Alternative Methods for Quitting Smoking: Hypnosis, Acupuncture, Meditation

Acupuncture can help ease nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Many a successful quitter has gotten through the pangs of cigarette withdrawal using techniques such as hypnosis, acupuncture, or meditation. These alternative, or complementary, therapies address lifestyle issues not generally covered by conventional medicine—in this case, coping mentally with the little smoking triggers that lure smokers back, developing a healthy balance between the mind and the body, and relieving stress.

Doctors who recommend alternative approaches encourage patients to try them in conjunction with other quitting methods such as medication, therapy, the patch, or nicotine gum. "People shouldnt think that alternative modalities will help alone; they should be combined with other treatment," says Amit Sood, MD, director of research for the Mayo Clinics complementary and integrative medicine program. "Smoking is a serious problem and should be treated like a real chronic disease."

The success of alternative approaches to quitting smoking can be difficult to measure in a clinical setting; so far, research is mixed or inconclusive. But the popularity of alternative medicine overall—way beyond smoking cessation—is hardly in doubt: A 2002 government survey estimated that 36% of Americans had used some form of complementary or alternative therapy within the previous 12 months.

Visualization Knocked Out Claire's Smoking Habit
She realized she was in control of her cravings  Read more
Hypnosis, acupuncture, and meditation are the three favorites among those struggling to quit.

Because hypnosis has become known for its ability to change behaviors quickly, its a natural starting point for many smokers trying to quit. Hypnosis relaxes your mind enough to identify unconscious triggers. "Hypnosis is nothing more than the alpha state—a state of mind that we pass through as we fall asleep at night, go deep into a memory, or as we watch television," explains Alan B. Densky, a certified hypnotherapist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who specializes in smoking cessation.

A typical session starts with a case history so that the therapist has an idea of the patients past experience with smoking. Then the therapist induces a state of relaxation in the client through one method or another—often guided meditation or visualization. Next comes a series of suggestions or a conversation to explore what might motivate the patient to quit. For example, with someone who always smokes in front of the television, a hypnotherapist might try to break that connection and replace it with a healthier habit.

Reviews of clinical trials on hypnosis have concluded that the evidence of its effectiveness for smoking cessation is insufficient, but other research shows promise: The preliminary results from a small 2007 study of smokers hospitalized with cardiopulmonary diseases showed that the patients who chose to participate in a hypnotherapy session were more likely to be nonsmokers six months later than patients who chose nicotinereplacement therapy (NRT) alone.

12 Next
Lead writer: Nora Isaacs
Last Updated: July 24, 2008

Keep your ticker in tip–top shape with the latest news, recipes, special offers, and advice for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

More Ways to Connect with Health