Giving up cigarettes is one of the best things you can do for your health. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States; smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body and harms nearly every one of your organs.
Hypnosis can help you quit cigarettes by addressing the psychological aspects of your addiction and looking into your underlying motivations for smoking. Quitting may be hard but it can improve your health and lower your risk of disease and premature death, even if you’ve smoked for many years.
Let’s dive into some of the dangers of smoking, explore the benefits of quitting, and discover how hypnotherapy can help people quit for good.
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The dangers of smoking
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 1.1 billion people smoke worldwide. While this may seem like a shockingly large number—and it is—, the amount of people smoking is actually decreasing worldwide - with 29 million fewer smokers today than in 2000.
Smoking is incredibly harmful. Smoking is the single leading cause of cancer worldwide, is responsible for 70% of all cases of lung cancer, and has even been shown to accelerate aging.
The CDC estimates that 1 in 5 deaths in the United States each year is caused by smoking. This means that smoking causes more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, car accidents, and firearm-related incidents combined.
Smoking has been linked to cancer in almost every part of the body, including:
- Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)
- Colon and rectum (colorectal)
- Kidney and ureter
- Oropharynx (includes parts of the throat, tongue, soft palate, and the tonsils)
- Trachea, bronchus, and lung
Additionally, smoking has been shown to increase your risk of many diseases, such as:
- Heart failure
- Lung diseases
Nearly half of all smokers die prematurely due to smoking-related diseases, and the average life expectancy of a smoker is ten years younger than a non-smoker.
Why is it so hard to quit smoking?
Considering the health consequences of smoking, and the fact an estimated 70% of current smokers want to quit, you might wonder why more people don’t give up the habit? It’s because, for most people, giving up smoking is incredibly difficult.
A 2016 study in BMJ Open showed that even experts can underestimate how difficult it is to quit smoking. Helpful resources, like Cancer.org, state that it may take ‘several attempts’ before you can successfully quit. However, the BMJ Open study suggests that it can actually take 30+ attempts to be able to go a year without cigarettes.
Smoking cessation can be challenging due to the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in cigarettes that makes people want to smoke—even if they’ve decided to quit.
An animal study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal suggests that this is because smoking more or less tricks the brain into continuing to smoke.
When you begin smoking, the nicotine may target receptors in one of the brain’s key reward systems, the ventral tegmental area (VTA), to stimulate both pleasure and aversion—in other words, you might have hated the taste but still wanted more.
If you continue to smoke, your brain experiences signaling process changes in the brain reward system. As nicotine releases dopamine (the feel-good chemical) each time you smoke, it effectively teaches the brain to repeat the same behavior. By this stage, you are no longer repulsed by cigarettes and begin to crave them instead.
Once your brain is dependent on nicotine, it becomes less concerned with chasing the pleasurable feelings of smoking and instead focuses on relieving ‘bad’ feelings of not having nicotine in your system.
Smoking withdrawal symptoms
The more you smoke‚ the more nicotine your body needs to feel ‘normal’. When your body doesn't get nicotine, you may feel uncomfortable (make that very uncomfortable) and crave cigarettes.
Withdrawal symptoms can begin in as little as a few hours from your last cigarette. Some people suffer from severe physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal once they stop smoking. These include:
- Cravings for nicotine
- Abdominal pain
- Aches and pains
Nicotine withdrawal may also cause psychological and sleep problems such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
If you're looking to quit and want to ward off some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, then hypnotherapy may be helpful. Hypnotherapy has been shown to both help people quit smoking and overcome the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Benefits of quitting smoking
Whatever your age, your health will benefit from quitting smoking. However, the sooner you quit, the faster your body can recover and your risk of serious health conditions will reduce.
The benefits of quitting smoking include:
- Reduced likelihood of disease or premature death: quitting smoking can improve your overall health, improve quality of life, and give years back to your life that you could otherwise lose from an early death.
- Higher energy levels: carbon monoxide levels in the blood are higher in those who smoke, reducing the amount of oxygen in the blood and making it difficult to function. But carbon monoxide levels decrease when a person stops smoking, allowing the lungs and muscles to function normally. The higher oxygen levels also benefit the brain, boosting alertness.
- More youthful skin: smoking accelerates the aging of the skin. A smoking habit can leave the skin dull, dry, and prone to wrinkles, but quitting smoking can reverse these effects and allow the skin to receive the nutrients it needs. Over time, the appearance of the skin should also improve.
- Better breathing: your lung capacity can increase by as much as 10% within one year of quitting smoking. This allows you to perform more daily tasks without becoming out of breath. You may also eventually lose your ‘smoker’s cough’, and any breathing conditions, such as asthma, should improve.
- Less stress: although an immediate hit of nicotine may be relaxing after nicotine withdrawal, smoking has been shown to increase stress levels in the long-term. Quitting smoking, although challenging at first, may reduce stress levels over time.
- Financial benefits: the average cost of a pack of cigarettes in the US is $6, which can add up over time. A pack-a-day habit will cost around $180 per month or $2200 per year. Quitting smoking could save as much as $22,000 over ten years.
What is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy combines hypnosis with suggestions and psychological therapy to allow you to gain greater control over your mind and body.
Hypnosis is often described as entering a focused and absorbed state of attention, where you become more receptive to new ideas. It’s a natural process that feels similar to when you become absorbed in an activity, like driving down a highway or reading a good book.
