Acupuncture is a treatment modality that is used to treat a wide variety of ailments including drug addiction. This science rests upon the idea that the body contains meridians or channels through which a vital energy called Qi (pronounced "chee") flows. Qi, along with blood, nourishes the organs and tissues of the body. For a person to be in a state of health and well being, the channels must be filled with patency--the uninterrupted, strong and smooth flow of Qi.
The Cause of Disease
According to the Chinese, disease becomes manifest when the flow of Qi or blood is interrupted. The reasons for the disruption of patency can be numerous. Regardless of the reasons, however, the blockages, stagnations, and deficiencies must be addressed, treated, and removed. Once they are removed, Qi and blood flow will return to normal levels and result in a regained state of health.
In addition to other problems, the drug addict often has serious nutritional deficiencies due to poor diet. This injures his Yin, Yang, Qi, and Blood--causing the stagnation of Qi and Blood. Acupuncture will help stimulate the digestive system and other parts of the endocrine system, thereby promoting the production of Qi and Blood. This helps the addict to regain nutritional health.
Heroin addicts usually finds themselves depressed when ceasing to use. In some ways this is the hardest part of withdrawal because depression makes dealing with discomfort much more difficult. It is often said that depression is "all in the head." This is quite true--although not in the way that it is usually meant. Long term drug addiction affects brain chemistry. It eventually creates neurological deficiencies. As a result of putting in external sources of pleasure (morphine, primarily) which stimulate the same receptor sites as endogenous (body created) endorphins, the addict's body loses much of its ability to manufacture these substances itself. When the addict stops taking exogenous (created outside the body) endorphin substitutes, the addict feels bad. It takes time for the body to begin manufacturing the endogenous endorphins at a normal level.
Repairing the Chemical Production of the Body
For reasons not known, acupuncture helps the ex-addict of external chemicals "jump start" the body's process of creating the endogenous chemicals it needs to feel good. I know of no research that measures cerebral spinal fluid levels of dopamine or serotonin during detox situations with and without acupuncture. What I do know is based on clinical experience and what I have seen as an acupuncturist working with addicts for a number of years. These observations are not as conclusive as double blind studies, but they make acupuncture a hopeful procedure worth trying.
Using Acupuncture as Part of a Detox
I have been asked if an addict can be detoxed from heroin using only acupuncture. I advise against this. It is best used in conjunction with some other kind of medicated detox. For example, acupuncture is used in conjunction with a clonidine detox the Hooper Clinic in Portland, Oregon. It is also used in conjunction with 21 day methadone detox in California and elsewhere. In most programs, however, acupuncture is used only during the withdrawal period and not as part of the after-care where it is likely to do the most good in getting the body back to its normal state.
There are several hundred acupuncture points throughout the body. The ear is a micro system of the whole body. During detoxification acupuncture of the ear is the chosen area to treat. There are several reasons for this. The ear is easy to reach and is very close to the brain. The ear is located in the temperal bone. This is of neurological significance as all the cranial nerves (except two) run through the temperal bone into the ear. there is speculation that treating the ear is stimulating the cranial nerves. In giving stimulation to the cranial nerves one is directly accessing the brain and helping it to begin manufacturing the peptides which bond together to form the endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine which the body needs to experience normalcy, and which are thrown out of balance through sustained narcotic use. There are five primary points in the ear used. They are the sympathetic, shen mein, kidney, liver, and heart-lung points. Only the last three of these are used in heroin detox.
Acupuncture is not a cure-all and should be used with a number of different tools to make the detox as painless and effective as possible. After the formal detox is completed, acupuncture should be combined with improvements in diet and exercise--the latter including Yoga, Tai Qi, and meditation. The ex-addict should do anything that helps the body create the endogenous endorphins and other affected brain chemicals and to stimulate their receptor sites. In this way, he will have his body returned to a normal state as quickly as possible.