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Addiction and Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Have you ever felt frustrated by your own ability to self-sabotage? Ever felt deeply dismayed at how you keep shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to recovering from addiction?

If so, you are certainly not alone. Since time immemorial, human beings have fought a battle between what they want to do and what they actually do.

Perhaps no one said it better than St. Paul, who wrote these words thousands of years ago in a letter to the Roman church:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

That pretty much sums up addiction, doesn’t it? We want to heal and recover and live healthier lives. But even so … we don’t stop using. We don’t make healthy choices. There’s a gap between knowing and doing, and we struggle to bridge it.

As we’re drawing to the end of May and Mental Health Awareness Month, now is a good time to explore a therapeutic technique that can help you to heal the conflicts within yourself.

In this post, we’ll give you an introduction to Neuro-Linguistic Programming and how it can help you to overcome your struggles.

What is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming – typically referred to as NLP – is a process that brings together elements of therapy, counseling strategies, and communication.

Its objective is to bring together conflicting aspects of the self in order to change and heal.

As such, NLP presupposes that all of us have myriad distinct aspects to our personalities. The idea is that when our aspects are in conflict, we tend to struggle with dysfunctional, unhealthy behaviors. When we’re able to resolve the conflicts within ourselves, we can change how we show up in the world.

Let’s break down the phrasing to clarify the definition:

  • Neuro: related to your brain and neurology
  • Linguistic: related to your language and speech
  • Programming: related the simultaneous functionality of both components explains it well: “Learning NLP is like learning the language of your own mind!”

NLP was created in the 1970’s by psychologist and author Richard Bandler and linguist and author John Grinder. It interweaves some elements of Gestalt psychology, along with other principles of psychological modeling.

There is controversy surrounding the use of NLP today; many claim that its principles are not supported by modern neuroscience.

However, it has been a tremendous help for many people, as it provides a way to facilitate communication between the conscious and the subconscious minds. (Whether or not it’s the most effective way remains to be seen!)

Why Use Neuro-Linguistic Programming For Addiction Treatment?

Can your brain be rewired from addiction? Though there’s still a lot that we don’t know about the brain, we do know that the mind-body connection aids in rehab and recovery.

We know that when we choose to think positive thoughts, our brains produce neuropeptides that actually strengthen our organ function, immune systems, and overall health.

Neuropeptides are called “the hyphen in the mind-body connection”, as well as “molecules of emotion”, a term coined by Dr. Candace Pert, a phenomenal neuroscientist and the former Chief of Brain Biochemistry at the National Institute of Mental Health.

The point is, NLP is a way to tap into the tremendous power within our minds and heal all kinds of addictions. It’s a tool we can use to positively integrate our addict aspect, rather than try to banish, disown, or destroy it.

This idea runs counter to cultural norms about addiction in America today. Often, people in recovery today go to extremes; they either over-identify with their addict aspect, or they disown it altogether.

For example, some people allow their addict aspect to define their entire sense of self, repeating limiting statements such as, “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I’m an addict.”

By contrast, other people completely disown their addict aspect. They may make statement such as, “I just need to fight / kill / destroy the part of me that wants to use, once and for all!”

Neither is a balanced, healing approach to addiction. Fortunately, there is another way. We truly believe there is a positive aspect from addiction.

In a holistic addiction treatment model, you gain strength by integrating every part of yourself. Your task isn’t to eliminate the addict part of your psyche. Instead, your job is to get to know it, to love it.

Ultimately, you can work with your addict aspect to uncover its underlying positive purpose and discern a new role for it in your life going forward.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Action

Here’s an example of how you and your therapist might use NLP to help you heal from addiction. In our Non 12 Step residential addiction recovery Program, we call this “working with aspects”.

First, go to a safe, quiet place, ideally with a facilitator who can lead you through this process. Before you begin, get centered in the energy of compassion. (We call this “centering yourself in your loving heart.”)

Once you’ve done that, set an intention to connect with your addict aspect. Invite that aspect to join you in conversation.

As you begin the dialogue, thank this inner aspect for coming forward to connect with you. Then, start asking the aspect questions, such as …

  • How old were you when you were created?  What was going on at the time?
  • What was/is your original positive purpose in my life?
  • What are some of your strengths?
  • What else do you want me to know?

Each time, listen patiently and deeply to the answers. Once you know the original positive purpose, work together with the aspect to figure out a new job for it going forward.

Again, this isn’t about making your addict aspect “go away”, because that isn’t possible. It’s a part of you, and your job is to discover how it can help you in your life going forward.

Here are a few tips to remember as you do this dialogue:

  • This is a mutual, reciprocal conversation; work together to figure out how your addict aspect can help you in your life going forward. It’s not about getting bossy, it’s about problem-solving together.
  • Be humble and ready for surprises!
  • Make sure the aspect truly accepts the new job before you wrap up the dialogue.
  • In closing, thank your addict aspect for coming forward to talk with you.
  • Praise yourself for doing this powerful inner work.

Conclusion: Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Your Recovery

While many of us struggle with the disconnect between what we want to do and what we actually do, there is real hope for positive change. We do have the ability to train our minds to work for us, rather than against us. And NLP is one tool that helps us on our path to healing.

Later on in that same letter to the Roman church, St. Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

In other words: Don’t let your old programming get the best of you. Rewrite the software. Renew your mind, and watch what happens next.  

Addiction and Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

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APA Reference
, . (2018). Addiction and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 May 2018
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