Brookside Center for Counseling and Hypnotherapy

The Role of Hypnosis in Addictive Behavior

by Maurice Kouguell, Ph.D., BCETS. 

At the root of all addictions is a search for happiness, contentment from outside sources. Most of us are addicted to some outside object external to us. This includes the use of drugs, use of food, alcohol, smoking, addiction to a person, excessive addiction to sex or to compulsive buying.

According to the Well Spring Media (an Internet source): "giving up cigarettes is a challenge faced by millions of people. About 90% of America's 51 million smokers want to quit, but only 20 to 30% manage to do so permanently."

Babies are not born as addicts except for those of parents known to have been users of hard drugs. Children learn how to become addicted by discovering and abusing methods allowing them to achieve a state of comfort by turning to food, acquiring a new toy, etc. and, later on in life, as they grow into adolescence and adulthood, they discover that certain things make them feel good. These things could be turning to food, to a cigarette, a drink, drugs, relationships or compulsive buying, to name a few. The pattern leading to addiction is quite simple. It always begins with the time when we used a pacifier or tranquilizer to relieve our discomfort. At a future time as we re-experience a similar feeling, which could be fear or anxiousness, we remember the relief we received from that pacifier and resort to it. As the pattern is repeated, one uses the pacifying/stress relief addiction to achieve momentary relief by avoiding pain.

In his book HEALING THE ADDICTIVE MIND, Lee Jampolsky states: "When we are caught in addiction it is impossible to experience love. Compulsivity and peace of mind are mutually exclusive…our addictions slowly become the walls behind which we hide…eventually our walls become so high that instead of simply hiding we become prisoners of our own making. The guards in the prison of addiction are our egos while the bars of our cells are forged with our irrational beliefs."

Addictions are a way of evading the demands of life by choosing to live without pain or effort. When their addictions are not satisfied, addicts live in a constant state of anxiety. People experiencing anxiety tend to overestimate the dangers they need to confront and underestimate their own ability to control them. I became addicted to cigarettes in my teens. How clearly I remember my clumsiness in my social interactions. I completed my secondary education in French schools. While in the French educational setting, high achievers were skipped. There was no tracking system in those days. I was skipped twice and was one of the tallest students in my class at the age of 14. I also had hair on my chest and was 5 feet 11. Not only was I mistaken for an older person but was expected to behave as such. Some of my sophisticated friends smoked. Most movie stars smoked and they all seemed to be so confident. So I found a cure for my shyness and became a smoker. In time, I conquered my shyness but the addiction remained and I was convinced that cigarettes made me feel good and self confident. Answering the telephone was accompanied by a cigarette. The car could not start unless I had a cigarette. I had developed the thought that I had to feel good at all times, therefore I smoked almost all the time. After all, why not feel good all the time? Comments made to me by people who cared for me with were invariably followed by smoking even more. After all, I needed immediate gratification and if they really knew how I felt and if they really loved me they would understand how I felt and thus endorse or suggest I should smoke more in order to feel better. I also learned that if it (smoking in this case) made me feel good in the past, it should make me feel good now. The vicious cycle was established and my cigarette became my best friend. Today, I have not smoked in 10 years even after having been addicted to at least a couple of packs a day. I overcame the addiction through self hypnosis combined with other techniques.

Standard hypnotic procedures for smoke ending work for many people. However, there are some smokers who must stop smoking for medical reasons and some who come to us with ambivalent feelings. At first, these clients do not always respond to hypnosis. At the basis of this lack of responsiveness is the conflict they experience between knowing that they need to stop and not wanting to stop (therefore the ambivalence). Ambivalence can be described as a state of mind where an individual experiences conflicting but coexisting feelings. The ambivalence is between doing the addictive behavior and resisting it. This can be interpreted as resistance or denial. It also is verbalized by many as being afraid to give up the sense of security and being well provided for by their addiction. I believe the above pattern is typical for all addictions. Addictions become our best friends, for they relieve our discomfort temporarily by blocking or diverting us from a reality which is perceived as overwhelming. Most addictions share similarities yet each addiction has its own specific characteristics. Each addict has his own agenda as well.

Some characteristics of an addict can be described as a person feeling trapped, stuck in a pattern of behavior to the point that they can not be freed from it. Addicts recognize that their pattern of behavior is self-destructive. They have usually been unsuccessful in overcoming their compulsions. Most have poor self–esteem. Those seeking help have frequently surrendered to the plea of others or threats to their ill health while some are self motivated to change.

So how do we proceed? What are our goals in this helping process?

Following an evaluation, the hypnotherapist will need to discuss with the client the procedures and what needs to be done.

Regardless of one’s theoretical orientations, therapists are in agreement that certain things have to happen as part of therapy. Clients will benefit from altering their perceptions of themselves and reexamine their self-image. In some situations, regression to the initial precipitating event may be necessary. Regardless of their theoretical orientations, therapists are in agreement that certain things have to happen as part of the process of overcoming the problem. The client needs to alter his perception of himself, of others and of situations, and is led to evaluate new ways of coping. This is achieved by exploring his feelings, ideations or experiences. All those are usually related to his current fears and difficulties in adjustment. The common denominator is frequently a lack of ability at managing stress.

Resistance from a patient gives the clinician an important clue. In many cases, the unwillingness or inability to be receptive to change is linked to self confidence, fear of how they will adjust without the crutch or support of the addiction. Therefore, one needs to attend and address first other factors such as stress, fear, self confidence. For some addicts, the thought of being without their choice addiction creates anxiety and can take over and affect the individual. Clients have reported fear and apprehension, if not panic, at the thought of being without the addictive outlet. As they share their thoughts, one can notice increase of heart rate, even shaking and some report feeling dizzy. All those are symptoms of anxiety. After the initial evaluation I have in some cases come to suggest starting with procedures incorporating stress reduction and self confidence before approaching a smoke ending program. Not every one who smokes is an addict, not every one who drinks is an alcoholic. Not every one who gambles is addicted to gambling. So, we need to go beyond limiting ourselves to the use of a script.

It is important initially to discuss with the client the goals and procedure.

Some clients expect to be hypnotized in one session and be cured of that habit. Some expect to experience hypnosis, although this might not be one's first choice to alleviate the problem. I have come to feel that for those clients who place such great faith in hypnosis, hypnosis must be used for, if anything else, it acts as a placebo effect.

I have found that a technique of choice is to have the smoker taper the habit. This minimizes the discomfort of the withdrawal and provides excellent control over the habit. For those clients who follow the program to a T, the success rate is 100%.

The application of the Emotional Freedom Technique is also a powerful tool and yields great success. We need to listen carefully to what our clients' request. If they state that they want to be hypnotized to give up smoking, we proceed with hypnosis. If they come with the expectation of becoming non-smokers, then I believe it is up to us to use the method we choose to eliminate the habit.

Clients smoking over three packs a day should be started on a stress reduction program first. It is always necessary to adjust our procedures to the needs of the client instead of fitting our clients to a standard approach.


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