Acupuncture And Addiction Recovery

By Dr. Michael J. De Vito

Bob was a manager for a major corporation. He came to my office some years ago for a consultation and evaluation for symptoms related to a digestive disorder. During that consultation he mentioned that he had been a heavy smoker, over two packs per day, for at least twenty years. He said he would like to be able to stop smoking. Bob stated he had begun to see that his smoking habit was having a negative effect on his overall health. He had tried to stop many times but without success. On that visit we gave him acupuncture to aid in smoking cessation by applying needles and micro-current to specific points on both ears. This type of treatment is called Auricular Therapy since it is applied to the ears alone. After the treatment Bob left the office and went on with his day. The next day I received a phone call from Bob. He said when he left my office he had no belief that the acupuncture treatment would have any effect. He did not feel different. Nothing seemed to change. However, that night he realized he had not had one cigarette or any cravings during that day. Withdrawal symptoms were never noticed since receiving the acupuncture treatment. Bob was now motivated and came in for one more acupuncture treatment that week. He remained smoke and tobacco free for the years that I knew him. That was quite a few years ago. Many other patients have shown positive outcomes.

One very recent case to respond to the Auricular Therapy protocol was a young man in his early twenties. George was addicted to Black Tar Heroin. He had been smoking and injecting Heroin for a couple of years. Anyone in the addiction field has seen a marked increase over the past 5 to 7 years in the number of young men and women addicted to Black Tar Heroin. George needed to detox and go through a medically managed withdrawal. With the addition of micro-current Auricular Therapy, George experienced little to no craving for Heroin during the detox phase. The typical symptoms of withdrawal although present, were not severe. Anxiety levels were minimal and the attitude for recovery was positive. George followed through with aftercare including Auricular Therapy, Counseling and support groups with continued success.

Similar results have occurred with compulsive behaviors such as gambling and eating disorders. Other drugs such as methamphetamines, alcohol and pain medications have also shown positive outcomes to varying degrees.

According to Dr. Michael O. Smith, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell Medical School, in an article written for the Huffington Post on 07/16/12, ear acupuncture provides many beneficial effects. Dr. Smith states that “the protocol reduces anxiety and agitation while facilitating calm and receptive behavior. It also serves as a non-verbal intervention that can reach resistant patients.” Many clients may not initially be receptive to talk therapy but they can still receive treatment. Dr. Smith goes on to say “More than 2,000 drug and alcohol programs in the United States and 40 other countries have included ear acupuncture (Auricular Therapy) in their treatment protocol.

In my own state of Nevada, The Eighth Judicial District Court, Drug Court Treatment Program of Las Vegas reviewed past results of Auricular Therapy interventions. The Drug Court Program followed clients in all Clark County Drug Court Programs who received Auricular Therapy from 1992 to 2000. The primary purpose of the Auricular Therapy was to assist in detoxification, the elimination of withdrawal symptoms, and management of stress. A control group did not receive Auricular Therapy. The results of the study found that the participants who were assigned the Auricular Therapy detoxed 30% faster, were abstinent over 30% longer before their first relapse and had over a 30% higher program retention rate than the non-Auricular control group.

Similar results have been seen in other programs such as Hennepin County Detox Center in Minneapolis, MN and The Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. The Lincoln Hospital is a state of the art teaching hospital in downtown Bronx, NY. The Medical Center has been using ear acupuncture with success in their drug treatment program for over 35 years. The nationally recognized Miami-Dade Drug Court program has been influenced by the experiences and the results of The Lincoln Hospital drug treatment program.

Does Auricular Therapy work every time it is tried? No, not in my practice and not in any of the other clinics and programs I have looked at over the years. However, the positive responses have been significant. The beneficial results have gone beyond mere chance or any possible placebo effect. So what is really happening? How does ear acupuncture work? Do we fully understand the mechanisms?

Acupuncture has been a part of Chinese Medicine for at least 3,000 years.

Acupuncture has been a part of Chinese Medicine for at least 3,000 years. Other cultures have used techniques relating to acupuncture. Around 1550 BC ancient Egyptian Papyrus Ebers, (scrolls containing medical knowledge and treatments) appear to describe a system related to various organs and their energy flows. Today we call that energy Chi and the pathways of energy that travel through the body are called meridians. The great contribution of ancient Chinese practitioners is that they were the first to clearly identify and document this pattern and distribution of energy pathways. The modern method and practice of acupuncture that is now studied in medical universities worldwide and used therapeutically today is credited to Chinese medicine.

Not surprisingly there are two very different explanations on how acupuncture and Auricular Therapy work. The Chinese view and the Western view. The view that confuses you more at first may depend on the corner of the world in which you were born and raised.

The Chinese view is based on the balance and harmony of all of these energy pathways. Energy, Chi, should flow freely between the two poles of the meridians. The Chinese refer to these two poles as the yin and the yang. When Chi flows freely throughout the body and all the related organ meridians optimal health exists. The mind, the body and the spirit is in perfect balance and harmony. The yin is in balance with the yang. When Chi is blocked within a pathway or meridian due to trauma, disease or the use of alcohol and other drugs, that organ system is no longer in balance.

Other organ systems and meridians also become affected and disharmony results. Symptoms arise such as anxiety, insomnia, pain, hypertension and many others. Acupuncture and Auricular Therapy has the effect of unblocking the Chi. The free flow of energy is restored through these blocked pathways. Harmony and balance is returned to the organ systems.

The Western view finds the Chinese concept of harmonious balance of energies somewhat mystifying. Modern western medical theory prefers to be able to break down and explain the mechanism of action by describing the anatomical and physiological processes that are observable and result in a reproducible outcome. This is an accepted and valid point of view. However, if we limited our treatment protocols to only those therapies we could scientifically explain at the time, we would not have used pain killing opiates such as morphine or even aspirin to reduce fever and inflammation. We did not begin to understand the mechanisms of how those drugs worked until the middle of the 1970s. Fortunately, research scientists have found a very viable mechanism of how acupuncture works that fits well within the Western Medical View. Scientific research studies have discovered that acupuncture performed on precise points according to Chinese meridian charts increased the production of neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA and many others. These neurotransmitters affect pain control, sleep patterns, anxiety, fears, confidence, relaxation and our overall sense of well- being. No wonder acupuncture has a positive result during withdrawal and aftercare programs. One particular study that confirmed this was done by Dr. Bruce Pomeranz, a Canadian physician with a Ph.D. in neurobiology from Harvard University. Dr. Pomeranz found a marked increase in endorphin release after acupuncture treatments.

His and other research documented in his book, Scientific Bases of Acupuncture, is extensive.

Today Auricular Therapy can be performed without needles by using micro-current delivered through an electrode stimulating precise acupuncture points. The treatments are painless and effective. This stimulus according to Chinese theory opens the flow of Chi. According to Western theory it stimulates the release of neurotransmitters. By either concept the results often are reduced craving, less pain, improved sleep, less anxiety and a heightened sense of well-being. There are no reported side effects to Auricular Therapy. Should acupuncture be a standalone treatment in detox and aftercare recovery? No, nothing should be, however, Auricular Therapy should be considered by those open to an additional effective therapy in an integrated treatment program.

Dr. Michael J. De Vito is a diplomate and is board certified in Addictionology. He is a graduate of Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern Health Science University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

He has been an instructor of Medical Ethics, Clinical Pathology, Anatomy and Physiology at the College of Southern Nevada. He is the founder and program director of NewStart Treatment Center located in Henderson, Nevada. NewStart Treatment Center utilizes a drug free and natural approach to addiction treatment. Dr. De Vito is the author of Addiction: The Master Keys to Recovery