Does the word hypnosis conjure up images of a magician commanding an entranced audience member to crow like a rooster? It does for many people.

For others, hypnosis is an aid in overcoming addiction, losing weight, and relieving pain.  In hypnosis, you are more open to suggestions, which means your behavior (i.e. addictive behavior) may be modified.

To understand hypnosis treatment, we'll first look at how hypnosis started and then how it works.

What is Hypnosis?
"Hypnosis is a state of inner absorption, concentration and focused attention," says the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. "Because hypnosis allows people to use more of their potential, learning self-hypnosis is the ultimate act of self-control."

WebMD says hypnosis uses "guided relaxation, intense concentration, and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness that is sometimes called a trance. The person's attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored."

Now think about hypnosis in everyday occurrences. You're driving and can't remember the last few miles. You're engrossed in a movie or book and lose track of time. These are instances of hypnosis. No swinging pocket watch. No "you're getting sleepy." You are not sleeping or unconscious. In fact, you are highly attentive to whatever it is you're doing.

History of Hypnosis
Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician who was investigating the effects of magnets placed on the bodies of the infirmed, acquainted the Western world with hypnosis. He "believed that there [was] an invisible animal magnetic force (hypnosis) or fluid in the atmosphere which he could harness, store in his body, and transmit to physically ill patients with curative effects."

In 1784, a French commission headed by Benjamin Franklin investigated Mesmer's claims and concluded he was a fraud. For his troubles, the doctor's name was used for a new word on the subject of animal magnetism: mesmerism.

An English surgeon, James Braid, furthered Mesmer's work, writing a book (1843) and coining the term hypnotism after the Greek word for sleep, "hypnos."

Fast forward to the 20th Century: hypnosis is used to treat veterans of WWI and WWII for post-traumatic stress disorder; as part of psychoanalysis treatment; and as part of cognitive behavior therapy which is used in addiction therapy.

How Does Hypnosis Work?
In hypnosis, a person is put into a relaxed, hyper-responsive state, where their subconscious mind is highly open to suggestion. The person is not asleep or unconscious but instead focused intently on what the hypnotist is asking.

The two kinds of hypnosis uses:

  • Analysis finds the root cause of an addiction or disorder that is hidden in unconscious memory. Once found, this can be addressed with therapy.
  • "Hypnosis avoids the critical censor of the conscious mind, which often defeats what we know to be in our best interests.  The effectiveness of hypnosis appears to lie in the way in which it bypasses the critical observation and interference of the conscious mind, allowing the client's intentions for change to take effect," says the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis.
  • In suggestion therapy, the patient is more open to suggestions meaning their behaviors (eating, drinking, etc.) can be changed.

Stages of Hypnosis
During hypnosis, your blood pressure and heart rate lower and though you are physically relaxed, your mind is fully awake. The University of Maryland Medical Center lists these stages of hypnosis:

  • Reframing the problem
  • Becoming relaxed, then absorbed (deeply engaged in the words or images presented by a hypnotherapist)
  • Dissociating (letting go of critical thoughts)
  • Responding (complying with a hypnotherapist's suggestions)
  • Returning to usual awareness
  • Reflecting on the experience

Does Hypnosis Work?
Like many forms of treatment, the success of hypnosis ultimately lies with the patient. In other words, if they believe it will work and are open to it, they are more likely to have success. Here are a few studies on its success.

In an American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis study of drug and alcohol-addicted patients, the success rate (drug or alcohol-free for one year) was 77% for an intense treatment using hypnosis.

A study by the Department for the Treatment of Substance Abuse, Israel Ministry of Health showed the following results for hypnosis for a group of drug addicts:

  • All patients completely stopped use of any street drugs and results remained stable for 6 months after end of treatment.
  • Two years after end of intervention, 7 out of the 9 remained clean of use of heroin
  • Two returned to partial use
  • Six of the patients returned to partial use of benzodiazepines


Hypnosis treatment is not a cure-all for addiction. Look at it as just one tool in your toolbox for treatment. Success can depend on how open you are to receiving hypnosis treatment. For other methods of addiction treatment, check out holistic therapy and 12-step groups.