Overview: Learn how using hypnosis to quit smoking helps to unwind the mental addiction, reduce physical withdrawal symptoms, and help you stay quit long-term.
Most smokers are hooked on a habit they hate. In fact, nearly 70 percent of smokers would be happy to never smoke another cigarette again, according to the Truth Initiative.
The desire so many have to quit smoking makes sense. Smoking adversely affects your health. It's common knowledge. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco is responsible for 5 million deaths per year worldwide.
Not to mention, there are dozens of other reasons to quit. To save money, for your kids, for healthier skin, to be more active, etc.
But if most smokers want to quit, what’s holding them back?
Here's a short answer: The mental addiction to cigarettes, which we can reframe with hypnotherapy, prevents us from quitting. Our automatic responses to withdrawal and triggers and the positive attachments we have to cigarettes and smoking (which might occur in the background) make it immensely more difficult to quit.
Hypnotherapy provides a way to set up roadblocks to these mental triggers. We disrupt the automatic responses and reframe the positive attachments and negative self-talk (e.g. “this is too hard for me to do”).
As a result, hypnosis has been shown to greatly improve the results of smoking cessation programs.
What Is Hypnosis: Quick Overview
Hypnosis is meditation with a goal. Similar to meditation, hypnosis helps you reach a trance-like state. Once in this state, the patient is more open to suggestions. Therefore, they can work with a hypnotherapist to explore and address specific issues or behaviors that they want to change.
Can you use hypnosis to quit smoking?
Absolutely. During a quit smoking hypnotherapy session, a hypnotherapist would guide you into a deeply relaxed state. Once in that state, you can begin to untangle the mental struggles you have with quitting smoking.
For example, you can reframe the triggers you might have. You can retrain how the subconscious views smoking and cigarettes. You can adjust the way you respond to withdrawal symptoms.
In general, hypnosis helps smokers:
- Reduce withdrawal symptoms
- Alter the automatic response to withdrawals and triggers
- Unwind the positive associations and attachments the mind has to smoking.
This is why numerous studies have found that hypnosis for smoking can be twice as effective as nicotine gum or quitting cold turkey. In fact, numerous celebrities – from Adele, to Matt Damon – used hypnosis to quit smoking.
Hypnosis and Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Quitting smoking is hard to do because of the physical addiction. When we deprive the body of nicotine, withdrawal symptoms set in. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Mental sluggishness
When we deprive the body of nicotine, the mind goes into panic mode. The alert system in the brain is triggered, and we start to feel the symptoms of withdrawal. This is one reason quitting smoking is so difficult.
We've trained ourselves to respond to these withdrawal triggers in the most efficient way possible. We light up and satisfy the pleasure centers in the brain. The withdrawal symptoms dissipate. Hypnosis helps ease withdrawal symptoms in two ways:
- Hypnotherapy can help us stay calm and present when we experience withdrawals.
- Hypnosis reframes the automatic response to withdrawal symptoms.
In other words, withdrawal triggers an automatic response. By practicing hypnotherapy for smoking, we can disrupt these responses and set up helpful roadblocks. After a hypnosis session, we might not feel withdrawal as strongly.
In addition, we can retrain the mind's automatic response. Rather than saying, “I need to smoke to stop these racing thoughts.” We might say, “I can go for a walk or brush my teeth.” Or we may teach the mind to respect the body, and our automatic response might be to remind ourselves that “I respect my body, and smoking is poison that is killing me.”
But although nicotine withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, there’s something going on at a deeper level that makes quitting smoking so difficult.
Battling the Mental Addiction: How Hypnosis Helps
Nicotine is extremely physically addictive. However, the mental addiction is the hardest part to break.
We consciously know the dangers of smoking. But subconsciously, nicotine addiction is deeply rooted. You can see this in all of the automatic thoughts and triggers that drive addiction.
Stress, mealtimes, driving and drinking alcohol all can trigger cigarette cravings. These triggers are automatic.
However, the subconscious is also attached to cigarettes. Smokers believe they actually enjoy smoking, despite the adverse effects. They believe they need them to survive.
This is similar to the attachment you might have for a favorite sweater. At first, we really do enjoy it. We look great in it. It's so comfortable. But over time, the sweater starts to fray and come undone. But we're still attached to it. We continue to wear the sweater even when it's frumpy and unflattering.
