• Erin Dietz, L.Ac.

How Acupuncture Can Help With Opioid Addiction

The United States is in the middle of an epidemic like no other. We are currently losing almost 100 people per day as a consequence of the current opioid crisis. The opioid crisis is due to the addiction and abuse of both prescription and illegal opioid substances like Vicodin, Oxycontin, and the illicitly manufactured Fentanyl.

The opioid crisis started in the 1990s and has escalated every year since. A large part of this increase is due to pharmaceutical companies and conventional medical doctors.

During this period of time, medical doctors were being pressured to treat chronic pain more aggressively. In response to this pressure, doctors began prescribing long-term use of opioids for the pain. At the same time, the pharmaceutical companies were touting opioids as non-addictive and not harmful. The end result is that doctors were prescribing drugs at higher rates and more people were finding themselves addicted.

Despite what the pharmaceutical companies said, opioids are highly addictive substances and alter the way the body responds to pain.

The standard method of treating opioid addiction is to send the person to rehab or to have them quit cold turkey. In a rehab facility, the addict is taught how to address their addiction and use other methods in place of taking the drugs. Success rates at rehab facilities vary, and ultimately, if the addict is not surrounded by supportive people and activities, the chances they will return to using opioids after leaving the rehabilitation facility are much higher. But this is not the only option for those suffering from opiate addiction.

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment method that can be very beneficial in treating not only addiction to opioids but also the underlying reasons why a person may begin taking pain medications in the first place.

Specifically, there is a technique known as the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol that has shown to decrease cravings during opiate withdrawals. This protocol uses five acupuncture points in the ear to modulate the neurotransmitters in the body, stimulating the endocrine system, which allows for relaxation and a “resetting” of the body overall.

These five points address different symptoms that can be associated with addiction and withdrawals. The lung point helps maintain a steady breathing pattern, which also helps address grief and sadness that can sometimes be associated with withdrawals. The Shen Men point addresses anxiety, stress, and depression. The autonomic point works on balancing the nervous system. The liver and kidney points help with detoxification, while also addressing anger and fear.

This addresses the opioid addiction itself, while other acupuncture points on the body can treat the underlying pain that may have led to the opioid addiction in the beginning. Acupuncture has a great track record for treating pain and decreasing inflammation. There are also points on the body that can help with all the emotional trauma that often accompanies addiction. Studies show acupuncture can also improve mood and sleep while decreasing the need for pharmaceuticals.

Opioid addiction is a serious matter and not something to be ignored. Be sure to discuss any alternative treatment methods with your physician or counselor, in order to get the best treatment tailored to meet your specific needs. Adding acupuncture to any conventional treatments can increase the odds of a successful release from opioid addiction.

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