How NLP can help in drug support work and the treatment of addiction

What follows are some insights about how NLP can improve the effectiveness of working with drug users. they come from a conversation with Patrick Evans, a registered mental health nurse who graduated from our NLP Practitioner training in 2000. Patrick is based in Birmingham and has a lot of experience of working with young offenders. He is also an experienced trainer and lecturer – if you want to get the benefit of his experience in training your staff, do contact me and I will pass your details on.

1) Developing rapport can move from a shared drug language to the legion of rapport building strategies. Using ‘drug language’ is a common way of trying to establish rapport with drug users. This could seem awkward or patronising if the drug worker has no first-hand experience of drug use or is from a different class background. It also has the obvious disadvantage of refocusing the conversation around drugs, and to an extent legitimising the drug subculture.

NLP makes a distinction between process and content. Using drug-based slang terms is a ‘content-based’ attempt at achieving rapport. NLP teaches other ways of achieving rapport which are ‘process-based’. For example, the drug support worker could detect the sensory representation system that the drug user prefers (e.g. if they are using mostly visual words) and match that representation system by using mostly visual words him/herself. Our course teaches many ways of enhancing rapport by subtly matching body language, breathing rates, voice tones and so on. If done ‘obviously’ this would be counter-productive; fortunately there are ways of doing it which are hard to notice at the conscious level.

2) NLP will enable the drug worker to help the drug user to visualise or recognise the kind of life that he wants to have when the user is drug free.

The NLP Practitioner learns many ways of helping individuals to be able to visualise more clearly, and get clearer about what they want. This would help the drug user to move from wanting to be ‘drug free’ without having a clear image of what that would be like (and consequently not much motivation over the long haul to achieve it) to having a vivid and motivating image of where they want to be. This helps the drug user to add ‘towards’ motivation to any existing ‘away from’ motivation.

3) Sometimes there is too much of a challenge to drug taking without offering choices to the user. You can see this in adverts which concentrate on what drugs do to you which is bad. A focus on other ways of living which can give satisfaction is useful.

NLP has several strategies for generating new choices.

4) There is a lot of talk about motivational interviewing in the treatment of drug users. What this means in practice is recognising the deletions distortion and generalisations which are the bed rock of NLP.

NLP Practitioners learn how to recognise the language patterns that people use which indicate ‘gaps’ and limitations in their thinking, and the right questions to ask to help people to restore missing information, look at generalisations in their thinking more closely, and reconnect ‘distorted thinking’ with reality.

5) ‘Levels of intervention’ (or ‘neuro-logical levels’) are crucial – is the block to recovery at the level of missing skills, values,  motivation, identity or the meaning of life? NLP offers us a chance to pitch the therapy at different levels depending on the need of the client, “I don’t know how; I don’t want to; I’m not the sort of person who..; life’s not about..;

6) A decent NLP course offers many methods of helping individuals to relax easily and rapidly. These skills can easily be passed on to clients.

7) Another NLP intervention known as ‘Parts Integration’ as a way of dealing with ‘serial incongruence’ – getting clean, going back on drugs again, getting clean and so on. It also helps if the drug user feels a simultaneous conflict between wanting to get clean and wanting to use drugs.

8) Another concept that participants work with on the NLP Practitioner course, timelines, gives a way of helping drug users to be more aware of the consequences of their actions, improving their impulse control and helping them to be less caught up in the moment.


While NLP Practitioner training should not be taken as qualifying you to work in a therapeutic area you know nothing about, it can certainly ‘turbo-charge’ your ability to work in areas you already know about. From time to time I will post articles about how NLP can be used in different areas. Contact me if you have a specific query.

© 2006 – 2016, Andy Smith. All rights reserved.

1 comment


    thank you for this weblog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.