Subconscious Surrender in Addiction Treatment


The first time that I witnessed a hypnotherapy smoking cessation process, I experienced a sense of true surrender, or what some choose to call 'grace'.

Even though at that time I had already stopped smoking for some years, and I was only witnessing the process, not experiencing it directly, I had an immense feeling of peace and of alignment: I knew then that I didn't need to smoke and so did every part of me, even the ones that to some degree still held on to the notion that it was cool & sophisticated, or that it could help me to relax in social situations. 

Since then, I have become more and more fascinated by the possibilities that hypnotherapy could offer to addiction therapy. Indeed, addiction specialists for the past 100 years have touched upon the idea that something of this nature was required for the recovery process to be effective. Whether it has been called an act of surrender, a vital spiritual experience or a subconscious alignment, it is clear that this moment of grace is necessary to the recovery process. 

There is a beautiful passage in the book Alcoholics Anonymous which talks about this phenomenon:

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality - safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
— Alcoholics Anonymous, 1935

What the authors of Alcoholics Anonymous describe throughout their work as a vital spiritual experience can be likened to the state of subconscious surrender produced by the hypnotherapeutic process, where the addict can finally stop fighting themselves and is able to start the emotional work necessary for a full recovery.  

Dr. Harry Tiebout (1896-1966), an American psychiatrist specialising in the treatment of alcoholism, discusses surrender in these terms in his paper, The Act of Surrender in the Treatment of the Alcoholic

One fact must be kept in mind, namely, the need to distinguish between submission and surrender. In submission, an individual accepts reality consciously, but not unconsciously. He or she accepts as a practical fact that he or she cannot at that moment lick reality, but lurking in the unconscious is the feeling, there’ll come a day, which implies no real acceptance and demonstrates conclusively that the struggle is still on. With submission, which at best is a superficial yielding, tension continues.

When an individual surrenders, the ability to accept reality functions on the unconscious level, and there is no residual of battle; relaxation with freedom from strain and conflict ensues. In fact, it is perfectly possible to ascertain how much acceptance of reality is on the unconscious level by the degree of relaxation that develops. The greater the relaxation, the greater the inner acceptance of reality.

We can now be more precise in our definition of an act of surrender. It is to be viewed as a moment when the unconscious forces of defiance and grandiosity actually cease to function effectively. When that happens, the individual is wide open to reality; he or she can listen and learn without conflict and fighting back. He or she is receptive to life, not antagonistic. The person senses a feeling of relatedness and at-oneness that becomes the source of an inner peace and serenity, the possession of which frees the individual from the compulsion to drink. In other words, an act of surrender is an occasion wherein the individual no longer fights life, but accepts it.
— Harry Tiebout, 1950

Hypnotherapy has the power to bring about this unconscious surrender and allow the process of working a 12-step programme or alternative programme of recovery.

In difficult cases, where the addict has tried different addiction treatments, hypnotherapy can be especially useful as it is my experience that those people who struggle with relapse are often impeded by the fact that although they have a desire to avoid the consequences of their addiction, and on a conscious level, the desire to stop using drugs or alcohol, on a subconscious level that decision has still not been made.

Experience shows that failure to recover from addiction is not a moral failing. There is no lack of will-power. It is simply that will-power is unable to resolve the problem. The act of surrender that Tiebout describes renders will-power redundant, as there are no longer parts of us that are in conflict regarding the value of the object of our addiction. 


Alcoholics Anonymous. (1935). New York City, N.Y.: Works Publishing / Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
Tiebout, H. (1950). The Act of Surrender in the Treatment of the Alcoholic. Pastoral Psychology, [online] 1(2), pp.32-41. Available at:

If you think you have a problem with drinking, drug use, sex addiction, eating disorders or other compulsive behaviours such as self-harm, compulsive skin-picking or hair-pulling, please get in touch so that we can arrange a free 20-minute phone consultation to find out if 12-Step Coaching & Hypnotherapy could work for you. 

Nadine Cameron Ward