Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Neil Brown
Last updated 16th April 2024 | Next update due 16th April 2027

According to Action on Addiction, one in three people are addicted to something. Most commonly, when we think of addiction, we think of addiction to alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. We can, however, be addicted to a number of things, including work, the Internet, gambling and sex.

On this page, we explain more about addiction, the signs and symptoms, and how hypnotherapy can help.

What is addiction?

Addiction can be defined as not having control over using, taking or doing something to the point where it can become harmful to you. It is a complex issue that can affect both body and mind, consuming people’s lives and affecting relationships and careers.

There are many reasons why someone may develop an addiction and often various factors are involved, including genetics and environmental factors. Substances like alcohol, drugs and nicotine can make people feel physically good, resulting in an urge to do it again. A similar mental high can occur as a result of activities like shopping, gambling and going online, leading people to want to recreate the feeling. 

Sometimes a substance or activity is used to numb out difficult feelings or other mental health conditions like depression. Over time though, if an addiction develops, the person can find themselves trapped in a cycle and face more problems. 

What causes addiction?

There is no one cause, but there are several factors that can increase the risk of someone developing an addiction. These factors fall into two categories: behavioural and chemical.

Behavioural factors

Certain behavioural traits can increase the possibility of trying addictive substances or activities. These include:

Genetics - There is evidence to suggest a genetic link to addiction. If you have a family history of addiction, you may be more likely to develop one. Certain genetic traits could also delay or speed up its progression.

Background - Traumatic experiences during childhood such as neglect or abuse can increase the risk of developing addictive behaviours. Early use of certain substances or particular activities can also be linked.

Mental health - Experts believe that people who experience anxiety and nervousness in their approach to daily life are more vulnerable to addiction. Individuals struggling to cope with stress may also lean towards addictive behaviour patterns.

Chemical factors 

Experts believe there is a link between the repeated use of certain substances and activities, and how the brain experiences pleasure. An addictive behaviour triggers the creation of the hormone, dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure and satisfaction (a mental 'high'). The brain remembers this rush of pleasure and wants it repeated.

Over time, repeated use of a substance or activity changes how the brain feels pleasure, so a user has to increase the dose or frequency in order to recreate the desired 'high'. When tolerance increases, withdrawal symptoms become more severe and this increases the likelihood of addiction.

A key aim of hypnotherapy for addiction is to identify and work through the underlying causes of addiction. This empowers patients to see their addictive behaviour as something they can control and overcome.

Stages of addiction 

Understanding how addictive behaviours develop can help you spot the signs and know when to seek addiction help. Experts believe people with addictions go through a set of stages:

Experimentation - Addictive behaviour tends to start with curiosity and the desire to try something new. Very rarely do people set out to become psychologically and physically addicted to something.

Regular use - Some people try something once and never do it again, but some will actively aim to recreate the experience. At this stage, quality of life is not affected.

Increased use - What might have begun as a temporary form of relief or escape will have quickly escalated to frequent use. At this stage, warning signs start to appear and risky behaviour may emerge.

Dependence - This is when the user finds they can no longer function normally or happily without taking the particular substance or carrying out an activity. Withdrawal symptoms are strong and despite negative consequences, the user cannot give up.

He had accepted that he had been living as an alcoholic for many years and then, last year, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He had tried to quit drinking and smoking but failed miserably after a week.

- Read Brian and Debbie's story

How addictions can affect your life

Having an addiction can be very tough to live with and can affect both your relationships and your career. If your addiction requires you to spend money, you may quickly find yourself in financial trouble. Addictions can become all-consuming, meaning you struggle to focus on other areas of your life. You may start to miss work and neglect relationships. 

You may have turned to addiction because you’re already experiencing troubles in these areas. For many, financial difficulties and unemployment can trigger addiction. Other difficulties such as stress and emotional pressure can also cause someone to develop an addiction. 

As well as affecting work-life and careers, addiction can have a devastating impact on both your physical and mental health.

Signs and symptoms of addiction

Signs of addiction will vary from person to person and will depend on what it is they’re addicted to. There are however some signs and symptoms that are common in most cases and these include: 

  • defensiveness
  • paranoia
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • tiredness
  • difficulty focusing
  • low self-esteem
  • memory problems
  • secretive behaviour
  • withdrawing from social situations 
  • withdrawing from responsibilities
  • losing interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • poor performance at work/school

Getting help early can make a real difference when treating addiction. There are various approaches you can take to treat addiction, from talking therapies and support groups to hypnotherapy. 

Withdrawing from addiction 

If you have decided to acknowledge that you have an addiction and are in the process of trying to change your behaviours to reduce or abstain, it can be common to start to experience withdrawals.

What is withdrawal?

Withdrawal describes the physical and mental effects of reducing or stopping a substance such as drugs, alcohol or smoking. It normally sets in quickly, sometimes within a matter of hours from last taking the substance and, in some cases, can be dangerous if not managed properly, so it's important to speak with your doctor before trying to change your behaviour. 

Symptoms of withdrawal

Withdrawal signs and symptoms can vary depending on the substance you are addicted to, whether that's gambling, drugs, alcohol, food or sex. Symptoms typically begin to ease after a week, but it can take months for some substances to fully leave the body. These are some common signs and symptoms of withdrawals:

  • changes in appetite 
  • changes in mood
  • fatigue 
  • tremors/shakiness
  • trouble sleeping 
  • headaches 
  • muscle pain 
  • vivid, unpleasant dreams 
  • heightened emotions 
Hypnotherapists who can help with addictions

Hypnotherapy for addiction 

Recovery from addiction requires long-term behaviour change. Doing this can be difficult and is greatly helped by having a strong support system in place.

Hypnotherapy works by encouraging you to fall into a deeply relaxed state sometimes referred to as a hypnotic trance. When you are in this state, your subconscious is more open to suggestion. This is where a hypnotherapist can help you change your perspective on addiction and help to change habits, behaviours and thought patterns that lead to addiction. Instead of feeling like overcoming addiction is impossible, hypnotherapy can help you see that it’s achievable. 

Hypnotherapy can help in one session, or may require a more long-term approach - this will depend on the nature and severity of your addiction. 

If you are struggling with withdrawal symptoms and added stress during your recovery, hypnotherapy can offer another layer of support, alongside other remedies such as exercise and eating a balanced diet. The process of hypnotherapy itself is very relaxing and can help you lower stress levels and help you feel better able to manage stress. As stress can often be a trigger for addictive behaviour, this can make a big difference. 

To reinforce changes made in your hypnotherapy sessions, your therapist may show you self-hypnosis techniques. This can keep you feeling strong and motivated on your journey.

Hypnotherapy can help you get your life back... after a few sessions, you will be in control and enjoying a balanced life with and without your devices. Hypnotherapy and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) can assist in clearing the addictive associative behaviours and increasing the healthy return of focus and connection.

- Hypnotherapist Fiona Vitel CHt, NLPP discusses hypnotherapy for internet addiction

Hypnotherapists can help with a number of different addictions, including alcohol, drug, gambling, smoking, sex, sugar, food, and internet addiction. 

Further reading

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