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Holistic Addiction Treatment: Acupuncture

Some people recovering from substance abuse seek a holistic approach, such as acupuncture, to achieve and maintain their recovery. They do not want to switch from alcohol, or their drug of abuse, to a different drug, which, while it may aid in their recovery, can also be perceived by them as a possible trigger, leading them back down the road to drug abuse and addiction.

What is Acupuncture?

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Acupuncture involves the use of small needles inserted into pressure points in the body.

Acupuncture is a technique in which the practitioner inserts thin needles through the skin at certain stimulation points on the body. It is considered to be a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. Acupuncture is usually referred to as a complementary or alternative medicine, as patients sometimes use it in addition to traditionally known medicinal treatments, or they use it alone, as an alternative.

Studies have shown that more people maintain their recovery by using holistic methods such as acupuncture, than if they try to go it alone. Holistic drug recovery centers also are available to help patients seek recovery from addiction by improving the health of their minds, bodies and spirits, often using acupuncture as one of their practices.

How is Acupuncture Different?

Acupuncture is different from 12-step programs, pharmaceutical treatment and other, more traditional methods of addiction recovery, as it works to treat the spiritual and mental aspects of a person’s being, as well as the physical aspect. It is most often use as a complementary, rather than alternative, form of treatment therapy for individuals recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. Those recovering from gambling and sex addiction also have experienced the benefits of acupuncture.

Although the Food and Drug Administration, along with most medical insurance companies, do not recognize acupuncture as a form of drug rehab on its own, they do recognize accredited treatment facilities that may use acupuncture.

A Holistic Approach

Holistic methods are alternatives to using traditional medicine to heal physical or emotional wounds. They are considered to be natural remedies, which many people prefer over using pills or other chemicals to heal. A holistic “healer” attempts to work on the underlying causes of painful symptoms, in an attempt to stop them from recurring.

Acupuncture is a holistic approach used for thousands of years by the Chinese, as well as those in other Asian countries, as a form of healing, to help release pain from both peoples’ bodies and minds. It is also used as a maintenance therapy, so that one can live a life that is free from the pains that acupuncture has helped them to heal.

Electroacupuncture is an alternate form of traditional acupuncture, where a small is available is passed between pairs of acupuncture needles. It is believed by some that this can improve upon the effects of traditional acupuncture.

Treating Addiction

While little is known about the basic mechanism of acupuncture in treating drug addiction, the neurochemical and behavioral data reviewed earlier showed that acupuncture directly or indirectly affects the mesolimbic dopamine system. These results suggest that acupuncture helps to maintain the homeostasis and balance between positive and negative processes involved in drug addiction. Moreover, in a more general sense, these results suggest that acupuncture can be used as a therapeutic intervention for correcting reversible malfunction of the body by directing brain pathways and thus contributes to balance in the central nervous system by regulating neurotransmitters.

Clinical trials are currently underway to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of drug addiction. According to an article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine for the National Institutes of Health, “While there are still many unanswered questions about the basic mechanisms of acupuncture, some evidence exists to suggest that acupuncture can play an important role in reducing reinforcing effects of abused drugs…The neurochemical and behavioral evidence showed that acupuncture’s role in suppressing the reinforcing effects of abused drugs takes place by modulating …dopamine [levels.]”

The article goes on to say that several brain neurotransmitters contribute to dopamine release. Dopamine is what is released in the brain when taking drugs or alcohol and produces the euphoric feelings that encourage a user to keep using until addiction sets in and they cannot live without the drug. Acupuncture, according to the article “has been implicated in the modulation of dopamine release,” possibly leading to a reduced desire for the excessive use of drugs or alcohol. However, few studies have been performed to determine the basic mechanism underlying acupuncture’s effectiveness in reducing dopamine release induced by the drugs.

“These results provided clear evidence for the biological effects of acupuncture that ultimately may help us to understand how acupuncture can be used to treat abused drugs, the study continues. “Additional research using animal models is of primary importance to understanding the basic mechanism underlying acupuncture’s effectiveness in the treatment of drug addiction, the article concluded.”

Clinical trial results suggest that acupuncture can regulate the brain’s neurotransmitters, which control disease and health and can contribute to a chemical balance in the central nervous system. This balance can help regulate the release of dopamine in the brain, which can help recovering addicts by reducing the source of pleasure that makes their drug of choice so addicting.

Pressure points in the ear, in particular, are what are focused on in the treatment of addiction. It releases endorphins into the body as a result of the nerve responses, causing the body to rewire itself in how it deals with this pain. In addition to changing how the pain responds to pain, it also helps regulate the person’s mood and behavior.

While people may doubt the effects of acupuncture on the actual compulsive aspects of drug addiction, another study done in the Journal of Dual Diagnosis found that the specific acupuncture treatment helped reduce insomnia and alleviate feelings of anger and aggression.

Even though many of the results of acupuncture for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction, and recovery maintenance, are still anecdotal, with stories of relief varying from person to person, for the people who are struggling with the traditional methods of recovery, acupuncture can be a viable alternative that can give them the chance they are so badly want to take back control over their lives.

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