Most smokers are hooked on a habit they hate. It’s true. The majority of smokers – an estimated 80 percent – would be happy to never smoke another cigarette again.
It makes sense too.
We all know that smoking adversely affects your health. Even moderate smokers have experienced a sore throat or difficulty breathing when climbing a flight of stairs. And, of course, there’s the threat of more serious health consequences. (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, have numerous reasons to quit, and know just how detrimental cigarettes are for their health, what’s holding them back?
The reason is simple. Nicotine addiction is deeply rooted in the subconscious mind. Stress, mealtime, driving, drinking alcohol (and the list goes on) all subconsciously trigger thoughts that cause cigarette craving.
But what if there was a way to “shut off” that voice in your head? Or at least reframe subconscious thoughts to think negatively about smoking?
Well, that’s the promise of hypnotherapy for quitting smoking.
With the help of a hypnotherapist or through self-hypnosis, the smoker can begin to untangle and quiet the web of subconscious thoughts that keep the addiction in place.
The Mental Trap: Why You Can’t Quit Smoking
Nicotine is such a hard habit to kick because of the physical and mental addiction. The physical addiction – which can cause withdrawal symptoms – acts as a roadblock for quitting.
Nicotine withdrawal causes:
- Aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Mental sluggishness
But although nicotine withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, there’s something going on at a deeper level that makes quitting smoking so difficult.
The mental addiction.Our subconscious thoughts keep the nicotine addiction in place. The subconscious triggers the urge for a cigarette after dinner, or when you get behind the wheel. It’s the subconscious mind that triggers a pang when you’re under stress, or you’ve poured a glass of wine.
This mental battle also explains why most smoking cessation aids like nicotine replacement therapy are mostly ineffective. NRT only eliminates the physical cravings – but those mental urges, those subconscious thoughts that tell us to reach for a cigarette, they’re still very much in place.
Overcoming nicotine addiction, therefore, requires smokers to tackle the mental battle head on. This battle rages in your subconscious thanks to top-down processing.
What is top-down processing?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 might help explain the phenomenon.
In a nutshell, all the sensory information that we collect is sent to the brain – touch, smell, feelings, sights. The raw sensory data is carried to the brain, where it is used to create a conscious impression. Here, the brain shapes emotions and feelings and delivers a response.
In other words, the mind receives the stress signal, it thinks about what’s happening, and then creates a response that’s based on those thoughts.
It’s this process that makes quitting smoking so difficult.
Subconscious thoughts influence our top-down responses. For example, you might associate smoking as a stress reliever, and 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.
How Hypnosis Can Help You Quit: An Overview
One theory of why hypnosis works for nicotine addiction: It provides us the ability to reframe our top-down thoughts.
When you experience stimuli that may cause 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.
But hypnosis helps you get to a frame of mind in which you alter these negative thought processes.
How? Well, during hypnosis, you following 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 suggestions. It’s detached from the critical, conscious mind – the part of the mind that’s constantly looking for reasons to stay a smoker.
Therefore, a hypnotherapist can provide you with more positive suggestions that “stick.” In other words, you’re setting up roadblocks for the automatic, top-down processes that are keeping the addiction in place. 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.
Reframing Your Subconscious Thoughts
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.
Hypnosis works in a similar fashion. We’re providing our minds with new, more accurate information about smoking.
Hypnotic suggestions – those delivered while in the trance state – might focus on how habits are automatic responses to thoughts and that we have complete control over our thoughts. Or you might be given suggestions that reframe the smell of cigarette smoke, i.e. it smells like burning plastic.
Additionally, one of the most popular hypnosis techniques for smoking cessation is called the Spiegel’s Method. Herbert Spiegel was one of the first psychiatrists to popularize clinical hypnotherapy and was the author of “Trance and Treatment: Clinical Uses of Hypnosis.”
During sessions, Spiegel would provide three suggestions repeated in a hypnosis script including:
- Smoking is poison
- You need your body to live
- You should respect your body and protect it
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 the attention away from abstinence and ignoring it altogether.
Research Review: Stop Smoking with Hypnosis
We’ve touched on the theory of hypnosis for smoking cessation. But we haven’t yet answered a question that’s on your mind: Can hypnosis really help you quit smoking?
The short answer is yes. Some compelling research has found that hypnosis can be an effective tool for helping you quit – with quit rates that easily beat more traditional methods.
Yet, the consensus seems to be that, like with any smoking cessation program, you have to want the results. Hypnotherapy is not the best option if:
- You feel like you should quit, but really would rather not
- You aren’t ready to quit
- You want to quit for someone else
But if you’re ready, hypnosis can be a powerful tool. 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.
Similarly several other studies have found evidence that hypnosis is a useful treatment for smoking cessation.
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.
Finally, a comprehensive meta-analysis looked at more than 600 studies that examined various smoking cessation methods. More than 70,000 smokers were included in the analysis. Overall, the analysis found some compelling results for hypnosis: