Auriculotherapy Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment – Over the last few years, different forms of acupuncture have become increasingly common in addiction treatment programs. Auricular or ear acupuncture (also referred to as auriculotherapy) is among these. The technique involves inserting a thin needle shallowly at multiple points on the external ear’s skin to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
What Is Acupuncture and How Does It Work?
Acupuncture originated and has been practiced in China for centuries. It is characterized by the insertion of needles into the skin in specific locations. It is a complementary and alternative practice used to treat several physical and mental ailments, including substance abuse and addiction. More Western countries have recently adopted the process for various health and wellness applications.
Ear acupuncture is often utilized to help individuals in recovery. Auriculotherapy is among the most popular form of acupuncture used to treat people who suffer from addiction. The practitioner inserts a small needle into the person’s ear and targets five main areas:
Lung Point – improves lung function and relieves grief.
Liver Point – removes toxins from the blood and liver and reduces aggressiveness.
Kidney Point – repairs vital organs and relieves fears.
Shen Men – decreases anxiety
Autonomic/Sympathetic Point – promotes relaxation and soothing of the central nervous system.
Acupuncture is based on the concept that the human body has meridians spread throughout. When these are stimulated, they can increase Qi’s flow, which is said to be life energy. Organ function is thought to be improved when it becomes unobstructed.
How Can Acupuncture Help With Addiction?
Acupuncture is both safe and cost-effective. Combining other forms of treatment, such as individual therapy, group counseling, and support groups, can benefit those suffering from substance abuse or addiction.
Advocates of acupuncture contend that the practice can do the following:
- Help reduce drug and alcohol cravings
- Increase patient retention in addiction treatment
- Ease unpleasant withdrawal symptoms
- Ease physical pain
- Help the individual regulate emotions
- Decrease anxiety and stress
- Help regulate sleep
Effects on Drug Use
It’s not wholly understood how acupuncture works, but it is believed to affect the brain’s dopaminergic system. Drugs positively reinforce continued use by producing pleasurable and euphoria and adversely augment it by suppressing withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. Acupuncture is thought to decrease addiction’s positive and negative reinforcements and, consequently, reduce drug use.
Proponents for acupuncture treatments commonly believe that the practice decreases the positive reinforcement properties of drugs by reducing dopamine release when used. Without the dopamine surge, the individual’s feeling of being “high” is lessened, and they will be less likely to use the drug in the future.
On the other hand, it is also thought that acupuncture treatments diminish the withdrawal properties of drugs, such as dysphoria and stress. These properties serve to negatively reinforce continued drug use by making it an uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous task to stop use.
Regarding substance abuse, findings on acupuncture’s effectiveness have varied. Also, acupuncture appears to be more effective at treating certain addictions than others.
For example, one study found that that acupuncture helped to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms, but it did not benefit those withdrawing from cocaine or alcohol. Still, other clinical trials revealed that acupuncture helped alleviate alcohol withdrawal symptoms in rats, paving the way for future research in human subjects who suffer.
Self-Reports From Users
One study documented recovering addicts’ anecdotal reports of encounters with auricular acupuncture. Many had positive experiences with the holistic treatment, including the following:
- Decreased substance abuse
- Anxiety relief
- Increased well-being
- Positive physical effects
The negative experiences they reported included the following:
- Ineffective at reducing cravings
- Physically distracting
- Short-lived effects
- Required another individual to be performed (could not be done independently)
Moreover, despite conflicting evidence, many individuals have found acupuncture beneficial while recovering from an addiction to substances. Due to the high level of safety and the lack of severe adverse effects, there appears to be little risk of trying it as an ancillary form of addiction treatment.
Use of Acupuncture in Rehab Programs
Holistic recovery services, such as those employed in programs offered at Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery are designed to treat the whole individual by improving mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Some of the treatments we provide are considered alternatives to mainstream treatments, such as auriculotherapy, yoga, and art and music therapy. Others are traditional, evidence-based, time-testing approaches such as psychotherapy, counseling, and group support.
It is important to note that acupuncture should not be used as a standalone treatment for substance abuse. Instead, it should be used as part of a much broader, long-term treatment program that includes a wide variety of therapeutic services and activities.