Drug addiction

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Neil Brown
Last updated 26th April 2024 | Next update due 26th April 2027

Hypnotherapy for drug addiction can help people by working on breaking unhealthy habits and behaviours, and using suggestion techniques focused on eliminating cravings.

What is drug addiction?

Drugs are often used in an attempt to cope with difficult emotions, and because of the way the brain responds, people can quickly become addicted. Addiction brings with it a whole new set of obstacles, often leaving the drug user trapped in a cycle of drug abuse, trying to quit and relapsing.

Managing an addiction can be incredibly hard, affecting all areas of your life, including work, relationships and both your mental and physical health. Here we’ll take a closer look at addiction, exploring how hypnotherapy for drug addiction can form part of your recovery.

Hypnotherapy for drug addiction

Hypnotherapy is one approach that, especially when combined with other forms of treatment, can be incredibly helpful for those in recovery. Here’s a brief explanation of how hypnotherapy works:

A hypnotherapist will encourage you into a state of deep relaxation. In this state, it’s believed that your unconscious (the part of your mind that works without you knowing) is more open to suggestion. Our unconscious is responsible for a huge amount of our behaviours and habits; it’s thought to be responsible for around 90% of our functioning.

Using suggestion techniques, hypnotherapists look to change the way you react to certain things. For example, in hypnotherapy for drug addiction, the suggestions made would aim to help you not crave the drug anymore. Suggestions may include not needing drugs anymore or associating drug-taking with something unpleasant.

Some hypnotherapists may also teach you self-hypnosis techniques, allowing you to continue the work and support yourself after the sessions are over. These self-hypnosis techniques also work to reinforce the work you’ve done with your hypnotherapist, giving you a greater chance of success.

During the initial consultation, you'll have space to ask any questions and ensure you feel comfortable before undergoing hypnosis. You may also find it helpful to read more about what happens during a hypnotherapy session.

Unlike other treatments, hypnosis gets to the heart of the addiction by changing the mental habits that lead to the use of cocaine. By putting in new suggestions and creating new habits, hypnosis can alter the person’s perception of the effect of cocaine which in turn helps them to break the addiction.

- Biodun Ogunyemi, Certified Master Hypnotherapist ANLP,BNLP,SNLP,C.H,Dip.Hyp in 'Stop cocaine with hypnosis'.

Regression hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique that focuses on uncovering subconscious memories, or traumas, from your past. This involves guiding you into a state of deep relaxation and then encouraging you to explore your subconscious mind to identify any underlying causes or triggers. By doing so, you can gain a deeper understanding of your behaviours and develop new and healthier coping mechanisms. 

Several studies have been carried out to determine the effectiveness of hypnotherapy in treating drug addiction. One study, 'Group hypnosis of drug addicts', looked at using hypnotherapy to treat people with opioid use disorders. The treatment aimed to reduce or eliminate the participant's use of heroin and other street drugs. 90% of the study participants who received hypnotherapy completed treatment. Within six months, 100% were still drug-free, and 78% remained so after two years.

Hypnotherapists who can help with drug addiction

How addiction works

In most cases, drugs will trigger the brain’s reward system, releasing the feel-good hormone dopamine. The reward system controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure so when it is triggered, it encourages you to trigger it again. When drugs are involved, the reward system is overstimulated, leading to a ‘high’. This high makes people want to take the drug again and again.

Over time, the brain adjusts itself to produce less dopamine and/or make the cells in the reward system less responsive. This means the drug user won’t get the same effect and will build a tolerance. This leads them to want more of the drug to feel high again.

The lack of dopamine can also make it difficult for the person affected to feel enjoyment from other activities, like seeing friends, eating a good meal or previous hobbies.

If the drug is taken long-term it can lead to further changes in the brain’s chemistry, affecting memory, decision-making skills, judgement, learning ability and stress tolerance. Depending on which drug is being taken, mental health can also be affected. 

It is not uncommon for individuals with a drug addiction to have a co-occurring mental health disorder, although one doesn’t necessarily directly cause the other. This may include: 

  • anxiety disorder
  • depression
  • attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • bipolar disorder
  • personality disorder
  • schizophrenia

This can lead users to experience various symptoms such as paranoia, aggression, anxiety, lack of energy and even hallucinations. Research suggests that co-occurring conditions need to be treated simultaneously. When individuals with both an addiction and a mental health disorder receive integrated treatment, professionals can address and treat both disorders at the same time.

It's important to note that individuals who have a drug addiction alongside another mental health disorder often have symptoms that are more persistent, severe and resistant to treatment compared with individuals who have either disorder alone. 

Other treatment options

The drug treatment recommended to you will depend on your personal circumstances and what it is you’re addicted to. Typically there is a multi-faceted approach that may include:

  • talking therapies like CBT
  • substitute medication (if you’re addicted to heroin, for example, you may be offered methadone)
  • detoxification (and support during the detoxification process)
  • reducing harm (helping to reduce the risks associated with drug-taking)

Generally, going to your doctor should be your first port of call. They will discuss your treatment options with you and help you find approaches that will suit you.

What does it mean to relapse?

Drug addiction is a complicated thing and there are usually many factors at play. This means it can be difficult to overcome and usually requires the support of others, including professionals. During the recovery process, it is quite normal for people to relapse (start using drugs again after quitting).

If this happens to you, it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Recognising what’s happened and reaching out to those who helped you quit is key. You can look at your treatment plan and see if it needs adjusting (are there any other approaches you could try?).

If you have had hypnotherapy for addiction, for example, it could be worth scheduling more sessions to reinforce the work you’ve done and to see if a different suggestion/approach could help.

Worried about a friend?

If you suspect a friend or family member has a drug addiction, it’s important to speak to them in a calm manner, with no judgement. Express your concern without being accusatory and perhaps send them any information you think may help (like this page).

Remember, people don’t become addicted to drugs by choice and there are often lots of underlying reasons and factors contributing to the situation.

Encourage them to speak to their doctor and get professional support where possible. Being there for them and showing your support will help them enormously as they seek treatment.

You may feel frustrated and even alone. There are lots of resources and support groups available to help you connect with others going through similar struggles. It’s also important for you to look after yourself and seek professional support where necessary.

Further reading

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