Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment

Recent years have led to a surge in interest in the potential benefits of the techniques used in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) - especially with regards to the management of substance abuse and addiction.

About Traditional Chinese Medicine

Also known as TCM, traditional Chinese medicine is a type of Asian medicine that is based on a framework going back thousands of years. It involves using Chinese medical practice and knowledge - although it is now also informed by modern medical practices.

This type of medicine is founded on the philosophy of Taoism. Most of its doctrines are also established in a number of books, including but not limited to the Treatise on Cold Damage and the Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon. Similarly, they are founded on cosmological notions, such as the 5 phases and yin-yang.

In the modern world, traditional Chinese medicine is mostly incorporated as one of the alternative approaches to medical practice. This is in the sense that it is designed to complement western Medicine. However, some people prefer to just use TCM. That said, some of the practices that are involved in TCM include but are not limited to:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chinese herbal medicine
  • Chinese therapeutic massage (or Tuina)
  • Dietary therapy
  • Moxibustion (where a herb is burned above the skin before to applying the heat to various acupuncture points)
  • Qi Gong and Tai Chi (including practices that are designed to combine specific postures, movements, mental focus, and coordinated breathing)

The Holistic Connection

Among its basic principles, traditional Chinese medicine is founded on the belief that the vital energy of the body flows through certain pathways known as meridians. These pathways, on the other hand, have branches that are connected to various bodily and organ functions.

According to this belief, every structure of the human body is connected and they are all needed for the whole to function normally. On the other hand, these structures form intricately connected systems with your spirit, emotions, and mind. As such, they are all interrelated as well as powered by energy or life force.

The people who practice TCH also maintain that the human being is connected in whole to nature. To this end, changes in nature will always reflect in the body. For this reason, bodily health is affected by various factors, including but not limited to your age, gender, geographical location, time of day, and specific time in the year.

The Diagnostic Methods of TCM

Traditional Chinese medicine uses 5 primary diagnostic methods, including palpation, inquiry, olfaction, auscultation, and inspection:

a) Inspection

The body is inspected with a focus on the face, the tongue (its shape, coating, tension, size, and more) as well as the absence or presence of teeth marks.

b) Auscultation

This refers to listening for certain sounds, such as wheezing.

c) Olfaction

Olfaction is the inspection of the odor from the body.

d) Inquiry

Inquiry is focused on 7 inquiries that involve the practitioner asking the client about the severity, regularity, and other characteristics of the following:

  • Appetite
  • Bowel movement
  • Menstruation
  • Pain
  • Sleep
  • Temperature
  • Thirst
  • Urination
  • Other bodily functions

e) Palpation

This involves an observation of the palpations of the abdomen, of the pulses of the wrist, and that of other tender points in the body.

Herbal Medicine in Addiction Treatment

The Chinese Materia Medica describes different types of substances and herbs that have medicinal value. Today, it is the primary pharmacological reference book that is used by the practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

Most of these substances and herbs are plants. However, they also include animal products and minerals. Certain parts of plants - including stems, seeds, flowers, leaves, and roots - are also used. Further, TCM involves the combination of herbs that are then administered in the form of extracts, capsules, teas, powders, and granules.

Scientific research now suggests that some of these traditional herbal treatments can be effective especially when they are used alongside modern medicine. As a result, traditional Chinese medicine is now being used in the treatment of substance abuse and addiction. It is considered to be effective especially because it involves the use of herbal treatments that largely lack the negative side effects and drug interactions that are often found in some cases of modern medicine.

Some of the herbs that TCM practitioners use to treat substance abuse and dependence include but are not limited to:

  • Indian ginseng (or Withania Somniferous)
  • Kudzu plant roots
  • Laurel clock vine (or Thunbergia Laurifolia)
  • Milk thistle (or Silybum Marianum)
  • Pueraria root (or Radix Pueraria)
  • Red sage (or Salvia Miltiorrhiza)

Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment

Among the most visible forms of traditional Chinese medicine used to manage and address substance abuse problems, acupuncture is perhaps the best known. In general, it is based on the concept of shen or heart spiritual attributes. According to the WHO - the World Health Organization - there are 64 medical problems (and probably more) that can be treated using acupuncture. These include but are not limited to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

There are several advantages of using acupuncture to deal with this problem. For instance, the program is safe for almost everyone who is addicted to intoxicating substances, including pregnant women.

Similarly, this form of traditional Chinese medicine is simple and safe and does not cause any side effects in the management of opioid abuse and addiction. Further, acupuncture has been shown to be effective are reducing the risk of relapse.

According to the NIH - the National Institutes of Health - and the World Health Organization, acupuncture can be effective at treating and managing digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, emotional issues, fatigue, chronic pain, and even substance use disorders.

When used to manage alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, this form of traditional Chinese medicine can be effective in the following ways:

  • Alleviate pains and aches
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce cravings
  • Reduce depression
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce the symptoms associated with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Relieve withdrawal symptoms

Getting Help

To benefit from traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture, it is recommended that you find an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program that is able to find the perfect combination of these forms of alternative treatment (or even to combine it with a bit of modern approaches in the management of substance abuse) until you find the right fit.

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