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Acupuncture and Addiction Treatment: Trading One Needle for Another

There is evidence to support the combination of acupuncture addiction treatment. The first acupuncture detoxification clinic in the United States opened in 1974, at the Lincoln Memorial Hospital in the South Bronx section of New York City.

In the beginning, acupuncture was used as in addition to methadone treatment but, the impressive results that came of the usage of acupuncture in addiction treatment caused methadone to be dropped from the program. According to Dr. Michael Smith, director, the success rate with acupuncture is substantially higher when acupuncture is used, than that of more conventional programs. Unlike methadone, which is itself a highly addictive drug that is used primarily as a heroin substitute for heroin addicts, acupuncture is a natural procedure with no side effects, and it can treat a wide range of addictions. It works equally well for cocaine and crack addicts, heroin addicts, alcoholics, users of psychedelics, and people addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines. Addicts report a marked reduction in craving for drugs, a relief from symptoms of withdrawal, and feelings of relaxation along with improved sleep. The success of this program has inspired the opening of public-funded acupuncture detoxification programs in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Chicago, Portland, and Miami, among others.

More than 2,000 drug and alcohol treatment programs in the U.S. and 40 other countries have added ear acupuncture to their addiction treatment programs. This development is based on the 35-year experience of Lincoln Hospital, which delivered 100 acupuncture treatments per day as part of its comprehensive substance disorder program. The nationally-recognized Miami Drug Court is an outgrowth of the Lincoln experience.

Ear acupuncture is the common technique used. Treatments are generally given in large groups where patients sit together quietly for 45 minutes. This process is called the National Acupuncture Detoxication Association (NADA) protocol. Many jurisdictions have laws that allow a wide range of clinical personnel to be trained to use the NADA protocol in state-approved facilities by those fully licensed.

Acupuncture provides a foundation for recovery and psycho-social rehabilitation. It is a supportive component of a substance abuse treatment as well as in enabling job readiness.

Several characteristics of acupuncture enhance overall functioning:

  • As a non-verbal intervention, it helps in reaching resistant patients.
  • It reduces anxiety and agitation while facilitating calm and receptive behavior.
  • It helps develop an inner meditative state in even the most troubled and fearful persons.

The ear acupuncture protocol is safe and inexpensive with an obvious potential for wider usage in the psychiatric field. The research and development of this technique has been done entirely in the public sector. But, there is strong physiological evidence supporting the use of acupuncture in the treatment of addictions: drugs, food, cigarettes. Research has shown that acupuncture can raise the level of endorphins in the nervous system. Resembling opiates in structure and function, endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers. It seems that the cravings and withdrawal symptoms experienced by people giving up smoking or drugs can be alleviated by raising the level of endorphins in the nervous system. Some researchers also believe that the desire to eat is also mediated by the endorphin level in the brain, which would explain why acupuncture helps people who struggle with food addiction to control their appetites.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.







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