Using Acupuncture for Detox & Addiction Recovery

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What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture comes from traditional Chinese culture and has been used for thousands of years. Beginning in the 1970s, it started being used as a treatment for addiction in the United States. Acupuncture consists of using various needles to stimulate different points on the body to relieve pain or treat other physical, mental, and emotional concerns and conditions.

The treatment is based on the idea that diseases are caused by the flow of energy in the body being disturbed. The needles are used to unblock the flow of energy. This is based on the traditional Chinese idea of different meridians being spread throughout the human body. By stimulating these meridians, the flow of Qi, or life energy, increases. When Qi becomes unobstructed, organ function is said to improve.

Benefits of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is said to release endorphins and balance the yin and yang energies within the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine. Balancing one’s yin and yang restores balance back to the body’s natural energies. Acupuncture also helps patients feel calm since it can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Sleep disturbances also decrease as someone undergoes acupuncture. Organ recovery improves and the need for pharmaceuticals decreases. Ultimately, acupuncture helps improve an individual’s overall sense of wellbeing.

How Does Acupuncture Help Addiction?

Acupuncture is used to treat addiction by reducing the positive reinforcement properties of drugs and alcohol. By inserting needles in certain points of the body, more dopamine is released when an individual stops using or drinking. Because this associated high is dismantled, the individual is less likely to use the drug in the future.

It has also been found that acupuncture can relieve cravings and ease symptoms of withdrawal. By helping manage symptoms of withdrawal, addicts are less likely to return to the drug since withdrawal symptoms typically act as negative reinforcements that cause continued drug use. Some recovering addicts continue using acupuncture throughout their life to help maintain sobriety.

Acupuncture for Addiction

The type of acupuncture used to treat addiction is known as auricular acupuncture or acupuncture detoxification. The series of treatments are done in private sessions for ample effect.

The needles are paper-thin and are inserted into five different points of the ear. This process can take up to two minutes.

The Five Points

  1. Autonomic Point: This point on the ear calms the nervous system. It helps relax the entire body.
  2. Shen Men: Translating to “spirit gate,” this point reduces anxiety and nervousness.
  3. Kidney Point: This point helps to calm fears and heal internal organs.
  4. Liver Point: This point is good for detoxification and purifying the blood. It helps stop aggressive behaviors and feelings.
  5. Lung Point: This point increases an individual’s energy level and helps heal respiratory problems. The lungs are known are the master of Qi.

Patients can choose to have the needles inserted into all five points of their ear, or only the ones they wish to have inserted during that session. Once all points are inserted, the lights are dimmed to create a calm, peaceful environment. The patient sits for 30-45 minutes.

Not a Primary Treatment Option

Acupuncture works best when used in conjunction with other therapies, counseling, and medication. It should not be seen as a cure for addiction and it should be used with other forms of treatment.

According to the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, individuals that have acupuncture done alongside other treatments are more likely to have an optimistic attitude towards recovery, be more cooperative, and have a reduction in cravings, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and the need for pharmaceuticals. In this way, acupuncture is able to provide a solid foundation for rehabilitation and recovery.

Acupuncture works best when used alongside other therapies and treatment methods, such as:

  • Experiential therapy
  • Trauma-informed therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Relapse prevention
  • Coping skills education
  • Individualized treatment plans (can include some treatments on this list)

Not for Everyone

While acupuncture can be helpful for some in addiction treatment, it is not for everyone. Research pertaining to acupuncture is varied, with some individuals having no benefits at all. However, you should keep in mind that you don’t lose anything from trying acupuncture, and you may reap its benefits. There do not seem to be negative consequences associated with acupuncture.

Continued Research

Research is still being done on the benefits of acupuncture for addiction recovery. Studies conducted by the Archives of Internal Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health both found that acupuncture can be helpful in treating tobacco and cocaine addictions.

Another study found that acupuncture does alleviate withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction, but it did not find any alleviated symptoms associated with alcohol or cocaine addiction.

Another study done did not find any positive correlation related to acupuncture and cocaine addiction treatment.

However, there have been clinical trials done in rats that have found positive results concerning the withdrawal symptoms of alcoholism. This has provided hope that acupuncture can help humans that are suffering from alcoholism in the future.

Acupuncture is a holistic therapy that serves to treat the whole person. It has been found to be helpful in addiction treatment in the form of auricular acupuncture. Paper-thin needles are inserted into five points of the ear to help aid in relaxation and promote healing in various parts of the body. Patients sit with these needles in their ear for 30-45 minutes. Acupuncture should be used alongside other treatment methods, including other therapies, counseling, and medication. It is not for everyone, but it is worth trying since there are benefits to possibly gain and no negative consequences. Treatment programs around the country are utilizing acupuncture to aid their clients in the recovery process. NorthStar Transitions in Boulder, Colorado is one of these programs. Contact them today at (303) 558-6400 to see how acupuncture could help your recovery journey.


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