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Acupuncture for Addiction

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A chemical neurotransmitter known as dopamine is an important chemical messenger that transmits signals from neural cells of the substantia nigra to the corpus striatum, enabling normal and well-functioned muscle activity. Dopamine is a chemical metabolic predecessor of adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and noradrenaline (also called norepinephrine). In other words dopamine is the ingredient in which adrenaline and noradrenaline is made.  Dopamine can produce either an inhibitory or excitatory effect on the nerve cells. Whatever effect is produced will be based on the type of protein it interacts with.

Dopamine is responsible for the feelings of pain and pleasure. The more dopamine is in the frontal lobes, the more pleasure and the less pain one can feel.  An individual with a natural high level of dopamine due to a healthy diet, good genes and good personality is able to tolerate pain a lot better. This is one reason why different individuals who suffer from the same type of back problem or arthritis suffer unbearable pain wile others feel little or no pain at all.

Dopamine is connected to feelings of purposeful behavior, alertness and reward. It is usually related with the brain’s pleasure system, producing feelings of reinforcement and enjoyment to make us more motivated to perform or keep on doing certain activities. Naturally pleasurable and rewarding experiences such as use of certain drugs, sex, food and positive stimuli are factors that produce and release dopamine in the blood stream. Excessive amounts of dopamine in the limbic system can result in mild conditions such as memory and emotional problems whereas when minimal amounts of it is found in the cerebral cortex, it can lead to an overly suspicious trait that can run the risk of paranoia and affect social interaction.

Dopamine levels also can increase in the mesolimbic system with alcohol intake. Alcohol inhibits enzyme processes that break down dopamine. The abrupt cessation of alcohol intake among alcoholics cause their dopamine levels to dramatically fall creating a feeling of anhedonia which is the lack of ability to feel pleasure from pleasurable events like social interactions, exercise and eating and dysphoria, a sense of uneasiness.

The dramatic decrease of dopamine can lead to the powerful craving for alcohol that alcohol addicts suffer from. Individuals who release large amounts of dopamine when drinking coffee or alcohol are likely to be hooked to alcohol, particularly if they are not fond of social networks and are very smart. Some people have poor ability to produce enzymes that are needed in processing alcohol. They may then experience dizziness, nausea or stomach pain when they drink alcoholic drinks. There are some people who can never tolerate alcohol at all because of their unique physiology that causes them to reject or abhor alcohol drinks.

An acupuncture needle inserted at acupoint Ht7 can aid in preventing both the dwindling levels of dopamine in the area of the brain region known as nucleus accumbens when the person is in alcohol withdrawal phase and a rise of dopamine levels caused by alcohol craving. The needling of the Ht7 point helps in the normalization of levels of dopamine in the brain after chronic alcohol intake.  For alcoholics seriously desirous of stopping permanently, acupuncture sessions of around twice or thrice a week can bring stability to the dopamine level in their body in order for them to not be agitated or depressed.

Nicotine creates addiction and tolerance by affecting the central dopaminergic vessels which causes reward and pleasure sensations. This substance activates the central nervous system, lessens appetite and improves alertness.  Women who are smokers are unwilling to give up smoking for fear they will gain weight. Even if an addicted smoker cuts down his tobacco smoking by half, this cut down can trigger symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms may include cigarette cravings (of course), cognitive dysfunction, hunger, sleeping difficulties, anger and anxiety.  There are medications that limit dopamine reuptake that are use to help a person quit smoking.  These medicines, however, can be risky when taken especially by people who are just recently abstaining from alcohol, for those who have uncontrolled hypertension, eating disorders, epilepsy or those who are presently getting therapy with mono-amine oxidase inhibitors.

People who have been smokers for 10 years or more basically will find out that some of their enzyme activities have been altered.  When they decide to stop smoking all of a sudden, the lowered levels of dopamine in their body will make them feel miserable.  Body and auricular body acupuncture can restore the balance of your brain chemicals in your body.  Acupuncture stimulates the production and release of natural feel-good chemicals in your body such as stress-reducing hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.  This traditional Chinese medicine treatment stimulates the body to restore balance to the hormones.

People who have been smokers for a few decades or more and who have tried acupuncture showed that almost all of them neither experienced any withdrawal symptoms nor did they gain weight.  There are chronic smokers (some have been smoking for more than 2 decades) who have undergone auricular acupuncture for 3 months who never regained their craving for tobacco.  It is important to note, however, that not all smokers can be successfully treated with acupuncture.  Oftentimes, the person’s sincere willingness to quit and the hectic schedule of the patient during acupuncture treatment for smoking can contribute to the unsuccessful treatment of his/her addiction.

Strong narcotics such as morphine can stimulate the release of dopamine resulting in morphine addiction. Acupuncture has the power to suppress the withdrawal symptoms of morphine. It can alter levels of dopamine and can desensitize a person to craving for morphine. Again the needling of the acupoint HT7 can substantially lower both the hyperactive behavior caused by a systemic morphine challenge and dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. Studies have revealed that acupuncture’s therapeutic effect on morphine addiction happens with the decrease of behavioral sensitization by morphine and the balanced and regulated release of dopamine in the body.

Jamie Catlett is an acupuncturist in Jacksonville, FL and the founder of Jacksonville Acupuncture Clinic.

Written by Valerie

March 28th, 2014 at 7:41 am

Posted in Acupuncture

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