Addiction programs with acupuncture have shown many overall improvements among patients. Some of these include increased feelings of hopefulness in patients during withdrawal and detox. Acupuncture treatment offers the client support during acute and post-acute withdrawal through relief of classic symptoms (2). This is significant. The discomfort, anxiety and fear of withdrawal causes many to leave treatment prematurely. Many also postpone treatment as they anticipate distress in the withdrawal and detox process.
Chinese medicine frames addiction in terms of imbalances that prevent the body from self-regulating to a healthful state. Brian Bender, LAc of the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, says that use of acupuncture points on the body restores this self-regulating balance. His colleague, Donna Keefe LAc, says that in many cases the imbalance of addiction is in the liver. This is referred to in the traditional system as “liver qi stagnation with fire”. While Chinese medicine and western medicine dramatically differ in their views of bodily systems and organs, it is interesting that both see the liver’s involvement in addiction. In the West, we are attuned to the damage substances do to the liver such as cirrhosis. In Chinese medicine, however, liver problems are viewed as the root cause of the condition.
Addiction is more than a physiological illness. Emotional ties to the substances develop, leaving one dependent upon the self-medicating effects of use. Acupuncture’s overall calming effect upon the central nervous system reduces the agitated ‘fight or flight’ mode that substance abusers typically live in. Reacting to their emotional and neurological distress signals, substance use for self-medication can become a dysfunctional coping strategy for self-soothing. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the production of the body’s natural opiates which induce calm, quieting the fight or flight response and engender an overall sense of well-being (3).
Another important benefit of acupuncture in addiction treatment is reduced reliance upon pharmaceuticals to manage biological withdrawal and to reduce emotional symptoms of withdrawal. After successful withdrawal, acupuncture can help navigate the emotional up’s and down’s of early recovery stabilization and continue to reduce episodic cravings. Such benefits of acupuncture have been documented in the treatment of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addictions and are significant (4, 5, 6).
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