Can hypnosis be beneficial for smoking cessation?
Most of us have heard of hypnosis. We’ve seen it on entertaining TV shows where a hypnotist grabs somebody from the audience, places them in a trance, and precedes to make them confess their darkest secrets.
It’s questionable whether or not the hypnosis you see on the TV is real. The chances are that it is fabricated for entertainment purposes.
But hypnosis is used legitimately for a variety of reasons, including in the treatment of eating disorders, addictions, and weight management.
You might know somebody who has had hypnotherapy in the past to help them over a drug addiction or mental health condition. Maybe you’ve been hypnotised yourself in the past.
Hypnosis is also used to help people stop smoking. For many, it forms a key part of their smoking cessation journey by helping them to overcome nicotine cravings and find healthier ways to cope with daily stresses.
Despite anecdotal evidence supporting the use of hypnosis for quitting smoking, there is currently very little scientific information around this topic.
In this article, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about smoking and hypnotherapy. This article should hopefully help you to make your own informed decision about its effectiveness in smoking cessation.
Why Is Quitting Smoking So Hard?
Ask any current or ex-smoker and they are bound to tell you that quitting smoking was one of the hardest things that they’ve ever done. When you try to give up cigarettes once and for all, you are hit with intense nicotine cravings and unbearable withdrawal symptoms.
The addictive nature of cigarettes is due to their nicotine content. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that causes the typically stress-relieving effects of smoking. When you take a few puffs on your cigarette, the nicotine gets absorbed almost immediately into your bloodstream through the alveoli in your lungs.
Once in your bloodstream, the nicotine travels into your brain where it interacts with acetylcholine receptors. This is the same type of receptor that dopamine interacts with, giving you feelings of pleasure and motivation. So, the more you smoke, the more you get motivated to smoke again!
When somebody attempts to quit smoking, it’s the strong cravings for nicotine that make things so difficult. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and increased appetite.
The more you smoke, the more intense these cravings are likely to be and the harder it will be for you to quit smoking.
What is Hypnosis?
Hypnosis can be defined as having an altered state of mind or awareness. During hypnosis, you become detached from your immediate surroundings and, instead, you place all of your focus on your thoughts and feelings.
A hypnotic state is often referred to as a trance-like state where you aren’t conscious. It resembles a meditative state where you feel completely relaxed. Note that you aren’t unconscious and you aren’t asleep during hypnosis, which are two commonly-held misconceptions about the practice of hypnosis.
Hypnotic states have been used in healing for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that it gained popularity. It was a man called Sigmund Freud who helped hypnosis to gain attention when he used it to help his patients recognise and target their deepest thoughts and feelings.
Hypnosis is used in psychiatry and psychology as part of the treatment for a variety of health conditions, such as addiction, sleep disorders, and speech impediments. Hypnosis isn’t just used for drug and alcohol addiction. It is also used to treat nicotine addiction (an addiction to tobacco or smoking).
Hypnosis is performed by a licensed hypnotist or hypnotherapist. The therapist will use a variety of techniques to place you in a trance-like state to raise your subconscious awareness and open your mind up to new ideas.
There are three main types of hypnosis:
- Hypnotherapy – this is performed by a licensed psychotherapist and is commonly used to treat mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders
- Guided hypnosis – this type of therapy uses guided audio or video clips that can be found online or on an app to induce a hypnotic state.
- Self-hypnosis – when somebody achieves a hypnotic state by themselves using stress-relief or stress-management techniques
What Happens During a Hypnotherapy Session?
Hypnotherapy sessions may vary slightly depending on the therapist and the unique needs of the patient. There are several different methods that are used to induce hypnosis.
Hypnotists may use more than one method at once to help their patients access their subconscious and heighten their state of mind. Induction methods include deep breathing, muscular relaxation, counting, and visualisation.
Once the patient is in a trance-like state, the therapist will begin to make suggestions. For example, during a hypnosis session for smoking cessation, the therapist may ask the patient to visualize a life that is free of cigarettes. They may ask the patient to think about all of the negative side effects of smoking.
Does Hypnosis Help With Smoking Cessation?
When you look at the information surrounding hypnosis and smoking cessation, there is a mixed bag. Some evidence supports the use of hypnosis for smokers while other evidence suggests its ineffectiveness.
Some studies show high success rates when hypnosis is used in combination with other treatments as part of a wider, more extensive quit smoking program. Hypnosis is also better than no support at all when it comes to giving up cigarettes.
However, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether or not hypnosis is better than other methods that are used for smoking cessation. One research paper suggested that hypnotic interventions may not yield better outcomes than placebos.
A lot of evidence suggests that hypnosis is no better than non-hypnotic methods when it comes to quitting smoking. There is also very little evidence on the potential adverse effects of hypnosis.
Only one in four individuals can achieve a trance-like state. This drastically decreases the efficacy of hypnosis as a method of addiction treatment as a maximum of 25% of smokers may see any benefits from having hypnotherapy sessions. Even for those who do experience some benefits with hypnosis, the long-term results can vary from person to person.
Scientists don’t actually know why hypnosis works in the first place. Some research suggests that the effects of hypnosis are caused by the relaxation of the brain. It’s possible that entering a trance-like state enables you to hyper-focus on the benefits of smoking cessation.
What Are Some Alternatives to Hypnosis?
With all of this in mind, it’s clear to see why many people want to give hypnosis a try when they are trying to quit smoking. However, it’s also very clear to see why hypnosis is not often the first port of call for smokers.
There are plenty of alternatives to hypnosis if you’re trying to ditch the cigarettes. Some very effective alternatives to smoking and hypnosis include:
- Using cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to tackle negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions
- Making lifestyle changes, such as eating healthily and reducing alcohol intake
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), including nicotine patches, lozenges, gums, and sprays
- Attending support groups to build a support network and get advice from experts and others who are in the same position as you
- Exercise and yoga to provide a much-needed distraction when you’re getting intense nicotine cravings and combat the negative impacts of long-term smoking on your heart health.
- Mindfulness and meditation, which can help to relax your mind and improve your focus and awareness
- Quit smoking apps which can help you to adapt your responses to triggers and avoid these triggers to maximise your chances of quitting smoking for good
If you’re currently on a quit smoking journey, it might be worth giving hypnosis a go. You won’t know if you’re one of the 25% of the population that is able to be hypnotised unless you try!
After trying a few hypnotherapy sessions, you might find that it is ineffective for you. If so, you can try some of the alternatives that we mentioned above. If you feel that hypnosis might be best when used in combination with other quit smoking methods, you can use more than one method to see which ones work the best for you.
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