Acupuncture for Narcotic Addiction and Withdrawal

by Stef Cordes and Lisa Baird

People often come to us for help with pain that is being partly managed by opioid painkillers, like Tylenol 3, oxycodone, percocet or others. Opioids allow a lot of people to get through the day or keep a job despite acute or chronic pain. We acknowledge their necessity in pain management, and taking opioids does not interfere with acupuncture treatment; you can do both.

In addition to providing much-needed pain relief, opioids can also produce feelings of euphoria, and at high enough doses will cause drowsiness, coma, and even death. In 2010, as many as 12.1% of all deaths of those between the ages of 25-34 in Ontario were related to opioids. Opiate use can lead to tolerance over the long-term, meaning the drug effects decrease over time and only an increase in dose results in the desired effects. Discontinuation of opioids, especially after long-term use, should be done under the supervision of a medical professional, as withdrawal from opioids for people with physical dependency can result in symptoms like insomnia, agitation, muscle aches and pains, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting.

For clients taking opioids, acupuncture often decreases the amount of painkillers required to manage their pain. We wonder what effect community acupuncture could have on Canadian opioid dependence rates if it was a common treatment for pain alongside pain-relieving drugs.

The high addiction potential of opiates creates an urgent need for other pain-management therapies to be used instead of, or in conjunction. Community acupuncture has the potential to fundamentally change the way we approach pain management in North America.

Community Acupuncture for Pain

One of the most common reasons people seek healthcare in North America is for pain. According to the Canadian Pain Society, about 20% of Canadians report experiencing chronic pain every single day, so it’s no wonder that opioid use is so common. Acupuncture can help not only by providing pain relief, but can also by treating symptoms that can come along with pain, like insomnia, changes in mood, depression, and stress. For more on community acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain, check out our blog posts on Chronic Pain and Community Acupuncture and Chronic Pain Part Two: Treating the Nervous System.

Community acupuncture for Addiction & Withdrawal

Community Acupuncture in North America owes its very existence partially due to the development of the NADA protocol in the 1970s: 5 needles placed in the ear for the treatment of substance addiction, post-traumatic stress injury, and withdrawal symptoms. The NADA protocol is used in treatment centres worldwide. We commonly use the NADA protocol for addiction and withdrawal, along with additional points on the legs and arms to address any other symptoms such as pain, poor sleep, digestive upset.

Opiate withdrawal can be intense, and the symptoms can be overwhelming. Agitation, anxiety, muscles aches and pains, cravings, insomnia, a runny nose, sweating, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting are some of the symptoms people typically experience while going through opiate withdrawal. It can be extremely uncomfortable and depending on the severity of the dependency, the physical symptoms can last from days to weeks. Acupuncture is effective treatment for all of these symptoms. We have treated quite a few people successfully through the stages of opioid withdrawal, using acupuncture to help them get through withdrawal symptoms as well as helping them to manage chronic pain without opioids.

If you have questions about how acupuncture can help you or someone you care about with opioid withdrawal, please get in touch.

9 recliners in a semi-circle, each with a patient resting under red blankets. Practioner seated on a small black stool giving a treatment to one patient.
photo by Vanessa Tignanelli

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