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Acupuncture for the Treatment of Substance Addiction

For centuries, Asian cultures have placed needles in precise locations on the body to relieve pain and treat disease. The use of acupuncture for the treatment of drug and alcohol dependency, however, is a recent development in the history of this ancient healing art.

In 1972, a Hong Kong neurosurgeon, H.L. Wen, M.D., conducted research that indicated that acupuncture could alleviate symptoms of drug withdrawal, and the modern use of acupuncture for this purpose was born. In drug addiction, exogenous opiates bond to receptor sites normally occupied by endogenous endorphins. One of the ways acupuncture may facilitate withdrawal is by activating the release of previously suppressed natural endorphins, which can then occupy the receptor sites formerly dominated by the narcotic drug. The acupuncture treatment has a naturally calming effect, improves energy and concentration, soothes irritability, and promotes restful sleep. It can also aid the natural cleansing abilities of the liver, kidneys, and lungs.

In 1974 the Lincoln Memorial Hospital in the South Bronx started the first outpatient clinic offering acudetox. In 1985, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) was established to promote education and training in the use of this detox protocol. Acupuncture detoxification evolved rapidly and is now used effectively to relieve symptoms during detoxification, prevent relapse, and support long term recovery. Currently there are thousands of programs throughout the United States and Europe. Acudetox should be used in combination with other treatment modalities such as group counseling, Twelve Step, psychotherapy, or Social Model programs. Properly administered, acupuncture can enhance and support the program goals of virtually any traditional chemical dependency treatment, but loses much of it's efficacy when practiced in isolation.

The treatment protocol developed at Lincoln Hospital in New York, and furthered by NADA, consists of the insertion of five small sterile needles at specific sites on the skin of the outer ear. Treatments are approximately 45 minutes long and are often performed in a group setting. The treatment is painless, leaving most patients relaxed, with increased energy and mental focus, and is complemented by an herbal formula to promote relaxation and assist the body's recovery from the harmful effects of the abused substance. Although originally developed for the treatment of narcotic addiction, the use of acupuncture can effectively enhance treatment for most drugs, as well as alcohol and nicotine.

Generally, patients are treated daily for the first week, tapering gradually week by week. After one month of treatment, most patients who have been consistent with treatment are successful. Drug and alcohol treatment protocol is more lengthy, but follows a similar tapering of treatment over time. Some patients simply do not respond well to treatment in private practice, in which case a treatment center which includes acupuncture is the best option.


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