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The Extreme Effectiveness of Acupuncture in Resolving Substance Addiction

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The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for sending signals between neurons. This is needed for smooth and meaningful muscle activity. Dopmanine is also needed to produce adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Depending on the attributes of the protein it contains, dopamine can either have an inhibitory or excitatory effect on the neurons.

This chemical is also related to the sensation of pleasure and pain. A rise in dopamine levels in the frontal lobe increases pleasure and lowers pain. If someone has a naturally high level of dopamine, out of a good diet, good genes or good personality, the person would a have a high tolerance for pain. This is the reason why individuals tend to react to back pain or arthritis of a similar nature in different ways; some of them may experience intolerable pain while some may sense no pain at all.

Dopamine is usually involved in meaningful behavior, alertness and feelings of reward. It usually is connected with the brain’s ‘pleasure system’ motivating us and eliciting reinforcement and joy to help us persevere in certain activities. Dopamine is produced when we stimulate ourselves with certain drugs, food, and sex and other things that make us happy and aroused. However, when dopamine levels become too high, especially in the limbic system, this can cause memory and emotional problems. Too little dopamine in the cerebral cortex, on the other hand, can result in paranoia and an extremely suspicious personality that may affect the social life of the individual.

Alcohol can also be a factor in the rise of dopamine levels in the brain, particularly in the part of the brain known collectively as the mesolimbic system. Alcohol somehow preserves dopamine by interfering with the enzyme activity that breaks down dopamine. When an alcoholic suddenly stops consuming alcohol, his dopamine levels dramatically drop resulting in uneasiness, depression, and anxiety and the inability to experience pleasure, which is clinically termed anhedonia. He may be unable to experience any pleasure at all from previous stimulating events like social interactions, exercise and even eating.

When an alcoholic’s dopamine level suddenly plunges due to stoppage of alcohol consumption, it usually leads to an intense craving for ethanol, which is a classic withdrawal symptom sign among alcoholics. This ethanol-induced drop in dopamine levels fuels the alcoholic’s craving for alcohol. Individuals who drink alcohol or coffee whose dopamine releases are very strong tend to be addicted to alcohol, more so if they do not enjoy social occasions and/or are very smart. There are individuals whose enzyme levels are insufficient to break down alcohol causing them to experience dizziness, nausea, and pain whenever they drink alcohol. They will never take delight in drinking alcohol.

In helping treat alcohol addiction, acupuncturists will insert needles at specific points in the body. The HT 7 point is usually selected. This point can help prevent a lowering of dopamine levels in the region of the brain known as nucleus accumbens during alcohol withdrawal as well as a rise in dopamine after long-term alcohol exposure. Alcoholics who desire to quit in earnest may need to undergo acupuncture treatment at least twice or thrice each week in order to stabilize their dopamine level to prevent any feelings of agitation or depression when withdrawing from alcohol.


Nicotine acts on the central dopaminergic neural pathways, which causes pleasure sensations. This substance stimulates the central nervous system, causing reduction in appetite and increasing alertness. Women smokers fear quitting smoking because they think it would lead to an increase in weight. When a smoker partially quits, it can result in withdrawal symptoms (intense craving for cigarettes, congestive impairment, hunger, sleeping problems, anger, and high anxiety).

Western medicine use medications that prevent the reabsorption of dopamine to help treat nicotine addiction. The problem is that these drugs are contraindicated for smokers who suffer from uncontrolled hypertension, eating disorders, epilepsy and for those who recently abstained from alcohol and those taking mono-amine oxidase inhibitors (medications to boost adrenaline and noradrenaline levels).

There would have been specific alterations in your enzyme activity if you have been smoking for ten years or more. If you quit smoking all of a sudden, the sudden drop in your dopamine will lead to feelings of misery. Traditional body acupuncture as well as auriculotherapy (ear acupuncture) can restore chemical balance in your brain helping increase the feel-good neurotransmitters including endorphins, encephalins, serotonin, and dopamine while at the same lowering the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Acupuncture helps rebalance hormones instead of just stimulating or inhibiting their action. It is difficult to explain the reaction of the entire body with just a single chemical change.

A woman who was smoking one pack of cigarettes each day decided to go for acupuncture therapy to help her quit the habit. She had been smoking this much each day for the last 33 years of her life. She said she decided to quit after her 55 year-old cousin died of lung cancer. She underwent treatment two times a week for a month and a half. She did not gain any weight nor experienced any withdrawal symptoms during treatment, which rarely occurs in treatment for nicotine addiction.

Another woman chronic smoker had ear acupuncture treatment for 12 weeks; her treatment was successful since she never smoked any cigarettes again. Her daughter was pleasantly surprised that her mother got over her habit since she had been a heavy smoker for about 25 years. Not all chronic smokers, however, end up with success stories. In treating nicotine addiction, two factors need to be taken into account to determine whether the treatment will be a failure or a success. The first factor is the determination of the smoker to quit and the other is how much time the person can allocate for his/her therapy.

Morphine can be an addictive substance since it also can increase dopamine levels in the body. In helping morphine addicts, acupuncture can make morphine withdrawal symptoms less severe. In 2005, doctors in South Korea performed a study on the way acupuncture can affect behavior and modify dopamine levels in rats that were injected with morphine. The results were published in the Neuroscience Letter magazine. They revealed that acupuncture treatment at the HT 7 point helped to substantially lower behavioral hyperactivity and dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens caused by morphine. The findings suggest that acupuncture can be an effective therapy for morphine addiction due to its ability to regulate dopamine and lower body sensitivity to morphine.

Steven Goldfarb is a board certified and licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of alternative medicine. He is also the founder of Goldfarb Chiropractic and Acupuncture Center in West Orange, NJ.

Written by Valerie

January 13th, 2015 at 3:10 am

Posted in Acupuncture

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