Clinical hypnosis has been used to treat a range of medical conditions such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Alcohol addiction
- Smoking addiction
Using hypnosis to stop smoking
Hypnosis is a well-established practice in medicine that has been shown as an effective solution for people wanting to quit smoking.
While many smokers use nicotine replacement therapy products, like patches, gum, or inhalers, to manage the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with cigarette addiction, hypnotherapy works by breaking the addiction from within the mind.
Instead of replacing and slowly reducing the amount of addictive chemicals in your system, hypnotherapy works by breaking the negative behaviors and thought patterns associated with smoking–such as smoking to relieve stress.
Hypnosis treatment may also target the unconscious motivations for smoking. These may include the need to reduce boredom, stress, loneliness, or the desire to be accepted by others. It may also target some of the unconscious smoking triggers, such as driving, pouring a drink, or finishing a meal, and help break these associations.
During the hypnotherapy session, therapists may repeat suggestions that offer alternative behaviors to smoking. Patients may also be asked to imagine unpleasant outcomes of smoking. For example, the hypnotherapist may suggest that cigarette smoke smells foul or that smoking will lead to trouble breathing.
A popular method of smoking hypnosis called the Spiegel method focuses on three main ideas:
- Smoking is a poison
- The body is entitled to protection from smoke
- There are advantages to life as a non-smoker
This method is supposed to work by acting on a smoker’s underlying impulses to lessen the desire to smoke, strengthen your ability to stop, and improve their ability to focus on their treatment by increasing concentration.
How does hypnosis work for smoking?
Although science can’t confirm exactly how hypnosis helps with smoking cessation currently, there are several hypotheses to explain why hypnosis may be useful:
- Hypnotherapy may change your ‘smoking mindset’: Hypnotherapy can help you develop a new mindset towards smoking. The therapist’s suggestions may help you confront and accept the danger of smoking and no longer see it as something you enjoy. The suggestions may be uncomfortable at first but they can help you quit smoking and overcome cravings.
- Hypnotherapy may help you to break the habit: A key aspect of hypnotherapy is letting go of old routines and challenging smoking habits. Hypnotherapy helps to break the negative behaviors and thought patterns associated with smoking – such as smoking to relieve stress.
- Hypnotherapy may support your quit efforts long-term: the benefits of hypnotherapy extend beyond the session itself. Through hypnosis, you can learn to hypnotize yourself (also known as self-hypnosis), whereby certain words or phrases may help you overcome the urge to smoke.
Other research has suggested that the success of quitting smoking is caused by the relaxation effects of hypnosis, which may help with nicotine withdrawal.
The science behind using hypnosis to quit smoking
Several studies have shown the effectiveness of hypnosis for treating smoking addiction. However, research into hypnosis for smoking cessation is limited, so currently there’s not enough evidence to confirm the benefits of hypnosis for smoking cessation definitively.
That being said, several studies within the last ten years have supported the use of hypnotherapy to help people quit smoking. These include:
A 2014 randomized controlled trial of 160 smokers with serious lung illnesses. This study compared the effectiveness of hypnotherapy, nicotine therapy or a combination of both treatments, and found that those receiving hypnotherapy were more likely to be non-smokers 3 months and 6 months after being hospitalized.
Additionally, a meta-study from 2012 suggested that hypnotherapy may be effective in helping smokers quit. However, the review suggested more evidence is needed to determine if hypnotherapy is more effective than other treatment options.
Finally, a 2019 meta-study of 14 studies on the effectiveness of hypnosis for smoking cessation found that hypnotherapy was equally effective to behavioral interventions.
Benefits of trying hypnotherapy to quit smoking
If you’re interested in addressing your underlying motivations for smoking, or want to think about your addiction from a psychological perspective, then hypnotherapy may be a good option.
There are many benefits of using hypnotherapy as a quit aid, such as:
- Hypnotherapy is exceptionally safe: A large review of 5 studies showed that hypnotherapy is a safe and effective practice for many clinical conditions. While hypnotherapy is very safe, it is not advised for people with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations.
- Hypnotherapy is less expensive than alternative therapy sessions: hypnotherapy sessions are generally less expensive than counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Additionally, at-home hypnotherapy sessions, accessed through apps on your phone, are less expensive than in-person hypnotherapy sessions.
- Hypnotherapy is less than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): the average cost of a quit attempt with NRT is around $185. Research shows that people make around 30 attempts before giving up, meaning it can cost over $5500 to quit with NRT. Hypnotherapy generally costs between $150 to $250 per in-person session, with some people only needing one or two sessions to feel the effects.
- Hypnotherapy can be combined with other methods: Hypnotherapy can safely be combined with other methods of quitting, like nicotine replacement therapy (gums, patches, and inhalers) if you want to work on your behavior but wean yourself off the physical nicotine dependence.
The Wrap Up
Quitting smoking can be incredibly challenging. Though the many dangers of smoking are proven by science, cigarettes are very addictive, and many people will require more than willpower to break the habit. Hypnotherapy can help you to quit smoking as a stand-alone strategy or combined with other methods, such as nicotine replacement therapy. Hypnotherapy works by targeting the physiological triggers and getting people to imagine the many unpleasant outcomes associated with smoking. Breaking an addiction can be difficult, particularly if it is a lifelong habit, but hypnotherapy may help you quit cigarettes for good.