How hypnotherapy can help relapse prevention in addiction therapy

If you seek external help to stop an addiction, it is likely that you already tried to quit on your own, but need a better solution. This better solution is relapse prevention, and you can use hypnotherapy to support it.


Relapse prevention has four distinct ideas. Relapse is a gradual process with clear stages. When treatment helps you recognise the early stages, your chances of success are greatest. Recovery is a process of personal growth with developmental milestones, and each stage of recovery has a risk of relapse specific to that stage.

Cognitive therapy and mind-body relaxation are the main tools of relapse prevention, developing healthy coping skills and changing negative thinking. As a few basic rules explain most relapses, an education of these rules can help you change your life, ask for help, practice self-care, be honest and stick to the rules.

When does addiction relapse start?

Relapse is not something that happens overnight. It starts weeks and in some cases months before you pick up your substance of choice. Through therapy, you can develop coping skills, so when you recognise the early warning signs, you can use them to break the relapse. Using skills in the early stages of relapse is your greatest chance of success. Experts break down the stages of relapse into three main categories; emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.

Emotional relapse

Although others around you see it, you might not recognise yourself at the beginning of relapse when you enter the emotional relapse stage. You do not think about using, you do not want to relapse. If those around you express concern, you will deny relapse, because in your mind there is no conscious thought of using.

However, your behaviours put you in a position that will lead to relapse. Generally, the theme of emotional relapse is poor psychological, emotional and physical self-care. Some indicators of emotional relapse, which others may see before you are;

  • internalising emotions
  • withdrawing from the world around you
  • not attending meetings
  • going to meetings but holding back your thoughts
  • astronger focus on other people’s problems or how they affect you
  • lack of care over your diet and sleep schedule

The acronym HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired, will help you determine whether your self-care is good enough. Therapy will help you understand self-care and its importance.

Therapy is a form of self-care and even an hour of hypnosis, as relaxation will nurture yourself and bring benefits. It is important that you take the time regularly to assess how you feel. Do you feel exhausted or energised? Do you feel you show yourself kindness? How are you ensuring you have fun? Do you have time for yourself? or is life running away with you?

Your therapist will help you recognise emotional relapse if you cannot see it. Because the idea of using has not entered your conscious thought, you might feel that therapy is unnecessary. Checking in regularly with your therapist will help you recognise when you have entered emotional relapse. Living in emotional relapse eventually leads to discomfort. You might feel irritable, restless and unhappy in your own skin. Thoughts of using as an escape from this emotional pain creep into your mind.

Mental relapse

Mental relapse happens when the devil on your shoulder wants you to give in to temptation, but the angel does not. As mental relapse worsens, your will power weakens and your need to escape strengthens.

You might find that you:

  • crave drugs or alcohol
  • think about the things associated with using, for example, people or places
  • minimise the consequences of using or even glamorise it
  • bargain with yourself
  • lie
  • think of ways that you can use with control
  • try to find opportunities to use
  • plan your relapse

Some situations hold a higher risk of relapse. Your therapist will help you identify these situations, and some hypnotherapy can help you take control of your own thoughts to avoid these situations and feel OK about doing so. Your therapist will also help you recognise why bargaining or attempting to control your usage is unlikely to help you, and will help you use hypnosis or mindfulness to remain in control.

Occasional thoughts of using are normal, with mindfulness training you can learn how to let these thoughts drift in and out quickly, without fear of them taking hold.

Physical Relapse

Physical relapse happens, when you start using again. Some people use the term lapse for initial use and relapse for prolonged uncontrolled use. As most physical relapses happen when you think no one will find out, relapse prevention involves rehearsing what you will do in these situations to develop exit strategies.

Hypnotherapy is a wonderful tool to engage your imagination optimally. The brain cannot differentiate between real and imaginary. When you imagine something, it will react as if that thing is happening. By rehearsing your exit strategies in hypnosis, you will naturally have full confidence in their efficacy and more naturally use them in real life situations.

Understanding how difficult it is to simply say no at the last minute, makes it clear why avoiding mental relapse is so important. When you stop taking care of yourself and enter mental relapse, the discomfort makes using will power alone too difficult. Saying no to something you believe will help you escape the suffering is a huge challenge. Regular therapy as a form of self-care helps you prevent a fall into emotional relapse, so you do not even need to get to the mental relapse stage, let alone the physical. Hypnotherapy will help you recognise that recovery requires coping skills, rather than willpower as recovery does not happen by simply not using.

Recovery happens when you create a new life, which makes it easier to not use; “Cognitive therapy and mind-body relaxation help break old habits and retrain neural circuits to create new, healthier ways of thinking.” (Melemis, 2015)

Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325–332.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Farnham GU9 & GU10
Written by Juliet Hollingsworth, MSc
Farnham GU9 & GU10

Juliet is a trauma-informed therapist. Her passion is helping people reach their potential through a combination of hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and transpersonal psychology. Juliet works online and face to face with clients across the world. (DHP Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy. MSc Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal psychology.)

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