I know a lot of people,
including myself, have suffered either our own or someone else's
addiction. Most of you know what I'm talking about. I'm not talking
about craving a few brownies... I'm talking about the biggies
like gambling, cocaine, the internet, heroin, morphine, and other
opiates, alcohol, nicotine, crack cocaine, marijuana, caffeine,
pornography, food, sugar, vicodin, ultram, tobacco, and prescription
I felt called to tell you what Chinese Medicine has to offer
in the way of Addiction Medicine. I already feel called to
evangelize the power, scope, and effectiveness of Chinese Medicine.
And, I know how destructive and painful addiction is - it takes
a huge emotional toll on everyone, has profound financial and
legal consequences, dashes hopes and destroys dreams.
Addiction and crime go hand in hand. A high percentage
of felons commit their crimes under the influence. Although criminals
may imbibe in order to get the 'liquid courage' to commit a crime,
many addicts commit crimes just to afford their addiction. The
avg cost of an inmate to Californians is $23,406 per year, whereas
the average cost of a full treatment program is $4,300, after
which criminal activity drops 70%.
If you've never experienced a real addiction, then it's
hard to understand. You may be tempted to judge, criticize, lecture,
or moralize. Those approaches don't work. The disease centers
in the mind and spirit; it is the only disease that tells you
that you don't have it. Psychologists call this 'denial.' Many
people are stuck in a cycle of addiction because their unhealthy
dependences are substitutes for healthy coping mechanisms. This
means their emotional growth was stunted at some point, and it
stays that way until they recover. This is a powerful disease;
far from seeking substance abuse treatment, addicts and alcoholics
persist in self-destruction despite extreme consequences. Divorce,
bankruptcy, physical pain, jail stays, and institutionalization
may be reason to wake up and have a moment of clarity, or they
may be ignored and tolerated until the addict is killed by emphysema,
sexually transmitted disease, jail violence, suicide, or accident.
To overcome addiction, we need as many helps/tools/weapons
as we can find. If Acupuncture could help addicts in overcoming
drug addiction, that would be a Good Thing, right? Of course.
Well, can it do that?
Acupuncture has helped pull alcoholics and addicts back from
the gates of insanity and death, eased them through withdrawal,
and accompanied them in rebirth as mostly functional, relatively
happy human beings. It has been most successful when combined
with the appropriate 12-step program for the object of dependence
(AA for Alcoholics,
NA for addicts, OA
for overeaters, etc.). Acupuncture is not a substitute; it
is a complementary treatment option to give addicts a better chance
How it Works
Addiction is a two-part problem. There is an obsession (the desire
to use, drink, or act out), which is a mental and emotional phenomena
(restlessness, discontent, irritability), and there is a physical/emotional
craving that occurs afterwards (1 drink is too many, 1000 is not
enough, or the immediate biological addiction experienced after
smoking crack just once). The ear acupuncture treatment works
to eliminate the mental obsession.
|The 2 Aspects
|What is it?
or discontent that precedes the act or substance intake.
process that occurs after the act or intake.
|What can be done?
||Diminished or eliminated
temporarily by NADA and daily 12-step-work.
||Will not, or is less likely
to go away- the potential for lack of control after starting
is always there.
How does ear acupuncture diminish the power of the mental
obsession? From a Chinese Medicine standpoint, the ear points
are calming, and regulate the Liver, Lung, and Kidney Yin. From
a biomedical perspective, as Fernando Bernall, Dipl. Ac. points
out, "We can speculate about the role of several cranial nerves
that originate in the brain stem and innervate the ear. It is
thought that stimulation to these nerve terminals in the ear,
generate a neural chain of events responsible for the feeling
of relaxation experienced by the patient. Indeed, research has
demonstrated that acupuncture can influence the neurochemical
pathways of the brain. In particular, those of the mesolimbic
system. This area is involved in the mechanism responsible for
reward and pleasure. Microdialysis and blood samples from laboratory
animals have shown an increase of endogenous opiates in the central
and peripheral nervous system after acupuncture stimulation."
Acupuncture For Drug Addiction
The Origins of Acupuncture Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction
Acupuncture treatment for addiction dates back to the early 1970s.
