Treating Alcohol Addiction With Personalized Hypnotherapy
Those of us who love watching (and re-watching) the show Friends might remember how Chandler became a “strong, confident, woman” that was hypnotized to not need to smoke. He was able to do so by using a tape that would play suggestions while he was sleeping in order to change himself for the better.
While it was indeed hilarious (and one of my personal favorite episodes), I assume that most of us probably laughed it off as a sham that would never be able to happen in real life.
Yet, is there any way that this might actually be possible?
New research and studies certainly seem to suggest so. Read further to see how we utilize hypnotherapy to solve the problem of alcohol addiction.
Before we continue, I’ve also assembled a table of contents for you to skip around to the content you’re interested in
Table Of Contents
- Does it Actually Work?
- What Happens in a Typical Hypnotic Hypnotherapy Session?
- How Do You Measure Hypnotic Trance?
- Introducing Lana
- Step 1: Getting Into a Trance
- Step 2: Implementing Suggestions
- Step 3: Continuation of Sleep
Introduction to Hypnotherapy
Does it Actually Work?
Unfortunately, many have a misconception about hypnotherapy, viewing it as simply a scam magic that holds no merit. There are many myths, mainly from traditional media, that have painted the idea that hypnosis only consists of someone telling a patient to look closely as he or she swings a pocket watch back and forth.
Yet, when you dig deep into the research papers, there are many studies and experiments that have proved hypnosis to be a real phenomenon, with effects ranging from reduction of stress and anxiety to reduction of hot flashes (Here’s an excellent article that links 19 different research studies proving the benefits of hypnosis if you want to read further in-depth).
It has become an AMA approved therapy, and the American Psychiatric Association has recognized it as “a powerful, effective therapeutic technique for a wide range of conditions”
In fact, Irving Kirsch, a lecturer and director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School, has stated that “hypnosis is a well-studied and legitimate form of adjunct treatment” for conditions ranging from “obesity and pain after surgery to anxiety and stress.”
Of course, hypnosis is not a cure-all that will work for everyone, as its effects range from person to person— but that’s the case for modern medicine as well. Thus, we can treat hypnosis as simply another alternative treatment that may work well for some, and may not work at all for others.
What Happens in a Typical Hypnotic Hypnotherapy Session?
During hypnosis, a hypnotherapist will induce a state of intense concentration through verbal cues and repetition. This puts one into a trance-like state which is similar to that of sleep. While you’re in this trance-like state, your therapist will make guided suggestions designed to help achieve your therapeutic goals.
Since you are in this state of heightened concentration trance, you’re more suggestible to proposals that you may normally brush off in your normal state of mind. When the session is complete, your therapist will wake you from the state with another audio cue.
Though it is not exactly known why hypnotherapy works yet, most experts postulate that the change in consciousness during hypnotherapy allows for suggestions to take firmer root in your mind. However, one thing scientists know for certain — Hypnosis does work and it does produce actual effects (as shown by the studies linked earlier).
How Do You Measure Hypnotic Trance?
According to a study by Stanford University, there are three primary activities in the brain to consider when in trance:
1. A decrease in dorsal anterior cingulate activity
- This is responsible for decision making, evaluation processes, and emotional regulation as well as physiological functions such as blood pressure and heart rate.
2. An increase in the connection between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the insula
- This leads to a stronger brain-body connection; more specifically, the pain perception, social engagements, emotions, and autonomic control functions of the brain more readily impacts the executive functions such as working memory and self-control in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
3. Reduced connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex
- This heightens the disconnect between actions and awareness of actions
Now, what kind of technology can pick up on these signals?
One new proposal for an intracranial EEG-based, noninvasive BCI can collect general brain activity data. This will then be analyzed by using a procedure known as network analysis to pick up on signs of these activities.
Network analysis helps us determine the functional connectivity between different regions of a brain during a specific cognitive task or process, and this functional connectivity can be represented through graph theory.
These edges can then be given different weights, based on how strong the connection between brain regions is. This allows us to form a “topography” that represents the pattern of weights across the entire brain.
Then, using neural input from EEG BCIs, where each electrode represents a node, we can conduct functional connectivity analysis using a method called “phase locking.”
Phase locking is the detection of where the neural signals (which come in the form of oscillations) are synchronous based on frequency. Between a pair of nodes, the weight is defined by the high gamma phase-locking value (70–100 Hz) for that pair.
Thus, we can use this proposed BCI analysis method to provide a portable means of measuring hypnotic trance. Now that we understand the basics and efficacy of hypnotherapy, let’s dive into the problem that it can help to solve.
The Problem — Alcohol Addiction
“Excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the United States each year, or 261 deaths per day. These deaths shorten the lives of those who die by an average of almost 29 years, for a total of 2.8 million years of potential life lost.” — CDC
Our current system to treat alcoholism is ineffective.
The Twelve-step process that we currently use to help the 24 million Americans who suffer from substance abuse and addiction has shown to just not be enough. A heavy-handed model that is based on abstinence and Christian spirituality is not a model that works for everyone. In fact, the 12 step process usually helps only 25% more people than no process at all.
That’s not good enough.
Contrary to this model, hypnotherapy is proving to be more and more effective at treating alcoholism and substance abuse (Go back to Introduction to Hypnotherapy for more details).
However, the problem here is that there are not enough hypnotherapists out there for those who need it. Sessions are often long and costly, something that will not change anytime soon.
