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NLP Tools for dealing with Addictions

by Frances Coombes(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 245 - April 2018

Not all addictions are drug-fuelled but all blend seamlessly into problems related to impulse control.   Whether it’s chocolate, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, gambling or cocaine, they give an immediate buzz followed by a downside when feel-good factors dissolve


Prof Richard Gray’s evidence-based Brooklyn Program was conducted in 16 week group sessions over ten years.[1]  The program was used in the US Probation Service and saw thirty percent of participants test drug free on random urine analysis a year after completing the programme.  Clients who completed the program did as well as others who had been referred for standard intensive outpatient treatment, but at a massive saving in treatment costs.
The primary NLP tools used in the Brooklyn program are sub-modalities, anchoring and using the imagination for choosing options when planning positive futures.  Sub-modalities are the building blocks of human experience. They shed light on people’s inner worlds and tell us how differently people are experiencing the world, how they are filtering their sensory information and breaking down what they are seeing to obtain the pictures they are seeing in their minds eye.

Prof Richard Gray
Prof Richard Gray 

Facilitators Teach People to Anchor Positive States

States -  where they are able to access rational thinking - is helpful if they want to plan functional future outcomes that will help them move on in life.  For people who don’t believe that they have any control over their minds I tell them that their mind is their instrument and if they use it in the same way they might do if they go to the gym, their mind muscle will get stronger too.

We can all do Negativity at Will,  Whilst Positive Thinking takes Practice

I first emphasize that we can all feel bad at will. All it needs is for someone to say “remember that terrible day, when that awful thing happened?” …and people tend to fill in their own blanks.  At this point participants slump in their chairs, with eyes downcast. I ask them to consider that if the whole group can do negative feelings at will, then with a bit of practice they can learn to create a positive state just as easily.

Many participants begin sessions believing that they have no power to alter their state.  They will say “I wake up in the morning and I don’t like how I’m feeling, so I” … drink, gamble, take cocaine “because it makes me feel good and lifts my state”.  Taking drugs, drinking or gambling is all about seeking to change our emotional states in order to feel better. The logic behind learning to anchor positive states is simple. 

Given the Choice, Most People would rather feel Good than feel Bad

So the program offers hope, emphasizing that people can gain control over their emotions and actively choose how and when they want to feel differently and design a future that has real meaning for them. 

Anchoring is Based on Pavlovian Conditioning

The NLP anchoring positive states tool is derived from studies of memory and experience and the anchoring is based on Pavlovian conditioning.  Anchoring techniques have been used by Richard Bandler since the mid 1970s; with the advent of MRI scanners are now being seen to accord with emerging neuro-scientific evidence about the nature of memory and subjective experience. 

The dictionary definition of NLP is the “study of the structure of subjective experience”.   That is ‘how people experience the world’.  People tend to filter for what we look for and expect to happen in the world, be it drugs, negativity or fantastically good experiences - and we tend to move towards what we expect to happen. 

Participants first learn how to anchor positive feelings by remembering things they did particularly well and felt pleased with and enhancing and blowing the experiences up in their mind.  If you have ever had a really bad negative experience and blown it up in your mind given it prominence and played the experience over and over again like a record - then you already know how to anchor a negative state.

Groups are initially taught to access anchors which are split into memories of different types of competencies so that participants can enhance and build-up the distinct good feelings associated with having achieved each type of competency skill in the past. 

We ask People to Come Up with 5 Different Types of Feelings 

We ask people to come up with specific instances  of five types of pre-defined feelings from their past, i.e. a time when they make a good decision in a systematic fashion, one which they continue to be pleased with whenever they remember it now. The experience of focused attention. A moment of skills consolidation, such as learning to ride a bike or drive a car when they suddenly realized they could do something and felt confident and elated about it.  And the experience of fun or pure enjoyment.   

People are Left with a Set of Generalised Positive Emotions

These resources are anchored and enhanced to the point where there is no longer a memory of the original experience.  People are left with a set of generalized emotions which they can access using distinct hand gestures to recall each type of pleasing or elated feeling.  Soon the group begin to realize that they have choice over how they feel.

Even if we feel we want to stop a behaviour, it is difficult to do so without having any positive options in place.  As Richard Bandler says, “If you have only one choice then you’re stuck, you’re a robot.  If you have two choices, then you have a dilemma, you have to choose one of them.  Once you have three or four choices then you’re starting to motor”.  So flexible thinking and choosing options begins to come into play.

The program is non-confrontational and non-directive. Instead of addressing the problem behaviours, the program at first helps participants to learn new skills.  Over 16 weeks participants are taught to anchor and build their feelings of confidence, competency and self-worth and the good feelings associated with the memories and to plan a positive future by awakening their sense of choice.

The work does not immediately focus on the problem; instead it emphasizes that participants can learn to enhance their memory, feel better, gain control over their emotions, choose how and when they want to feel differently and then to design a meaningful future. The initial work is presented as laying a behavioural foundation for later work. It is important that the skills be valued for themselves, not as drug treatment.

Feeling Good States are Portable

The value of learning to anchor and stack resourceful states is that once installed the good feeling states are portable.  You can take your anchoring skills with you wherever you go and much like breathing - providing you remember to do it properly - the effects will be with you for the rest of your life.


1. Prof Richard M Gray. Thinking About Drugs and Addictions. Published by  NLP Comprehensive.


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About Frances Coombes

Frances Coombes Advanced Dip CBT/REBT Dip CBT offers one-to-one therapeutic coaching in North West London and on Zoom.  She is a is a CBT/REBT psychotherapist in North West London, a NLP Master Practitioner and Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapist and runs life coaching groups in London and on Zoom.  She teaches NLP at The City Lit in Central London and tutors at the City Lit and Mary Ward Centre in central London on Using REBT for Managing Stress and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). She runs goal setting and REBT coaching groups for vulnerable people for inner London authorities and charities.  

Her most recent book is Motivate Yourself and Reach Your Goals, pub, November 2013, Hodder Headline. Available on and  For extract visit To inquire or book personal development courses contact Frances on Tel: 07818 896 795; 



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