"In 1972, a neurosurgeon in Hong Kong, Dr. H. L. Wen, was preparing
a patient for surgery using ear acupuncture as an analgesic method.
The patient, who coincidentally was suffering from withdrawal
symptoms from opium, informed Dr. Wen that his withdrawal symptoms
had subsided. In light of this information, Dr. Wen tested the
procedure on other patients with similar addictions and their
discomfort diminished as well." - Auricular
Acupuncture For Drug Addiction
Pioneering Work in the U.S.: Lincoln Hospital, New York
Acupuncture has been helping alcoholics and addicts at Lincoln
Hospital in New York since 1975. According to Ricardo B. Serrano,
L.Ac., "The mechanisms of acupuncture detoxification from the
perspective of Oriental Medicine can be described metaphorically.
The lack of inner calm tone due to intense and frequent use of
chemical substances is described as a condition of 'empty fire'
(Smith, 1985) wherein heat of aggressiveness overcompensates and
the calm inner tone is lost."
Numerous studies done by the National Acupuncture Detoxification
Association (NADA) have validated the effectiveness of acupuncture
for alcoholism treatment and addiction treatment. "In 1987 in
a medically supervised study of chronic homeless alcoholic men
in Hennepin County, Minnesota, 80 subjects were divided into two
groups matched for drinking history and prior treatment experience.
The control groups were given sham acupuncture, needled at non-therapeutic
points a few millimeters away from standard points. 93% of the
treatment group completed the eight week treatment regimen, compared
with 2.5% of the control group. During the six month follow-up
of the two groups, the control group had more than twice as many
drinking episodes and had to be readmitted to detox more than
twice as often as the experimental group." - Acupuncture
Treatment for Chemical Dependency - An Overview; More
info about NADA
Addiction Treatment Success Rate
The 93% drug detox success for 8 weeks and two times the success
at the 6 month follow-up were mentioned above. "When used in an
inpatient detoxification setting, alcoholic seizures virtually
disappear, even without the use of pharmaceutical intervention.
One of the first residential detox programs to implement acupuncture
was Portland, Oregon's Hooper Memorial Detox Center in 1987. Clients
entering this 5 day residential detox-to-referral program were
six times less likely to return in the following six months than
clients who entered the facility prior to the implementation of
twice-daily acupuncture, and the program's overall completion
rate increased from 60% to 92%." - Acupuncture
Treatment for Chemical Dependency - An Overview
What You Can Do
If you know an addict: Before addiction recovery can begin,
the addict must "hit bottom." This means that they must experience
the consequences of their behavior sufficiently to break through
the wall of denial. For many addicts, this takes a long time,
as if it will never happen. Don't shield an addict from the consequences
of their choices. You will be making it harder for them to 'get
it.' It can be painful to witness someone else's bottom, but how
much more painful is it to watch them end up with diabetes, emphysema,
or dead? If you need help with someone else's problem, start with
Al-Anon. There are fellowships
to help with addicts in their lives regardless of the drug or
nature of the problem (e.g. Gam-Anon,
If you are an addict: You may not be sure or believe you
are one. That's ok. No pressure... Consider this- if you are,
you are trapped, imprisoned. Your whole life is controlled by
a lie, and most of your beliefs and conviction are probably well-crafted
rationalizations and resentments. IF you are addicted, and recovery
from that requires that "the only thing you change is everything,"
then how long do you want to wait to get real? How many more months
or years do you want to look back upon, thinking "that was all
a lie!" Listen, if you want the things outside of you to change,
you'll have to change your insides. Get started. Find a meeting,
or a treatment center. Start today, right now. There is no good
time. Do it now. Don't think. Just do it. Let
me know when you've made it to the other side.
If you have no access to acupuncture treatment for addiction:
Write your senators (click
here to find out where to write them) and tell them
they need to mimic California
Proposition 36 which earmarks funds for the NADA protocol
treatment of addiction. "Every additional dollar invested in substance
abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs." - The
Drug Policy Research Center, RAND, 1994.
Copyright 2001, Brian Benjamin Carter, The Pulse
of Oriental Medicine