Acupuncture is based on the premise that your body has complex patterns of energy flow called Qi which are essential networks for your overall health and vitality. Illnesses such as addiction are thought to disrupt the normal balance of life force, and acupuncture can help restore that harmony in your body.
First developed in China over 5000 years ago, acupuncture has since been used as a holistic treatment practice in tandem with modern medicine. Acupuncture has proven to be an excellent complement to addiction counseling services, offering clients relief from chronic pain and withdrawal symptoms as well as promoting mental clarity. Acupuncture aids in preventing relapse and also increases the chances of maintaining long-term sobriety.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Although studies about the effectiveness of acupuncture are ongoing, research has shown that this treatment can help relieve insomnia, anxiety, depression, muscle aches, migraines, and more.
At the beginning of a session, fine needles are inserted subcutaneously at specific points in your body, also known as acupoints. Energy is believed to flow through pathways, or meridians, that weave across your body and are accessible through 365 acupoints in your skin. When these needles enter the skin, blockages that may be obstructing the natural flow of energy are released.
Each of these needles inflicts a tiny injury, causing minimal discomfort, which then signals your brain to respond. This response stimulates your immune system to kick into action and promotes blood circulation to the area. At the same time, your brain releases serotonin and pain-relieving endorphins into your body. Inflammation in the area may be reduced as well.
During the session, practitioners might also apply heat to areas that are causing the most intense pain. Every individual experiences the effects of acupuncture differently—you might leave the appointment feeling relaxed, while others will have a tingling or energizing sensation. These sessions usually last about a half hour to an hour and can be scheduled over several weeks until symptoms or conditions are alleviated.
How Does Acupuncture Support Addiction Treatment?
Acupuncture can help restore the healthy flow of energy in your body that was disrupted during addiction. You can look at the energy distribution like yin and yang. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), yin organs are the liver, heart, lung, spleen, and kidney and yang organs are the gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, and bladder. When you endure a trauma, like addiction, the functioning of these organs and your internal circuitry of meridians may be thrown off.
Picture the meridians like a hose – if the hose is laid straight down, the water pours out evenly. If kinked, it can bulge on one side and trickle out the other side. Now, visualize this happening in the body and the chaos it can cause. During treatment, acupuncture needles are placed at the point of the kinks, allowing the energy to flow easily once again and balance to be restored.
If you are in early recovery, this holistic practice relieves painful acute withdrawal symptoms and can improve your overall well-being. Forbes reports that stress reduction and pain relief are all benefits of acupuncture, and for opioid addiction, it shows real promise. As mentioned earlier, acupuncture releases chemicals in the brain including serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals travel through the nervous system and provide the same pleasurable feeling opioids create. The difference is that acupuncture does it naturally, without the use of substances.
Auricular acupuncture focuses on different acupoints in your ear that are connected to organs or bodily systems. Whether you are detoxing or months into your recovery, auricular acupuncture is proven to have positive outcomes.
In fact, one study looked at 100 people in substance abuse programs who received ear acupuncture in addition to clinical treatment. Those who had at least twice-weekly auricular acupuncture during treatment reported having an improved quality of life, increased energy, and less alcohol use after 3 and 6 months.
Also effective at reducing anxiety, this type of acupuncture can be beneficial to those stressed about being in treatment. It can also ease doubts about living a completely new lifestyle without substances by offering a holistic alternative to stress relief.
There are five main points on the ear that auricular acupuncture targets:
- Sympathetic: Causes relaxation by calming the nervous system
- Shen Men: Decreases nervousness and anxiety, calms the heart and spirit
- Kidney Point: Heals vital organs and alleviates fears, anxiety and calms the nervous system
- Liver Point: Removes toxins from the liver and reduces aggression, ease of flow of qi
- Lung Point: Helps manage grief and improve lung function
During this specific treatment, the needles take seconds to insert. Then, the patient sits quietly for 30 to 45 minutes in a dimly lit room. This creates an environment of peace for your mind and body to rest.
“Auricular acupuncture makes a profound difference with the clients,” states Patricia Singer, acupuncturist at Mountainside. “Oftentimes, the client falls asleep during the session. They also report feeling calm, clear, and refreshed even after the first session. The results are cumulative and serve as an amazing tool in helping to connect with oneself.”
Full Body Acupuncture
Just as recovery is different for every person, each acupuncture treatment will be different as well. While going through withdrawal, some people may experience migraines, bodily aches, headaches, exhaustion, or nausea. By focusing the needles on specific areas causing discomfort, acupuncture can help relieve these symptoms.
Although this practice was created thousands of years ago, people are still reaping the health benefits. Many people that participate in acupuncture report feeling energized and better about their overall well-being after a few sessions. Acupuncture has quickly become a viable addiction treatment option and should always be paired with clinical therapy for the best results.