Dear Doctor: My sisters and I want our dad to quit smoking, but he says that he’s tried before and just can’t do it. Should he try hypnosis? Does it work?
Dear Reader: There’s no question that quitting smoking can be very difficult. Many of our patients who are trying to quit -- as well as those who have successfully stopped smoking -- tell us it’s one of the most challenging things they’ve done.
The habit hooks you on multiple levels. First, there are the physical effects of nicotine, a chemical in tobacco products whose addictive properties are considered to be on par with heroin. Nicotine acts as a stimulant in the body, and it causes the brain to release jolts of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Then there are the mental, emotional and social aspects of smoking, which quickly weave the habit into the fabric of daily life. Taken together, these make for a complex and powerful addiction that is notoriously tough to break.
Evidence suggests that hypnosis can be helpful in smoking cessation. The drawback is that techniques used by hypnotherapists are not standardized, which makes the results of this approach hard to measure.
In hypnosis, a therapist uses guided relaxation and concentration to help a person reach a mental state in which they feel simultaneously relaxed, focused and aware. Sometimes referred to as a trance, this mental state also allows the person to be more open to suggestions.
In smoking cessation therapy, a person often is asked to visualize the ways in which the habit harms the health of both themselves and loved ones. They may also be encouraged to confirm the importance of caring for their bodies. Some techniques use specific suggestions that link the scent, taste and tactile sensations of smoking to something deeply unpleasant. For example, telling the person that when they smoke in the future, they will taste scorched plastic. Hyponosis is also used to introduce positive affirmations to help bolster the smoker’s resolve to quit. For instance, “I have stopped smoking forever with ease and comfort.”
Hypnosis is often employed as a complementary smoking cessation therapy, which means it’s used together with more traditional approaches, such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum, smoking withdrawal medications, behavioral therapy and support groups.
If your father is willing to give hypnosis a chance, your family doctor can help him find a qualified professional. Studies show that people can see results after four or six sessions, particularly when hypnosis is used in conjunction with other approaches.
Your dad isn’t alone in feeling powerless in the face of smoking. In the United States, more than 34 million adults currently smoke cigarettes. This is tragic because cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the nation, and it accounts for 1 in every 5 deaths. We hope that you and your siblings will be able to persuade your dad to give quitting another try.
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