Does Auricular Acupuncture Really Work In Treating Substance Addictions?

It is believed that acupuncture was created by the Chinese and it entails the sticking of needles into the skin in various parts of the body. Acupuncture is used as an alternative and adjunctive therapy for certain mental and physical maladies, including alcohol and drug addiction.

For a few thousand years, the Chinese have been using acupuncture as a main mode of treatment for common and not-so-common ailments. Some European countries have been using it for centuries. In the US it has become a common practice since the 1970’s.

How Acupuncture Works

Ear or auricular acupuncture is a form of acupuncture that is widely used to help people recover from addiction. It is the most popular type of acupuncture used to assist people with addiction.

In this type of treatment, the acupuncturist penetrates a filiform needle into the ear of a person. The ear acupoints needled include the:

1. The Sympathetic or Autonomic Point – This acupoint promotes soothing and relaxation of the nervous system.
2. Shen Men Point – Also called the “spirit gate,” this point reduces anxiety.
3. Kidney Point – Relieves fears and heals vital organs.
4. Liver Point – Curbs aggression and eliminates toxins from the blood and liver.
5. Lung Point – Ameliorates feelings of grief and boosts the function of the lungs.

Acupuncture works on the notion that there are energy pathways within a person’s body called meridians that’s spread throughout it. Stimulating these energy pathways enhances the flow of life energy (Qi) and when Qi flows freely and smoothly, the organs function in a healthy and efficient way.

Can Acupuncture Help With Addiction?

Acupuncture is a very inexpensive and safe way to address addiction. It can benefit people suffering from substance addiction when it’s used alongside with other modes of therapy, such as support groups, group counseling, and individual therapy.

Acupuncture advocators claim that the therapy can:

• Help normalize sleep
• Lower stress and anxiety
• Help normalize the emotions of a person
• Relieve physical pain
• Alleviate unpleasant withdrawal symptoms
• Augment patient retention in rehab
• Help lessen cravings

The Effects of Auricular Acupuncture on Drug Use

How acupuncture actually works still confounds modern science although it is suspected that the treatment affects the brain’s dopaminergic system. The continued use of drugs are positively reinforced by the drugs themselves by bringing about euphoric and pleasurable feelings; conversely, the drugs cause dependency and dysphoria through the withdrawal symptoms of the person. In theory, acupuncture helps promote pleasure and relaxation to the person (positive reinforcement) and helps reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms of the person which can help reduce the person’s use of drugs.

By decreasing the level of dopamine released when the addictive substance is used, acupuncture is believed to lessen the substance’s positive reinforcement properties. The person is less inclined to use the drug in the future without the dopamine surge that diminishes the “buzz” or “high” of the person.

Acupuncture treatments are known to significantly reduce the drugs’ withdrawal properties, such as distress and dysphoria, that serve to negatively reinforce the continual use of the drug (since the person can also suppress withdrawal by continuing the use of the drug), by enhancing the levels of dopamine and curbing GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) neurons. This dopamine surge into the brain’s nucleus accumbens can neutralize withdrawal symptoms and uplift mood.

Studies on Acupuncture Treatment for Addiction

There are mixed results as to the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of addiction. The treatment also seems to work better in treating certain substance addictions than others.

• Clinical trials indicate that acupuncture helps lessen alcohol the symptoms of withdrawal in rats, that could help spur the potential for future studies in humans burdened with alcohol addiction.
• Additional research has failed to identify any positive correlation between cocaine addiction and acupuncture treatment.
• One study showed that acupuncture can relieve the withdrawal symptoms of opioid substances. However, the therapy wasn’t effective for people suffering from cocaine and alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Self-Reports From Users

One study documented the reports of users who have undergone auricular acupuncture treatment. A lot of these people experienced certain benefits along with negativities with this type of treatment. The benefits included:

Positive physical effects

• Peacefulness
• Enhanced wellbeing
• Relaxation
• Anxiety relief
• Reduced substance abuse

The negativities they encountered included:

• Short term effects
• Physically distracting
• Need for another person to be administered
• Not strong enough to reduce cravings
• Time-consuming

Notwithstanding the conflicting evidence, a lot of individuals argue that acupuncture has helped them while they were recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. Because of its minimal side effects and being quite safe to use, acupuncture as an adjunct type of addiction treatment seems to have little risk.

Acupuncture’s Use in Addiction Therapy Programs

Holistic therapy clinics focus on treating the whole individual by enhancing his/her spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health. Compared to medication, counseling and other conventional and mainstream therapies, the treatments provided at these rehab clinics are considered alternatives.

Acupuncture is usually integrated into the treatment programs of these holistic centers. It can be included in the customized plan of treatment plan of a person to address his/her specific needs for his/her mental health and recovery.

In treating substance addiction in Bellingham, auricular acupuncture is not effective enough to be used as a standalone treatment. It is often accompanied by other complementary or alternative recovery treatment plans, like yoga, exercise programs, nutritional counseling, meditation, music or art therapy or mainstream therapies like 12-step programs, psychotherapy, or group counseling.

Group and Individual Therapies

Auricular acupuncture is widely used by treatment facility staff certified in the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol. This type of protocol is a standardized acupuncture way of treatment and provides acupuncture training to mental and medical health professionals. The NADA protocol usually lasts for half an hour or so while, the person is relaxing. In the procedure, needles are stuck into five predetermined acupoints in the person’s ear.

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