How To Combat Addiction With Your Mind

When people hear that I use hypnotherapy to combat addiction, their minds bring up a host of misconceptions. Associations formed via old school hypnotist shows – with a lot of hand waving and volunteers acting like monkeys – are difficult to avoid. Something that was presented to the general public as a cheap novelty is tough to take seriously.

On the other hand, those who do take it seriously sometimes put too much stock in it. They may believe that a few hypnotherapy sessions will eliminate any unhealthy urges, as if a switch has been flipped in the brain and taped down.

The reality of course is very different. Hypnotherapy works for one reason: the incredible power of the mind. Your mind. Hypnotherapy can help train your mind to combat addiction, but only if you are already invested in the process.

The power of belief

The phenomenon of the placebo effect is well-known. Patients who are given “sugar pills,” thinking they are getting real drugs, tend to believe that the treatment has worked. What you might not know is that often the placebo actually does work.

In other words, patients are not simply duped into imagining that they are feeling better. The power of that belief is enough to actually relieve the symptoms.

The nocebo effect does just the opposite. A harmless substance can produce harmful effects if the taker simply believes that it is toxic.

The placebo and nocebo effects show just how powerful the mind is. But is it powerful enough to combat addiction? What if the addiction is physical in nature?

How you can wield the power of your mind

Addictions tend to have two factors: physical dependence and mental dependence. In certain cases, the physical dependence has to be treated through physical means before any progress can be made. An addict in withdrawal from heroin or other opiates will not be able to recover with the power of the mind alone. Medical attention is generally advised.

When the physical dependence has been treated, or is at least weakened, the addiction can be treated using mind power.

If you or a loved one has suffered from addiction, this sentiment might sound incredibly naive. If only you could just choose not to be addicted and, voila, you’re fixed! Of course, it’s not nearly that simple. The mind needs a lot of training before it can combat addiction effectively. The determination to beat your addiction is not enough on its own.

On the other hand, without that determination, no amount of training will help an addict overcome addiction.

It is similar to the role attention plays in learning knowledge and skills. You cannot learn much without paying attention. You can look at the same page over and over again without results. Paying attention, however, will get you nowhere if the information you have before you is incorrect.

In the same way, hypnosis can align an addict’s subconscious programming with their conscious choice to be free from the addiction. Without the conscious choice, subconscious programming will not get them there.

Putting the mind to work

Expecting to beat addiction simply by determining to do so is like expecting to pick up a heavy weight simply because you have muscles. If you do consistent, focused training, you will eventually lift that weight. If not, you will fail no matter how many times you try.

Hypnotherapy helps you do the training the mind needs to combat addiction. We isolate an area of your life that you are determined to change. We then do specialized training to build the mind’s skill and strength.

Eventually, with a combination of conscious determination and subconscious strength, you will be capable of managing your urges by using learned self-control.

The mind is incredibly powerful, especially when you have the determination to go along with it. With a bit of training, it can help recovering addicts combat even the most resilient addictions.

Dr. Nancy Irwin is co-author of “Breaking Through, Stories of Hope and Recovery” and a Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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