Caffeine, Cigarettes, Alcohol and So Much More

Caffeine, Cigarettes, Alcohol and So Much More
How can you lighten the grip these substances have on your life?

*Note: This entry mostly discusses addictions to nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs though there are many other addictions that can be thought of along the same lines. People can experience addictions to just about anything. We use our moods, activities, foods, interactions, and other substances to assist us in altering how we feel. This is not necessarily problematic if you are actively choosing the shift. It is when we become more reliant on these things to move through daily life that we feel a lack of control.

Nearly half a million people in the U.S. died from drug overdose between 2000 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This includes a concerning 14% increase in opioid overdose deaths in 2014 alone. A study by Columbia University found that 40 million people age 12 and older in America meet the clinical criteria for addiction to substances like nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs. It’s estimated that an additional 80 million Americans exhibit risky substance use, where their use poses risks to public health and safety.

Many programs exist to aid recovery. There is variety in the focus of intervention, the setting, treatment methods, and the community involved with rehab. Some recovery programs involve use of medications to ease symptoms during the process. Others have turned to a non-pharmaceutical approach incorporating acupuncture. Many have doubts about the use of this ancient medicine, though findings support it’s effectiveness.

A Look Inside the Brain

So how exactly does acupuncture work with addictions? We can first look at the connection between brain chemistry and drug use/abuse. In research of addiction – to drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, and so on – common findings involve the relationship with D2 receptors in the brain. D2 receptors allow dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the experience of reward and pleasure, to attach to cells and impact their activity. The receptors are found in cells that regulate motivation, pleasure, cognition, memory, learning, and fine motor control. Significantly fewer D2 receptors are found in those who experience addiction. Basically, this states that those who engage in drug use and abuse (or other thrill seeking behavior) often have a reduced availability of D2 receptors. This decreased access to dopamine plays a central role in the development of addiction. It can lead people to experience a lack of satisfaction and reward from activities that would provide most people with pleasure. In many addictions, its thought that the drug blocks the transport of dopamine, leaving an excess present for the available D2 receptors to access. This results in a high. When the drug is not present to block dopamine transport, less dopamine reaches the D2 receptors and results in a state of dysphoria, associated with withdrawal. Additionally, repeated exposure to a substance is known to create a sensitization where the sense of reward is greater with each use, encouraging continued use.

Acupuncture has been shown to normalize dopamine levels in those experiencing addictions. Studies show that it prevents the decrease in dopamine levels during withdrawal while also preventing the increase in dopamine with the use of a drug. Acupuncture simultaneously reduces the drive to return to drug use while minimizing withdrawal symptoms. Since the dopamine system is believed to be involved in all substance abuse issues, it seems that a regulation of this system would offer support for recovery regardless of the substance being used. There have been many clinical examples of acupuncture use that support this as well.

Currently, recovery programs around the world incorporate acupuncture treatment into their plans.

A Little History

            In the early 1970’s, a man named Dr. Wen was exploring the use of auricular acupuncture (on the outside of the ear) to treat pain. He recruited subjects using a newspaper ad offering to pay participants. Upon running the study, Dr. Wen found that the only participants to arrive were opium addicts. They all received daily acupuncture treatment for a number of weeks and noticed a significant reduction in cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Later, the treatment added points and was brought to the U.S. by Dr. Michael Smith. It has been used here for several decades. Support for the connection between acupuncture and recovery from drug and alcohol addiction continues to grow.
Ready to Try It?

There are a few variations of acupuncture and Chinese medicine that can be used to work with people in recovery. Group acupuncture sessions are more affordable and allow people to receive treatment more regularly. The treatment generally just utilizes a five-needle protocol on the outside of the ears. Group treatment also supports the idea of personal recovery’s connection to a greater unity. This is a common teaching in recovery programs. Individual (or one-on-one) Acupuncture treatments can also be very helpful. A practitioner can gain a clearer understanding of your personal situation and can offer specific treatments designed for you. It includes the addition of acupuncture points over the whole body, not just on the ears. It allows the patient and practitioner to focus more directly on a number of symptoms that can arise in relation to the recovery process.

In both cases, individuals can expect to see body systems’ functioning to return to normal. Sleep improves. Many notice a return to normal bowel movements. People feel less agitated and more relaxed. Aches and pains will subside. People also report feeling more focused and involved in their life. Memory improves and a clearer thought process returns. Individuals utilizing acupuncture treatments report increased feelings of hope and connection in their lives.

By becoming more aware of your body, the comings and goings of your moods, and how your drugs of choice impact you, you can find relief from the addiction.

If you have questions about anything in this entry or how these principles may relate to a substance not mentioned here, leave comments below or contact me directly at