Addiction is one of the biggest preventable killers in Britain, causing at least around 150,000 deaths a year.
Substance and behavioural addictions can heavily impact one’s overall health and disrupt life on many levels. The prejudice that is still attached to them can make it even more difficult to reach out for help.
Smoking, alcohol and drug addiction has a detrimental impact on all major systems of the human body.
Behavioural addictions can be crippling and dramatically reduce quality of life and happiness.
Sustained cessation and control of addictions are possible with commitment and the right treatment plan and support system.
How can we help?
Studies have shown that Chinese Medicine can reduce the craving for addictive substances and the World Health Organisation has agreed that Acupuncture has a therapeutic effect on dependence of tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, heroin and opium*.
Chinese Medicine treatments for addiction work on the central nervous system and the endocrine system to reduce stress, encourage endorphin production and balance neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, known to be involved in the brain processes that make certain substances so addictive.
Treatments depend on each patient’s unique health needs, as well as the nature and root cause of the addiction. They are primarily designed to stimulate the body’s detoxification while relieving cravings and physical or psychological withdrawal symptoms, resetting brain chemistry and promoting relaxation and mental wellbeing.
Typically, treatments will involve Acupuncture for addiction and highly personalised herbal formulas.
Auricular therapy – consisting of tiny metal studs or medicated seeds positioned onto specific points on the ear and kept in place by discreet plasters – is also often prescribed in the treatment of addictions. Stimulating those areas by pressing on the stud or seed, has been shown to effectively help patients not only to maintain and enhance the effects of treatments in between Acupuncture sessions but also to control and ease withdrawal symptoms as they occur.
How quickly will you see results?
Usually, we require a minimum of 3-4 weeks to begin to see consistent results, although noticeable differences and improvements can happen sooner.
Most people find that recovering from addiction is challenging. The treatments provided, either in standard care or in Chinese Medicine, aren’t guaranteed nor are they always easy but they are effective in time and with dedication.
Staying committed is crucial to success.
Substance use disorder (SUD) and behavioural addictions are complex and potentially life-threatening conditions. They usually have deep psychological roots and involve complex interactions among brain circuits, the reward system, genetics, the environment, and life experiences.
Addiction is defined as an inability to refrain from engaging in behaviours, such as gambling and gaming, or using potentially harmful substances – whether illicit, like heroin, or seemingly innocuous, like painkillers and sleeping pills – to the point where the person’s ability to function in day to day life becomes impaired.
Such uncontrolled misuse and compulsive seeking of substances or activities are normally triggered by the need to escape discomfort and pain, physical or emotional, to relieve stress, forget problems, or cope with the many demands of life.
Intoxication symptoms can vary but main reactions typically include distorted thinking, and changes in behaviour and personality, either temporary or long-lasting, due to the release of chemicals in the blood and their effect on brain chemistry and functioning.
Over time the body builds up a tolerance to the intoxication, meaning that to get the same dopamine response and feeling of reward – such as intense pleasure, euphoria, calm, increased perception – larger amounts of the substance used or the activity performed are needed. This leads to spiralling, cravings, compulsion and addiction.
In the most severe cases, the discontinuation of the substance or activity will likely cause unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms, including tremors, muscle aches and pain, irritability, palpitations, insomnia, restlessness, trouble concentrating, among many others.
These are known as withdrawal symptoms and need to be addressed and taken care of while the brain relearns and resets.
Western Medicine View
In the Western medicine view, addiction and sustained misuse of substances or certain activities are thought to result from structural and functional changes and adaptations in the brain.
Brain imaging studies have shown, SUDs do alter the brain’s functioning and structure, – especially areas related to judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavioural control – causing those distinct traits and cravings that trap users in hard-to-break vicious cycles.
The processes which cause these changes are still being studied, but it is quite clear that over-exposure creates tolerance, leading to craving and compulsion to repeat the activity. Whereas reducing the amount of substance or the frequency of the activity, will start a transition and detoxification period characterised by a wide range of withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment plans are designed to support the patient through the transition period, both physically and mentally. Depending on personal circumstances, patients may require different management techniques and strategies, alongside the support of the individual’s community or family.
Treatment typically includes medications, to help relieve cravings,, detox programmes and rehab, behavioural therapy and counselling to support mental health, as well as ongoing care to reduce the risk of relapse.
If you are dealing with addiction, your primary care physician is a good place to start. They can talk you through all your options for treatment or refer you to specialised clinics or trained medical professionals.
Chinese Medical View
In Chinese Medicine, addictions are caused by underlying physical and mental imbalances that need to be identified and addressed to ensure a successful, long-lasting recovery and avoid relapse.
As well as rebalancing neurotransmitter and hormone levels, Chinese Medicine will look at the substance or behaviour addictions and tailore treatment accordingly. For instance, addiction to stimulating substances may be treated by ‘clearing heat, calming the spirit and nourishing yin and blood’, while dependence on sedative substances may be treated by ‘moving qi, transforming phlegm and nurturing the Heart ZF’.
Whether the problem is nicotine, alcohol, food, or some behaviour like gaming, porn or OCD, treatments for addiction address not only the physical symptoms of withdrawal but also the emotional and mental challenges most people face when they begin recovery.
The primary aim is to support the Zang-fu organs responsible for detoxification and restore the body’s ability to produce its own natural endorphins while easing and strengthening the unsettled and troubled mind.
Chinese Medicine can also work alongside conventional medical treatments and provide extended support to clients who are concerned about returning to addictive substances or behaviours after rehab.
All addictions can be overcome in time, with dedication and with the right support system and treatment plan.
Here are some simple tips you can try and implement straight away to support yourself on your journey to recovery alongside professional support:
- Become more aware of when and where you are most vulnerable to automatic use or when decisions are needed.
- Restore your mental energy with good sleep.
- Use relaxation techniques, such as slow breathing or meditation, to decrease the stress response.
- Reduce temptations. Move temptations out of your reach, when you have the mental energy to do so.
- Exercise regularly, on a set schedule. Even 5 minutes of daily exercise will help recharge your mental energy.
By employing the strategies above, you will give yourself a better chance for recovery success by reducing your decision fatigue and becoming more aware of your personal triggers.
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