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Acupuncture for opiate addiction 

Holistic addiction treatments often use all-natural recovery methods to help promote sobriety, and one of these methods is acupuncture, a heavily-studied healing technique that has been used for centuries to treat a wide variety of problems… Fully understanding the nature of acupuncture and how it can be used to manage addiction can help you decide whether it is right for you and your recovery needs. 

What is acupuncture? 

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese art and healing method that uses the manipulation of various points on the body to treat a variety of health concerns. Traditionally, acupuncture involves the insertion of long and thin needles into the skin at key points to help stimulate healing. Each needle is carefully sterilized to ensure that no infection occurs. However, other treatments, such as massage, cupping and topical herbal medicines are also used in acupuncture. 

The ancient theory behind acupuncture was that it balances the flow of qi energy in the body. However, modern acupuncture experts believe that acupuncture works by stimulating various systems of the body (including the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune nervous and digestive systems) to promote its positive effects. 

How can acupuncture help with addiction? 

Addiction creates a body-wide imbalance that affects the physical and mental health of anyone who suffers from it. In combination with proven treatment methods, acupuncture may help some patients restore some of this balance by managing a few of its symptoms. 

The origin of these benefits may lie in the way that acupuncture promotes dopamine production. In a study on acupuncture and opiate addiction, it was found that “Manual acupuncture” and “Electronic acupuncture” are capable of triggering a chain of events. Electronic acupuncture of low frequency accelerated the release of β-endorphin and enkephalin in the central nervous system, whereas electronic acupuncture of high frequency (100 HZ) accelerated the release of dynorphin. 

The release of these chemicals may help to manage the physical and emotional pain of opiate addiction and withdrawal. For example, acupuncture can promote the release of dopamine and will naturally decrease the pain of withdrawal and create a more pleasurable state of mind. Understanding this impact is crucial to gauging how effective acupuncture is in treating various forms of addiction. 

What form does this treatment take? 

The first step in an acupuncture treatment is to examine your health history, including the length of your addiction, the psychological aspects of it and any physical health problems that may contribute to it or be caused because of it. The professional acupuncturist will ask about physical pain and stress to get a feel for your case. 

After that simple step, the acupuncturist will examine your tongue, your pulse, and a few other aspects of your health to analyse any underlying effects of your addiction. This is crucial, as there may be health problems that you’ve either missed or did not understand could contribute to addiction. For example, arthritis pain may be severe enough to cause a person to abuse painkillers to manage it. 

Once your health has been assessed, a variety of acupuncture modalities will be used to treat your physical pain and promote relaxation. As previously mentioned, massage, ointments and cups may be applied to your skin. However, a majority of your treatment will be the insertion of needles into the body at precise points. The needles are inserted slowly and with great stability, in order to minimize pain potential and are typically kept in the skin from 5 – 30 mins.

In some instances, individual needles may need to be twirled, heated, or otherwise manipulated to increase their effectiveness. After the predetermined time, the needles are carefully removed from your skin and another massage or oil treatment may be applied. Multiple treatments of acupuncture can be performed in a week, depending on your own needs and enjoyment of the treatment. 

Can acupuncture be used on its own? 

While acupuncture may help some patients with addiction, it is not a good idea to use it as a singular treatment. Think of it as an alternative or supplemental treatment. For example, while acupuncture may ease many of the symptoms of withdrawal, those in recovery should still receive a medical detox. 

The most effective use of acupuncture in treating addiction may be how it promotes relaxation and pain relief. Stress and physical suffering often go hand-in-hand with addiction, and acupuncture can decrease both of these ailments in a natural way. While anti-anxiety and depression medications are still necessary for those who suffer from severe symptoms, acupuncture can still help!

The best way to think of acupuncture in addiction treatment is as a comforting and natural tool. Remember, there is no singular treatment method that covers all addiction recovery needs. While tapered detoxification only manages the physical side of addiction, it is still a necessary step in the process. In a similar way, acupuncture has a useful, if specific, function in recovery. 

Update: 

In 1996, the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed 64 medical problems that were considered suitable for acupuncture treatment, including the treatment of drug abuse. There are 3 major advantages regarding the use of acupuncture to treat drug addiction. First, acupuncture therapy for opiate addiction is inexpensive, simple and has no side effects. Second, acupuncture can be used for the prevention of opiate relapse. Third, acupuncture therapy is safe for pregnant and parturient women. 

How do Opioids Affect the brain? 

When you take an opioid, you could feel a variety of effects, including drowsiness, relaxation, and slowed breathing. Many people also experience a rush of pleasure, also referred to as euphoria, that they find intensely rewarding. 

Opioids attach to the opioid receptors in various parts of the brain, leading to pain relief and feelings of pleasure. Dopamine, a chemical in the brain, is released in increased levels when the reward circuits in the brain are stimulated by opioids. This release of dopamine is associated with producing pleasure, leading to repeated drug use. Dopamine helps to reinforce pleasurable activities, such as exercising, engaging in a fun hobby, and spending time with friends and loved ones. So, in a sense, when dopamine is released as a result of an opioid, the drug “tells” the brain to continue behaving in the same way, which is a contributing factor to what makes opioids addictive. 

When taken as prescribed by a physician, opioids can safely and significantly reduce pain associated with surgery or any type of intense physical pain. However, taking an opioid over a long period of time can lead to tolerance and dependence. As you build tolerance to opioids, you need a larger dose to get the same sensations as you used to, which often leads to taking more opioids than before. Eventually, you could become physically dependent on the drug. A person who is dependent on opioids will experience symptoms of withdrawal should they reduce or suddenly stop taking opioids. This can cause a vicious cycle-a person might try to cut back or stop using, and upon suffering uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, they will begin taking the drug again to relieve such symptoms. 

Furthermore, opioids can be dangerous or even deadly if you take too high a dose, which can lead to extreme effects in terms of drowsiness, nausea, euphoria, and slowed breathing. 

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References:

NICE recommends range of effective treatments for people with chronic primary pain and calls on healthcare professionals to recognise and treat a person’s pain as valid and unique to them

Acupuncture for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction

Treatment of Withdrawal Symptoms With NADA Acupuncture in Chronic Pain Patients – Full Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov

Review Article Acupuncture for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction

(PDF) The effect of acupuncture on the acute withdrawal symptoms from Rapid Opiate Detoxification

Acupuncture’s Role in Solving the Opioid Epidemic: