Addiction is more common than we may think. According to the National Study on Drug Use and Health, there were 20.8 million people aged 12 or older suffering from a substance abuse disorder in 2015. Of these, more than 15 million had an alcohol use disorder, while 7.7 million were dealing with an addiction to drugs. Based on these numbers, researchers estimate that about 1 in 12 people living in the United States require substance abuse treatment.
Effective treatment for substance abuse disorders is multifaceted and requires a holistic approach. By addressing mind, body, and spirit during rehabilitation, patients can adapt healthy lifestyle changes that support long-term recovery. Acupuncture is one such method. Learn about the benefits of acupuncture for drug and alcohol addiction treatment and the detox process.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a complementary therapy that involves stimulating certain points of the body with needles to relieve pain or other symptoms associated with certain medical conditions.
The earliest written account of the practice dates to 100 B.C. in China; although researchers believe acupuncture predates its written accounts. According to Chinese philosophy, acupuncture works by improving energy flow through the body (called qi or chi) and achieving proper balance.
The type of acupuncture delivered in hospitals and treatment centers throughout the United States does not follow traditional eastern philosophy. Physicians and researchers have developed several theories for how acupuncture works. Most involve the idea that nerve stimulation creates a flow of positive activity through the body – the brain may release endorphins, stimulate nerve growth factor, or decrease inflammatory proteins in the body.
Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture is becoming an increasingly popular complementary therapy in western medicine. One of the largest reviews of the literature to date involves a meta-analysis of 29 studies encompassing 18,000 patients and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. This meta-analysis found acupuncture to be moderately effective for the treatment of pain and a “reasonable referral option” and complementary therapy for patients.
Since it is the most popular alternative medicine practice in the United States, researchers continuously study the efficacy of acupuncture to treat a range of conditions from depression to drug addiction.
The Role of Acupuncture in Addiction Recovery
Patients suffering from addiction who are admitted for treatment, report some uncomfortable symptoms during detox. Withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs may produce nausea, vomiting, insomnia, mood swings, changes in body temperature, profuse sweating, hot flashes, chills, fatigue, or anxiety. Proponents of the practice report acupuncture may be effective in treating all these symptoms.
A recent study reported in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing found that patients suffering from drug and alcohol addiction who received a particular type of acupuncture that stimulates the ear experienced an increased sensation of well-being and relaxation after treatment.
Auricular Acupuncture and Addiction Treatment
The most common type of acupuncture used in addiction treatment centers is auricular acupuncture (AA). This practice involves the insertion of three or four needles in the ear to relieve symptoms of nausea, pain, and anxiety. According to ancient Chinese medicine, these points connect to the kidneys, lungs, and liver, all of which drug addiction affects adversely.
A study conducted at Yale University found that 55 percent of cocaine addicts receiving auricular acupuncture tested clean in their last week of treatment, compared to the 23.5 percent of the control group who didn’t receive AA. Both groups were engaged in other forms of treatment, including 12-step programs, psychotherapy, and group sessions.
Why Does Acupuncture Work for Detox?
The literature surrounding acupuncture use in addiction treatment is varied. Most theories involving the efficacy of acupuncture focus on the physiological basis for drug addiction. For example, we believe dopamine is the common mechanism for many illicit drugs, producing the exhilarating rush that leads addicts to seek their next highs. A dopamine imbalance within the body also helps produce common symptoms of withdrawal.
Researchers have established that acupuncture follows similar pathways. For example, acupuncture stimulates activity in the hypothalamus, and the subsequent production of endorphins creates a feeling of well-being while relieving pain.
Bridging Modern and Ancient Medicine
Chinese philosophy says that our health depends on the balance of two sides of ourselves – yin and yang. In this view, illness is the direct result of an imbalance of these energies.
While we often see modern and Chinese medicine as being at direct odds with one another, in some ways they are not so different. Traditional science hypothesizes that our bodies are continually working toward homeostasis or a state of equilibrium.
Chronic overstimulation of the brain from drug use interrupts the brain’s homeostasis by creating dips and spikes in endorphins. Administration of acupuncture during withdrawal helps the body regulate these endorphins and achieve equilibrium. When we look at it this way, the guiding philosophies between ancient and modern medicine aren’t dissimilar.
Acupuncture Complements Other Treatments
The benefits of acupuncture during addiction treatment and detox are numerous. Patients report increased relaxation, a sense of well-being, and less nausea. Acupuncture also provides analgesia, which is particularly useful for those addicted to opioids due to chronic pain.
Acupuncture is an effective complementary therapy for those who struggle with addiction. When used in tandem with other conventional therapies, patients will be better equipped to face the recovery process and lead healthy, productive lives.
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