Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Using Acupuncture to Get Help for Addiction

Many people struggle with some form of addiction: to food, alcohol, sugar, shopping, sex, drugs, gambling, drama, the internet--the list goes on and on. For some it has a mild impact on their life, where perhaps they spend too much time on social media or their credit card bills get a little high, but generally speaking things are more or less under control. Over time, however, addiction can take over and it can cause a lot of damage to a person's relationships, work, physical and emotional health and even their mortality. Sometimes addiction can be managed by the addicted person, but many times it can't; when addiction begins interfering with one's ability to function in day to day life, outside help is essential.

In the early 1970's, Dr. Michael O. Smith at Lincoln Hospital in South Bronx, NY, began using auricular, or ear, acupuncture with the addicted patients under his care in the rehab facility; this program grew into the National Acupuncture Detox Association (NADA). The patients were also receiving counseling and other treatments as is usual in the treatment of addiction. However, when the patients received acupuncture, they were less agitated, had fewer cravings and felt more at ease.

Since then, the 5 point "NADA protocol" has been used over and over to promote wellness, calmness and healing for many people struggling with addition, as well as struggling with the stress and trauma that can often lead to addiction. This protocol creates a deep sense of well-being as it "resets" the nervous system in a positive way. Addiction often starts when a person feels something that he/she doesn't want to feel (sadness, shame, regret, loneliness, self-loathing, etc.) and is looking for something to make him or her feel better. When someone has an addiction, the body and mind have become dependent on a substance or behavior in order to feel "okay." It has gone beyond the "not feeling bad" stage to needing to use in order to feel at baseline. When the substance is removed or the behavior is not practiced, the body becomes agitated and feels "not okay," until the next fix. When the body is "not okay," the nervous system is sent into a state of stress, or Fight or Flight, where the only thing the person with addiction thinks he or she can do is use. With some substances that is actually true (like with alcohol), which is why medical intervention and supervision is often required to help a person detox. Other times, however, what he or she needs is something safer and less self-destructive that will also reset the nervous system into feeling "okay" again; acupuncture can help do that.

During the detox/withdrawal period and the months after, acupuncture can be a very supportive adjunctive therapy, helping a person with addiction manage cravings, stress and anxiety while lessening the need to use. Many suppressed feelings often come up during this time, which can be overwhelming, which is why ideally the person with addiction should also attend some sort of talk therapy/group therapy or other support system during this process. If someone is doing outpatient rehab work, getting acupuncture is a great way to encourage success as it helps with the feelings of overwhelm, depression, anxiety and stress. The person with addiction can get acupuncture treatments daily or weekly, depending on the level of support that he or she requires. Many acupuncturists can also apply press balls or press seeds which are tiny spheres that are taped onto the ear points so that the client can press the points and get more support between treatments. These methods create a constant, low level of stimulation to some or all of the NADA protocol points. These press balls or seeds can be left on the ears for 3-5 days.

For more information on the benefits of acupuncture for addiction, go to the National Acupuncture Detox Association's website. To find an acupuncturist near you, go to the NCCAOM website. To find a NADA specialist in your area, call (888)765-6232.

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