Acupuncture is rapidly increasing in popularity as an effective aid in the control of many addictions—from serious ones involving alcohol and hard drugs to relatively less serious ones involving nicotine and overeating.
There is strong physiological evidence supporting the use of acupuncture in this area. Research has shown that acupuncture can raise the level of endorphins in the nervous system. opiates in structure and function, endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers. It seems that the cravings and withdrawal symptoms experienced by people giving up smoking or drugs can be alleviated by raising the level of endorphins in the nervous system. Some researchers also believe that the desire to eat is also mediated by the endorphin level in the brain, which would explain why acupuncture helps dieters to control their appetites.
Also, several brain neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, opioid and other amino acids including GABA have been implicated in the modulation of dopamine release by acupuncture. Neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin are often deficient in those abusing alcohol and drugs. Modulation of these important “feel good” neurotransmitters can also help an addict to stop.
Chinese Medicine has its own explanation of how acupuncture works. Chinese medical theory is based on the concept of yin and yang, which are dynamic and complementary opposites observed in all the processes of nature. In a healthy individual, yin and yang are in relative balance. Addicts often suffer from a deficiency of yin or an excess of yang. Chinese medical theory, which comprehends the body metaphorically, relates yin to substance, quiescence, cold and the element of water. Yang relates to function, activity, and the element of fire. Yin nourishes the body and the mind. When yin, or the water element, is deficient, fire is not held in check and rages out of control. On a psychological level, such an imbalance creates feelings of restlessness, irritability and desperation. The addict is driven to use and abuse, the drug exacerbates the fire and further depletes the yin; hence, feeling more out of control.
The treatment involves nourishing the yin by treating points on the outside of the ear. Short, thin, sterile needles are inserted at three to five points. Patients sit or lie comfortably for about fifteen to thirty minutes. The treatments often have a profoundly calming effect on the mind and body, creating feelings of peace and well-being. Three of the five acupuncture points strengthen the liver, kidneys and lungs, which are the major organs of elimination. They have often grown weak in addicts because they have been subjected to the daily burden of eliminating an excess of toxins from the body.
People addicted to hard drugs are advised to receive daily treatment until they are clean. They then receive treatments a couple of times a week for a while to help them to remain so. Alcoholics also require daily treatments during the initial period of treatment. To insure long-term abstinence, both groups are encouraged to seek counseling and participate in a support groups. Interestingly, alcoholics receiving acupuncture during the withdrawal period rarely experience seizures.
Allergy Elimination (NAET) treatments for abused substances are highly recommended in adjunction with traditional ear points.
Smokers do not generally need daily treatments and can usually kick the habit in a shorter period of time. After one or two treatments, the craving for nicotine is usually sharply reduced. After four or five treatments spread over a two-week period, seven out of ten patients will have managed to quit. Others will have drastically cut down on the number of cigarettes smoked daily. The same five points on the ear are used.
Smokers and dieters need not come in daily, so after each treatment, small pellets or press tacks are taped over these points, and the patient is sent home with instructions to press on them frequently. This pressure creates a mini-stimulus which helps to keep the endorphin level high and keep balance within the body.
Excellent clinical evidence supports the use of acupuncture for addiction control. The first acupuncture detoxification clinic in the United States opened in 1974, at the Lincoln Memorial Hospital in the South Bronx section of New York City. At first, acupuncture was used as an adjunct to methadone treatment, but such good results were obtained with acupuncture that methadone was dropped from the program. According to Dr. Michael Smith, director, the success rate with acupuncture is substantially higher than that of more conventional programs. Unlike methadone, which is itself a highly addictive drug that is used primarily as a heroin substitute for heroin addicts, acupuncture is a natural procedure with no side effects, and it can treat a wide range of addictions. It works equally well for cocaine and crack addicts, heroin addicts, alcoholics, users of psychedelics, and people addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines. Addicts report a marked reduction in craving for drugs, a relief from symptoms of withdrawal, and feelings of relaxation along with improved sleep.
Acupuncture is very effective in controlling addictions, and the drug problem in this country is a serious one. Let us all hope that more acupuncture detoxification centers will be established in the future. Public funding is needed.