Traditional Chinese Medicine and Addiction Recovery

Recovery from addiction presents many challenges, ranging from fighting renewed temptations to trying to achieve a new way of facing a physical or emotional desire to return to a familiar seal-destructive pattern. Another major addiction recovery challenge is trying to find a combination of treatments to help a patient achieve meaningful recovery. Chinese and American researchers have conducted studies on the possible implementation of concepts from traditional Chinese medicine into modern approaches to addiction recovery. While more studies are required for any conclusive proof, it is believed that some centuries-old herbal remedies can be combined with modern medicine to facilitate addiction recovery in some patients.

Herbal Remedies

While clinical studies have been scarce concerning herbal remedies based on traditional Chinese medicine for addiction recovery, results have been promising. Chinese herbs such as Radix puerariae (Pueraria root) and roofs from the kudzu plant, for instance, have shown some success when used in combination with treatments for alcohol addiction by inhibiting alcohol metabolism. Beneficial qualities have been identified for some of the following herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine:

• Thunbergia Laurifolia (laurel clock vine) – This herb has been shown to protect against alcohol liver toxicity. One study shows similar results connected with cocaine and amphetamine addictions.

• Withania Somniferous (Indian ginseng) – Studies show this herb may reduce morphine tolerance.

• Salvia Miltiorrhiza (red sage) – Studies suggest this Chinese herb may reduce alcohol intake.

Complimenting Modern Medicine

While studies aren’t definitive when it comes to employing traditional Chinese medicine for addiction recovery, studies suggest that traditional herbal treatments may have more of an impact when combined with modern medicines used to encourage addiction recovery. One major benefit of including traditional Chinese medicine with modern medicine is the lack of substantial side effects associated with most Chinese herbs.

Acupuncture for Withdrawal Symptoms

Acupuncture, often considered a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, has been shown to be effective with opiate withdrawal. While no large-scale studies have been done to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture for cocaine and similar drugs, clinical studies show a poor performance in reducing withdrawal symptoms related to nicotine and alcohol. This isn’t to say that acupuncture can’t be effective with helping recovering addicts relax and achieve a better inner balance. Acupuncture, while not shown to be widely successful as a stand-alone addiction recovery aid, may reduce the duration and dosage of some pharmaceutical treatments prescribed to patients to increase the odds of meaningful recovery.

Auricular Acupuncture

Acupuncture, in general, is based on the Ancient Chinese concept of the “shen” (heart spiritual) attribute. A modern twist on traditional Chinese medicine is auricular acupuncture, tested in Hong Kong as a treatment for acute drug withdrawal in the early 1970s. So-called “ear acupuncture” involves the insertion of tiny metal pellets in the patient’s ear. Covered by adhesive tape, the strategically placed needles remain in place for up to two weeks. This particular approach to acupuncture has shown promising results, so much so that it’s used to treat withdrawal symptoms in many countries, including the United States.

The key to incorporating traditional Chinese medicine as part of addiction recovery appears to be to find the right combination with proven modern approaches to addiction recovery. Since addiction affects each patient differently, it will take time to find the right combination. On a positive note, two London hospitals have initiated trails with Chinese herbal medicine to control drug cravings in the hopes of collecting more substantial data. From a broader perspective, Chinese medicine is based on the concept of finding a balance and a sense of harmony between the yin and the yang, a concept that can be easily applied to a recovering addict trying to achieve a similar balance.

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