We know that this is a problem that not a hammer nor a needle can solve, so we’re building a tool that can — introducing Lana.
Using Hypnotherapy to Our Advantage
This is where Lana, our team’s moonshot idea, comes in (Jasmine Wang, Max Holschneider, and myself). It will consist of an EEG-based BCI to provide biofeedback on the hypnotic state, as well as an app companion that provides the audio stimuli. Lana will take advantage of the varying effects of hypnotherapy to provide personalized and effective treatment for each individual’s alcoholic addiction.
There is no product out on the market that could even compare with our method; The only things that exist are prerecorded sessions that are meant to be one size fits all. These apps have very little scientific backing and even less efficacy rates. The point being, our app will be miles ahead of anything that is out there.
Now, how does this all work?
Step 1: Getting Into a Trance
Traditionally, hypnosis can be classified into two categories: Hypnotic Induction, in which a person is hypnotized by an external person, and Self-hypnosis, where a subject listens to an audio recording on a tape.
However, Lana will utilize machine learning content generation that can allow for fluid hypnosis sessions both not alone and not with a hypnotist, but somewhere in between. We will make use of personalized script and delivery in order to come up with the most effective means.
To get the user into a trance, Lana will give out traditional trance-inducing commands. It will utilize different combinations of words and delivery in order to get the user into a hypnotic state as quickly as possible (as determined by the biofeedback data given from the BCI).
Step 2: Implementing Suggestions
Now that the user is effectively under a hypnotic state, we can begin implementing the suggestions.
Audio Script Generation
To explain how we will audio content works and will improve, let us pretend we were making a horror movie script for Friends.
First, we will build a dataset of a large number of script lines based on which character was speaking, which we will then put through a GPT-3 text generation model.
This will then turn into something like this:
Voila, our horror-themed Friends script!
We will do the same thing mentioned above, but just with calm, hypnotic suggestions. We will create a sizeable database of hypnotic suggestions categorized based on the stage (induction, suggestion, awakening) and train a script generation model to do the rest for us.
We will utilize GPT-3 to write out custom scripts based on the type of alcohol addiction people want to overcome. For example, let’s say I wanted to stop drinking whenever I’m out with friends, the text generation script could create a custom script for that.
Script Audio Delivery
Scriptwriting is only half the battle, however. Once we have the script, we need to figure out the best content delivery. Now, we could just use a simple text to speech, but doing so could mean that your subconscious would just reject the suggestion, as we saw with the psychophone.
We will program the ML model with a series of different factors, including audio volume, tone inflection, speaking speed, and background sound effects. All of these different attributes will, in the right proportions, have a positive effect on the user’s experience.
Improvement and Training
We will use biofeedback (EEG-based BCI) as well as conscious feedback in order to determine the effectiveness of our script / delivery. Conscious feedback will include data such as the number of drinks a user consumed in a week, or the number of temptations a user felt throughout a day. Using a text-to-speech voice synthesizer that will relay our script with the aforementioned qualities mentioned above, we can test out different combinations of attributes to custom tailor and make our suggestion delivery methods as effective as possible for each user.
Should the script at any time cause the user to awaken out of their trance, Lana will play the personalized trance-inducing track to ease them back into a trance before continuing with the script.
Step 3: Continuation of Sleep
One worry of learning in your sleep is that it loses its effectiveness since you are concentrating on your brainwaves. However, once the script is over, the app will go quiet, and the user will naturally continue to sleep as if never disturbed from his or her sleep.
Typically, it takes around 8–12 normal hypnotherapy sessions to see results, and it would be recommended for users to use Lana daily. Even after progress starts to occur, users should keep on using Lana in order to prevent relapses. If the user does not see results after 3 weeks of consistent use, they should contact a medical professional for more help.
As mentioned earlier, this is all still a moonshot idea, so there are a few issues that must be addressed before this can be feasible
- GPT-3 does not understand how to include high-level context yet. Many hypnotic suggestions require specific contextual cues (affirmation or dissuasion, harsh or soft, vernacular or King’s English), and so this is a crucial part of making our script.
- However, basic context functionality is already available, and NLP is one of the fastest-growing fields of machine learning with much research looking into building better context models. Thus, we believe that this can be accomplished within 3–5 years.
2. The practice of network analysis is still in its beta phase, and thus the biofeedback may not be as accurate as would be hoped for
- However, more research is being done on the practice of network analysis, and basic procedures have already been tested, leading us to believe that it can be completed within the coming years.
3. The necessary BCI’s are a bit clunky and not suitable for convenient portable use.
- However, like all technology, BCI’s are rapidly getting smaller and smaller as more research is being done on it. We believe that more powerful non-invasive EEG-based BCIs can eventually be packaged in the form of a headband (similar to that of the Muse headband) within 2–4 years.
Vision For The Future
Clearly, there are still issues that must be addressed. Yet, if we can get this technology working, the potential could be limitless.
In this moonshot, we are only specifically thinking of curing alcohol addiction, but why stop there?
We could help solve so many problems, ranging from anxiety to phobias to eating disorders. In fact, why even stop at simply curing problems, why not help to create better habits, such as waking up earlier or becoming confident?
The possibilities are truly endless, and we envision that Lana could eventually be used to form / break any habits as desired.
Lana has the potential to be the next universal tool, and it can, and will, help to further society’s growth at a faster rate than ever seen before.