Therapy for addictions and unhelpful habits

Hypnotherapy and talking therapies can halt addictions
It may be a celebration but when you can’t stop, you have a problem…. how therapy can help addictions.

The first step in the recovery of addictions is to first admit you have a problem, then do something about it. I have seen many individuals over the years in Oxfordshire that say they are not alcoholics. For example, if you don’t need to drink when you wake up in the morning. You may not see drinking a bottle of vodka or several bottles of wine in an evening as a problem. Or you say you only have one spliff in an evening. But try as you may, if you attempt to give up the addictions, you can’t.

First of all, a person who experiences trouble controlling their alcohol consumption is not necessarily addicted to the substance alcoholic. But they could be a person whose subconscious mind is controlling the habit for them.

Most importantly, addictions drive the need for the substance or action. This motivation is part of our genetic brain makeup. We are in pursuit of the good feelings and the rush of dopamine we get in anticipation of the substance or act. The purpose of our brains doing this is to motivate us to hunt, eat, procreate and survive. Therefore the downside is that our subconscious when it creates that shortcut also includes substances or behaviours that can if in taken or pursued in large quantities can be highly dangerous.

Deal with stress and upsetting problems in a different way

Some people drink to forget a problem, to mask pain or stress. likewise, some may have noticed that there are times when they have decided not to drink alcohol anymore, or maybe cut back on socialising. They may have noticed that as soon as they have decided to make changes, the urge to drink just seems to get worse. Again this is the subconscious mind-controlling the habit.

It is the effect of the neurochemical dopamine on the nucleus accumbens – the “reward circuit” of the brain – that leads to addictions to drugs; such as cannabis, cocaine and substances; also sugar or refined foods, and actions; for example, gambling or sex.

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Using Solution Focused Therapy for addictions

When using Solution-focused therapy, we can look at the times you don’t need to drink/ take drugs or take part in the actions and work towards reducing the amount or to stop altogether. Solution-focused therapy uncovers and addresses needs which are not being met. It might be that a person may need to have more social contact. They may need to change where they go to socialise or change what they drink or take. Whatever the client can bring, their resources, their determination can help them change the addiction template in their subconscious mind.

Also, see Solution Focused Therapy

Using Hypnotherapy for addictions

Using hypnosis it can help reduce the stressful situation that alcohol/substance is either masking or creating – as it often affects relationships with everyone around you. Visualisation can help you set your mind on a future free of the addiction, can help rewrite those templates and feel mentally stronger. Research at Plymouth University found that volunteers who could visualise doing something different than overeat, or drink found it easier to change their behaviour.

Using Mindfulness for addictions

Mindful practices can help lower the stress of withdrawal. It can also help as a good distraction when cravings become a possible problem. Becoming Mindful can also help a person understand what is driving their addiction and to have acceptance of oneself and a little self-love. Many individuals are hard on themselves and the more they try hard to give up the habit, the more they feel driven by it. By becoming mindful and accepting themselves, they can give themselves the mental space to move forward calmly.

Using Cognitive behavioural therapy for addictions

I have used CBT activity sheets/thought process forms and experiments for clients who are struggling. This allows someone to become more aware of their drives and allow them then to find solutions to changing them. Being able to slowly reduce the amounts they eat, drink or smoke can make it easier to give up. Going cold turkey can bring on problems of its own.

Sleep problems and addictions

There is also the problem with sleep – drinking alcohol or taking drugs disrupts your sleep, especially the REM cycle, which is the time during sleep that the brain processes emotions and memories. Years of drinking and drug taking can severely impair one’s memory and can lead to Alzheimer’s later in life.

We will be working towards the goals you want to achieve, but I insist on being sober during the sessions. You need to be able to be focused, and listen carefully and alcohol and drugs disrupt these processes. It is also a waste of your time and money as it will mean I will cancel those sessions, but still charge for them.

The cost of alcohol addiction on the health services

Ill health linked to alcohol is estimated to cost the NHS in England £3.3bn every year, according to the BBC. Research at Oxford University shows that over 4,000 deaths from cancer, heart disease, stroke and liver disease in England could be prevented. If drinkers reduced their average level of alcohol consumption to half a unit per person per day, that would help.

The NHS also recommends that drinking small amounts regularly is more beneficial than saving it all up for the weekend. Bingeing of any description causes more damage.

Chronic alcoholics will experience symptoms that will need medical help to control once the alcohol is removed. In these cases, I would insist that the client has full medical support before using hypnotherapy to close the compulsive habit down. In the majority of cases, however, a person drinking habit can be controlled, reduced and removed altogether. Unlike stop smoking hypnotherapy, however, it will take considerably more sessions than 1 or 2. It’s more likely to be anything up to 12.

How alcohol affects the brain

Alcohol affects brain chemistry by altering levels of the chemical messengers. These neurotransmitters carry the signals that control behaviours, thought processes and emotion. Alcohol increases the effects of the GABA – an inhibitor that causes sluggishness. It also inhibits glutamate, which results in a similar type of physiological slowdown. In addition, it also increases the amount of dopamine in the brain’s reward centre. This creates the feeling of pleasure that occurs when drinking alcohol.

Alcohol in moderate amounts is usually not a problem, however, binge drinking is, and so is long-term use. There are the calories to take into consideration too – a pint of beer has around 250 calories and a large glass of red wine is 200 calories. You can see how a bottle of wine is over half a day’s calorie intake of 1800 for a woman.

Headaches one experiences after a hangover occur because alcohol switches the body to expelling liquid rapidly. It will increase urine output and therefore dehydration. Eventually, it will even reduce the fluid around the brain, which is why the head hurts.

Long-term can be an even bigger problem. As alcohol causes the brain to shrink leading to deficiencies in the fibres that carry information between brain cells. The brain accommodates for the regular presence of alcohol by altering neurotransmitter production. Previous research has suggested heavy drinking may be to blame for one in four cases of dementia.

A message to the partners of drinkers

If you’re the spouse, relative or friend of someone with a drinking problem I cannot “remove” their drink problem like removing a splinter from the skin. It’s understanding the needs of the individual and just providing the support needed. I once worked with a recovering alcoholic who found it so difficult to socialise. His colleagues would insist on taunting him with beer when all he wanted was a diet coke. I used to have a diet coke with him in support, and he always appreciated the effort. As close relatives or friends, you can make the person come to therapy, only persuade and support their decisions.

Other addictions

One reason we become addicted to a whole variety of activities, as well as substances, is because we get a kick of Dopamine when doing something pleasurable. However, some people are more vulnerable to addictive behaviour than others. This should not serve as an excuse but as a moderating force. Any activity which becomes a problem, be it gambling, internet addiction, texting etc can be overcome. You will need to have a goal and the motivation and willpower to change.

So if you have issues with any of the following solution focused hypnotherapy can help:

Also, know that running produces a chemical in the brain that is also found in cannabis: read more.

January and October are months when most people seek help to give up drinking and smoking, see more at: Go sober for October  and Dry January.