Our subconscious thoughts keep the nicotine addiction in place.
The subconscious mind triggers the craving for a cigarette after dinner or when you get behind the wheel. The subconscious mind triggers a pang when you’re under stress or after you’ve poured a glass of wine.
We also have deep positive attachments to smoking. These attachments are engrained at the subconscious level. We don't always recognize that they exist. That's why the rational mind can say, “I hate smoking. I should quit.” But at a subconscious level, we still think about smoking positively.
This mental battle explains why smoking cessation aids like nicotine lozenges don't always work.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) only eliminates the physical cravings. NRT reduces nicotine withdrawal symptoms. But those mental attachments are still very much in place. Overcoming nicotine addiction, therefore, requires smokers to tackle the mental battle head on.
What if there was a way to “shut off” those triggers? Or to greatly reduce the positive attachments a smoker has to cigarettes?
These attachments and triggers are held in place by top-down processing. Hypnosis allows us to set up roadblocks for these automatic top-down responses.
Top-Down Processing & the Mental Addiction
Suppose a smoker who is trying to quit has a big presentation at work. She probably feels stressed out. Stress might then trigger the need for a cigarette.
But where does that trigger come from?
Top-down processing explains it. Here's how it works:
All the sensory information that we collect is sent to the brain. This raw sensory data is then used to create a conscious impression. Here, the brain shapes emotions and delivers a response. We experience stress, the heart races and palms sweat. The mind creates an impression that this is really stressful. And the response is triggered. “Smoking will help calm me down.”
This process makes quitting smoking so difficult. The subconscious, automatic attachments to smoking influence our top-down processing.
For example, you might associate smoking as a stress reliever. Therefore, your natural response to stress might be to light up. The key to quitting smoking is all about gaining top-down control – eliminating the automatic response to stimuli that’s keeping your addiction in place.
Hypnosis to Quit Smoking: How It Works
Here's how hypnotherapy works in addiction. Through hypnosis, smokers can begin to untangle the web of subconscious thoughts that fuel the addiction. Once the attachments are gone, smokers feel fewer cravings, fewer triggers, and they can begin to turn off the need for a cigarette.
Hypnosis also helps smokers create negative attachments to smoking.
For example, we might, at a subconscious level, enjoy the smell of cigarettes. Hypnosis allows us to confront this positive attachment, and form a new healthier one, e.g. cigarettes smell like burning plastic.
When you experience stimuli that causes a craving, the mind already has associations in place that influence the response. You feel stress. The stress triggers thoughts of smoking as a stress reliever. And you react.
Hypnosis helps to alter these negative thought processes.
How? Well, during hypnosis, you follow relaxation and breathing techniques to reach a trance-like state. This frame of mind is similar to daydreaming. You’re aware, but, at the same time, the mind is disconnected. While in the trance-state, your mind is much more open to suggestion. It’s detached from the critical, conscious mind. The critical mind tells you that it will be hard, that you can't do it, or that you should just give up.
In a state of hypnosis, you can provide your subconscious with positive suggestions that “stick.” In other words, you’re setting up roadblocks for the automatic, top-down processes. So when you experience a smoking trigger, the mind doesn’t automatically react. It slows down and “listens” to this new information you’ve provided.
How to Use Hypnosis to Quit Smoking
Our subconscious thoughts are powerful and they form our perceptions. So when our subconscious tells us it will work, through top-down processing, we send that information back down. Hypnotherapy works in a similar fashion. We’re providing our minds with new, more accurate information about smoking.
Suggestions provided during a hypnosis for smoking session might focus on how habits are automatic responses to thoughts. We might empower the subconscious by suggesting that we have complete control over our thoughts. We do have the mental toughness to break nicotine addiction.
Or you might be given suggestions that reframe the smell of cigarette smoke. One hypnosis suggestion might be that cigarettes smell like burning plastic. Additionally, the Spiegel's Method is a popular hypnotherapy technique for smoking cessation.
Herbert Spiegel was one of the first psychiatrists to popularize clinical hypnotherapy. He was also the author of Trance and Treatment: Clinical Uses of Hypnosis. During sessions, Spiegel would provide three suggestions repeated in a hypnosis script including:
- You need your body to live.
- Should respect your body.
- Should protect your body.
In other words, Spiegel’s method did not focus on thinking about quitting smoking. Rather, he theorized that having patients focus on respecting the body distracted us away from abstinence.
Research Review: Stop Smoking with Hypnosis
This guide has covered the theory how you can use hypnosis to quit smoking. But we haven’t yet answered a question that’s on your mind. Does hypnotherapy really work for smoking cessation?
There is some compelling research that suggests hypnosis can be an effective tool. In several studies, the quit rates easily beat traditional methods.
Yet, the consensus seems to be that, you have to want the results. Hypnotherapy is not the best option if:
- You feel like you should quit, but don't want to
- Aren't ready to quit
- Want to quit for someone else
But if you’re ready to quit smoking, hypnosis can be a powerful tool. Here's what some of the research has found:
A classic hypnosis study looked at the use of hypnotherapy for a range of conditions. The study found that hypnotherapy takes an average of just six hypnotherapy sessions to make long-lasting change, while psychoanalysis takes 600. Plus, hypnosis was highly effective; after 6 sessions 93 percent of participants, while the psychoanalysis group had just a 38 percent recovery rate.
Several clinical trials have found evidence that hypnosis to quit smoking is effective.
A 2007 study from researchers at the American College of Chest Physicians compared hypnosis to nicotine replacement therapy. Fifty percent of patients who were treated in the hypnotherapy group were still quit at 26 weeks compared to just 15.78 percent in the nicotine replacement group. Patients who underwent NRT and hypnotherapy also experienced a 50-percent success rate at 26 weeks.
A 1994 study published in Psychological Reports examined hypnotherapy’s effectiveness combined with aversion therapy. In the study, 93 male and 93 female participants underwent a cessation program combining both methods. After three months, nearly 90 percent of both groups were abstaining from smoking.
In 2001, a study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis examined the effectiveness of hypnosis and a rapid smoking protocol for cessation. The results: Of the 43 smokers who underwent treatment, 39 remained smoke-free after 6 months.
A thorough meta-analysis of over 600 studies with 70,000+ smokers found this on the effectiveness of hypnosis in smoking cessation:
- Hypnosis was found to be twice as effective as self-care methods such as quitting cold turkey or reading self-help books.
- Hypnotherapy was twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapy involving nicotine gum.
- Hypnosis was three times more effective than physician interventions that involved more than just counseling.
More hypnosis to quit smoking research
A small 2004 study found that 81% of participants had quit at the end of the trial. In the study, 21 participants received hypnotherapy for smoking cessation. A majority had quit after 3 sessions, and 50% had remained non-smokers after 1 year.
A field study evaluated the effectiveness of combining hypnosis and aversion treatments for smoking cessation. The 2-week program resulted in 92% of men and 90% of women reporting abstinence, with 86% of men and 87% of women reporting continued abstinence at a 3-month follow-up, suggesting greater efficacy for both sexes with this combined approach.
A study of 71 smokers showed that, after a two-year follow-up period, the patients who quit smoking with the help of hypnosis were twice as likely to remain smoke-free as those who attempted to quit on their own.
Quit Smoking with Hypnosis: Getting Started
Are you ready to live your life smoke-free? Do you want to try hypnosis as a therapy option? You have several methods for using hypnosis to kick your smoking cravings, all of which can help you curb your habit. The three most common include:
- Private Hypnotherapy Sessions – Speak directly with a certified hypnotherapist. During a one-on-one session, which happens over the phone, the hypnotherapist will ask questions about your addiction and then guide you through a hypnosis session.
- Hypnosis App – Guided hypnosis sessions offer a similar experience to private sessions. The key difference is that the session is guided via a recording. You listen to the recording, following the steps to enter into hypnosis.
- Self-Hypnosis – Self-hypnosis tends to play an important role in smoking cessation. If, for example, you started with a private session, you’d likely continue the therapy at home with self-hypnosis. In self-hypnosis, you follow a hypnotic induction to reach the trance state and then read from a hypnosis script to deliver yourself suggestions. A stop smoking hypnosis script can also help.
Bottom line, if you’re ready to quit, hypnosis can help.