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Acupuncture is a popular holistic treatment for addiction. The ancient practice was developed in China, Japan and Korea over 2,500 years ago and continues to be widely used today to address a number of ailments.

Acupuncture is part of a system of medicine that seeks to establish the free and balanced flow of Qi (or energy) in the body, based on the idea that blocked Qi causes disharmony in the body and mind, resulting in disease. Specifically, acupuncture involves the insertion of needles on specific points along the energy pathways of the body.

The use of acupuncture to treat addiction is supported by research. In a 2000 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, patients who received acupuncture were more likely to test free of cocaine at the end of two months of treatment than those who did not receive acupuncture. Researchers recognized the promise of acupuncture for treating addiction and recommended further research on the topic.

Acupuncture is currently used to treat a variety of addictive behaviours, from smoking and overeating to heroin and painkiller addiction. Proponents state that the treatment works “equally well for cocaine and crack addicts, heroin addicts, alcoholics, users of psychedelics, and people addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines.” Individuals in recovery who complement traditional treatments with acupuncture often report reduced cravings for drugs, weaker withdrawal symptoms, improved sleep, and increased overall relaxation.

Acupuncture is even utilized by several public addiction treatment systems. The first acupuncture detoxification facility in the United States opened in New York in 1974 at the Lincoln Memorial Hospital. Since then, largely due to the success of this program, publicly funded acupuncture detoxification programs have opened in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Chicago, Portland, Miami, and other cities.

Western medicine usually attributes the success of acupuncture to the fact that the procedure causes an increase in endorphin levels. Endorphins are chemical messages that produce feelings of calm and well-being. Endorphins have also been shown to reduce many kinds of cravings, including the desire to eat.

Experts in Eastern medicine explain acupuncture’s success in very different terms. According to the tenets of Eastern medicine, all of nature (including human beings) is composed of two opposing forces: yin and yang. Yin is associated with substance, quiescence, and the element of water; yang relates to function, activity, and the element of fire. “Yin nourishes and yang consumes.”

In a healthy person, these two forces are relatively balanced. In an addict, there is a deficiency of yin. In the absence of yin, the fire of yang burns out of control. Acupuncture seeks to build up yin by accessing three to five key energy points on the outside of the ear. Thin, sterile needles are inserted into these points and left there for about 45 minutes while the patient rests calmly.

We recommend that individuals who are addicted to hard drugs receive treatment on a daily basis until they achieve full recovery.

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