations, apart from existing beliefs and thought patterns. Hypnosis aims to alter such behavior by helping the patient deal with their trauma, and through positive reinforcement as well, which would eventually help patients respond to triggers in a better way. This would further reduce their dependency on drugs and alcohol, as a coping mechanism.

4. Good Mental Health
Poor mental health can often lead to substance abuse, and makes it harder to successfully complete rehabilitation programs, and to quit addictions long term. Hypnosis is already recognized as an effective method to help mental health by creating neuroplasticity in the brain13, and makes it easier for patients to reduce their dependency on drugs and alcohol, which further allows them to commit to rehabilitation programs. Apart from these approaches, hypnosis also aims to create a positive self-image, and uses positive reinforcement, and discussions of deep-seated fears and negative thought patterns, during the hypnotic state. This approach allows the patient to develop a positive sense of self, which allows them to overcome dependency, with greater success 14

Hypnotherapy also addresses emotional issues that contribute to dependency, making it easier for patients to refrain from substance abuse, as a form of coping mechanism to emotional distress and triggering experiences.
Hypnosis also works by associating drugs and alcohol with unpleasant sensations like nausea or headache, or undesirable outcomes like organ failures, and other adverse health effects, in the future. This technique ensures that patients associate to drugs and alcohol negatively, increasing their chances of abstinence significantly.
The exact method used in a hypnosis therapy for treatment of addiction can vary depending on the specific needs of the patient, or the therapeutic techniques that are being used in conjunction with hypnotherapy. Nonetheless, all hypnotherapy techniques work on the basic underlying approaches mentioned earlier, in order to help patients overcome mental and physical barriers to abstinence from drugs and alcohol, enabling long term rehabilitation and sobriety.


1.Martensen, R. L. (1997). Hypnotism’s medical heyday. Journal of the American Medical Association, 277(8), 611.

2. Harrison-Haber, S. (2004). Hypnosis and Addiction, Can it Help? HMI Nationally Accredited College of Hypnotherapy. https://hypnosis.edu/articles/addiction

3. Crocker, S. M. (2004). Hypnosis as an adjunct in the treatment of alcohol relapse.
4. Hashemi, J., Beheshti, B., & Alizadeh, J. (2017). The Effectiveness of Hypnotherapy in Relapse Prevention, Reduction of Impulsiveness, and Decrease of Craving in Treated Stimulant Users. research on addiction, 11(42), 93-110.
5. Potter, G. (2004). Intensive therapy: utilizing hypnosis in the treatment of substance abuse disorders. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 47(1), 21-28
6. Kaminsky, D., Rosca, P., Budowski, D., Korin, Y., & Yakhnich, L. (2008). Group hypnosis treatment of drug addicts. Harefuah, 147(8-9), 679-83.
7. O’Keefe, T. (2017). Recovering from the lost years: Four cases of instant cessation of drug addiction utilising the Clinical Hypnotherapy Stop Drugs and Alcohol 6 Step Program. Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Hypnosis, 39(1), 3.
8. O’Keefe, T. (2020). Clinical hypnotherapy for stopping drug and alcohol addiction: Building resilience in clients to reduce relapses and remain clean and sober. Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy & Hypnosis, 41(1), 16.
9. Manganiello, A. J. (1984). A comparative study of hypnotherapy and psychotherapy in the treatment of methadone addicts. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 26(4), 273-279.
10. Elkins, G., Marcus, J., Bates, J., Hasan Rajab, M., & Cook, T. (2006). Intensive hypnotherapy for smoking cessation: A prospective study. Intl. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54(3), 303-315.
11. Carmody, T. P., Duncan, C., Simon, J. A., Solkowitz, S., Huggins, J., Lee, S., & Delucchi, K. (2008). Hypnosis for smoking cessation: a randomized trial. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 10(5), 811-818.
12. Hasan, F. M., Zagarins, S. E., Pischke, K. M., Saiyed, S., Bettencourt, A. M., Beal, L., Diane, M., Aurora, S., McCleary, N. (2014). Hypnotherapy is more effective than nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in medicine, 22(1), 1-8.
13. Halsband U, Susanne M, Hinterberger T, Strickner S (2009) “Plasticity changes in the brain in hypnosis and meditation”. British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis.


14. Holdevici, I. Hypnotherapy interventions in psychosomamtic disorders and alcohol treatment. Descrierea CIP/Description of CIP–Biblioteca Naţională a României Conferinţa Internaţională Educaţie şi Creativitate pentru.

Luis Lopes

I am a hypnotherapist certified by the National Guild of Hypnotists specialized in addiction relapse prevention and chronic pain. What always fascinated me is the ability for human beings to change, because changing and implementing permanent change is the most difficult thing for people to accomplish. My master thesis demonstrated that among the 5 obstacles for achieving objectives, the greatest was to take action. If you want to change something in your life and be happier, contact me to help you discover the permanent path to change.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *