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Does Hypnosis Help SUD Treatment?

There’s a lot of hokey pop-culture depictions about hypnosis, virtually all of which are untrue. Unfortunately, these depictions have done a lot to erode confidence in hypnosis in the general public and among mental health professionals.

Hypnosis, however, is starting to achieve a small renaissance. Over the years, hypnosis has gone from being a mainstay of psychotherapy, to a niche practice, to something that is being appreciated in mental health circles once again.

Here, we’ll take a quick look into hypnotherapy, the use of hypnosis in treating mental health conditions like substance use disorder (SUD). Get in touch with our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers to discuss your hypnotherapy options in the Greater Boston Area.

How Does Hypnotherapy Work?

One can consider hypnosis to be a close cousin of meditation and mindfulness, practices that were niche during hypnosis’s heyday in the mid-20th century but are mainstream in the present day.

As with meditation and mindfulness, hypnosis puts the subject in a meditative or trance-like state, such that immediate experiences are heightened and the focus is directed to one thing, which is suggested by the therapist or the subject themselves.

The idea of hypnotherapy is to help the subject focus on issues related to their mental health condition. For people with drug or alcohol problems, the focus could be on directly mitigating their cravings or on things that exacerbate these desires, such as racings thoughts or a rise in heart rate. The focus could also be on external triggers that make the subject want to use their drugs of choice.1,2

This emphasis on achieving meditative focus and uncovering clear connections between the mind and body shows that hypnosis shares fundamental similarities with many other tools used in psychotherapy. Yoga, tai-chi, mindfulness meditation, pottery, music, art, and focused exercise all share similarities with hypnosis in those respects.

Styles of Hypnosis

There are typically three basic styles of hypnosis used in SUD treatment. Clinicians can recommend one or more of these styles to achieve the desired outcome.2

  • Authoritative. The patient gets direct suggestions from the clinician.
  • Permissive. The patient is led to a specific action, rather than being told what to do directly.
  • Auto-hypnosis/ self-administered. The patient uses a tool or method, such as meditation, slow and deliberate physical exercises, or recordings to guide them.

How Can It Help SUD?

In the 20th century, hypnosis was one of the primary tools used to help patients with drug and alcohol use disorders control their cravings. While its use has somewhat lapsed in favor of other techniques, recent reviews of scientific literature indicate that hypnosis can be effective when combined with other treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and others.1,2

As mentioned earlier, hypnotherapy is used to help improve the subject’s focus, which can help them better ideate and act on specific behaviors. This is especially useful for conditions that cause compulsive negative behaviors like SUD.

Areas where hypnosis has been used for SUD treatment include:1,2

  • Relief from discomfort associated with withdrawals
  • Pain relief
  • Alleviation of social phobias that may lead to substance misuse
  • Relief of anxiety symptoms related to substance misuse
  • Addressing of traumas that led to the SUD
  • Relapse prevention, by directly addressing cravings
  • Treatment of sleep disorders
  • More consistent practice of healthy habits, such as diet and exercise

Can It Substitute Psychotherapy or Medication?

Hypnosis is not recommended as the only intervention for substance use disorder. In the vast majority of cases, it is included as part of a holistic approach, supplementing mainstream treatments like psychotherapy and medication-assisted therapy. It could also be used to complement other supplemental therapies such as exercise, music therapy, and nutrition, among others.1,2,3

What Are The Benefits of Hypnotherapy for SUD?

Hypnotherapy has a number of proven benefits for SUD treatment. These benefits include but are not limited to the following:1,2

  • Improves the effectiveness of frontline interventions like psychotherapy and medication-assisted therapy
  • Low cost
  • Widely considered to be safe
  • Flexible implementation
  • Can be used to address conditions commonly associated with SUD, such as trauma, anxiety, and depression
  • Can be used to promote healthy supplemental practices such as exercise

What Are The Side Effects of Hypnotherapy?

While widely regarded as safe, there are a few rare risks associated with hypnosis. These are more likely if you have a serious mental health issue other than SUD, such as psychosis. Side effects may include:3

  • False/planted memories
  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Sleep disorders
  • Nausea/dizziness
  • Headaches

Notably, hypnosis requires the subject to be reasonably stable, which means it may be less appropriate during the early stages of recovery.

Find Hypnotherapy Options in New England

Get in touch with our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers to find programs and therapists that offer hypnotherapy in the Greater Boston Area. Call (857) 577-8193 to discuss your options for hypnotherapy and other evidence-based treatments.


  1. Hartman, B. J. (1972). The use of hypnosis in the treatment of drug addictionJournal of the National Medical Association64(1), 35.
  2. Kirsch, I., Montgomery, G., & Sapirstein, G. (1995). Hypnosis as an adjunct to cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy: a meta-analysisJournal of consulting and clinical psychology63(2), 214.
  3. MacHovec, F. (1988). Hypnosis complications, risk factors, and preventionAmerican Journal of Clinical Hypnosis31(1), 40-49.

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