Addiction to any substance, benign or lethal, is a habit-based cycle that can be incredibly difficult to break. In most cases, the addict desperately wants to break the cycle and step away into freedom, but it’s the withdrawal symptoms that lure him or her back. These horrific and oftentimes dangerous effects of withdrawal are more powerful than the desire for the addict’s poison. And when s/he uses again, those withdrawal symptoms vanish like magic. The drug of choice then becomes both the poison and the elixir.
Symptoms of Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms can range from annoying to intolerable to medically dangerous. People may experience muscle pain, fatigue, appetite issues, night sweats, shakiness, fever accompanied with chills, profuse sweating, extreme nausea and vomiting, mood swings, mental fog and even hallucinations, paranoia, abdominal pain, cognitive disruptions, insomnia, cold-like symptoms, and even seizures and slurred speech. And these are just the most common symptoms. There are many more possibilities.
The symptoms can be so extreme that the only solution may seem to be “the hair of the dog” – the substance the addict needs to quell these withdrawal symptoms. And this is why it is so difficult to break the cycle. An addict wants so desperately to get well and free from addiction, but not many people are strong enough to cope with such horrible withdrawal symptoms. And that doesn’t make them bad people.
Many will try, few will succeed.
“A patient must have at least 40% of the will to quit so that holistic professionals can help with the remaining 60%,” says Dr. Ko of 120 Acupuncture. “With my type of treatment, the patient’s will is very important. Without the patient’s will, the treatment is difficult.”
It doesn’t matter where you come from – if you were born on the streets or if you’re an ivy-leaguer borne from prestige. The strength needed to endure withdrawal symptoms will elude most, depending on the substance of choice and the power of their addiction.
Physical Versus Physcological Versus Psychosomatic
As noted above, withdrawal symptoms can range widely. And there are three main classifications these symptoms fit into. Understanding them can help to overcome them.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
The physical symptoms of withdrawal are perpetuated by an imbalance to the homeostasis (a balance achieved by the body and brain) of the whole body. An addictive substance alters this homeostasis and affects neurotransmitters which then affect the brain’s reward system. The substances cause a great release of endorphins and other stimulants that reward the body and mind but they also cause the body to start releasing less of these stimulants. The user needs more and more of their substance to achieve the high. In withdrawal, that balance is completely thrown off-kilter and physical symptoms kick in, telling the body and mind that it needs something.
The physical symptoms are easy to identify. They are comprised of pure pain, sickness, and the overall feeling of discomfort a person endures while in withdrawal. And these symptoms can be so severe that they can even cause death. In these cases, medical intervention and replacement drugs are necessary.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
Humans are intelligent creatures and addictive substances create a reward mechanism that addicts are desperate to satiate. The addict knows all too well that a little bit of the substance will take away all the pain. In this manner, withdrawal moves into the psyche.
The will of the addict trying to quit is greatly affected and s/he will wonder if the ability to quit is there. As the symptoms grow in strength, the addict’s resolve begins to wear down. They think more and more about the relief that will come if they only take the drug one more time. This is that vicious cycle mentioned above.
But it isn’t just the will of the addict at stake when we speak of psychological withdrawal symptoms. The mental state of the addict is also being affected directly by the withdrawal. The addict will experience cognitive problems, a mental haze, slurring of the speech, inability to focus, inability to find joy in things they once took pleasure in, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. There may even be strong hallucinations. All of these issues will affect the addict’s resolve to quit even more.
Psychosomatic Withdrawal Symptoms
A psychosomatic illness is when the patient’s mental state manifests physical symptoms of illness that cannot be explained. The combination of the physical and psychological symptoms may result in psychosomatic withdrawal symptoms, where the extreme mental stress caused by withdrawal causes the addict to develop even more physical symptoms. These are more difficult to determine.
Common Types of Treatment
Treatment depends on the substance the addict is experiencing withdrawal from. Alcoholics in withdrawal might need to attend a medical detox program to combat the ‘delirium tremens’ that can be medically dangerous and even fatal. Those addicted to heroin, meth, and other heavy drugs will need replacement drugs that act to restore balance to the system while slowly weening the body from the addictive substance.
Other types of treatment that are necessary include steps that the addict should take on his/her own such as exercise, eating well, and staying hydrated. These all help to flush the body of impurities faster. Psychological help is also suggested such as joining support groups, staying connected with friends and family, and simply talking to loved ones.
As the study of withdrawal increases, more and more doctors are suggesting a more holistic approach to addicts suffering from withdrawal such as massage therapy, yoga, and acupuncture. These are types of treatment that work to fix that bodily imbalance that perpetuates the withdrawal symptoms.
How Acupuncture Helps
The main goal of acupuncture is restoring balance to the body by working with the opposing forces within the body called the “yin” and “yang” which stem from and affect the body’s energy called the “qi”. This idea is mirrored by western medicine which acknowledges an “imbalance” within the body caused by addiction as described above. While western medicine tackles this problem in one way, Eastern Medicine provides a more direct path to balance restoration.
All of the symptoms, physical and psychological, can be mitigated through acupuncture. A one-stop-shop, if you will. Acupuncture uses needles to redirect the flow of Qi through the twelve meridians of the body and correct the flow, bringing balance to the body while alleviating symptoms.
“Side effects such as tremors and sweats can be treated,” says Dr. Ko. “The withdrawal is treated when the side effect is treated. If it is not treated, it may recur.”
It is not suggested that an addict replace medical intervention with acupuncture, but rather use acupuncture as an additional method. It will help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms faster, cut cravings, and strengthen the addict’s resolve to survive withdrawal without reverting back to the drug. In essence, acupuncture makes it easier to get through withdrawal.
While western medicine is necessary for certain addictions, it only takes the edge off a few of the withdrawal symptoms. However, acupuncture treats all symptoms – physical and psychological – simultaneously. The results are so powerful, that many in the addiction treatment industry consider acupuncture to be absolutely necessary for the overall success of addiction treatment.
Define the Addiction to your Acupuncturist
Talk to your acupuncturist about the addiction you’re trying to overcome. Special attention can be delivered in certain cases.
“The principle of withdrawal treatment is the same,” says Dr. Ko. “Only the meridian points are different. For instance, smoking cigarettes can weaken and damage the lungs and bronchi so we perform treatment that strengthens those organs in order to prevent smoke from entering the body. The acupuncture treatment and herbal medicine will help your body to reject nicotine. Therefore, the patient needs to tell the acupuncturist what kind of withdrawal treatment s/he requires.”
Your acupuncturist may also prescribe herbal medicine depending on the type of addiction.
“Withdrawal symptoms can be treated with herbal medicine,” says Dr. Ko. There are different types of herbal medicines depending on the type of substance abuse. Herbal medicine will help to detoxify all parts of the body because of its strong detoxifying action.”
Schedule Daily Sessions
Dr. Ko recommends to anyone in withdrawal to schedule daily acupuncture sessions because they will be needed. Combating the imbalance created by addiction requires vigorous and daily attention.
“We recommend daily treatment. Since acupuncture treatment is a battle between Vital Qi (正气) and Pathogenic Qi(邪气), it is better to keep adding the vital qi to fight the pathogenic qi daily. The team with the most protection material wins.”