In the search for more holistic and natural methods for treating addiction, Eastern medicine – also referred to as oriental medicine or Chinese medicine – has grown in popularity. Because this type of approach has developed out of ancient practices, many people who struggle with addiction find it compelling, comforting, and more desirable as a mode of treatment.
However, in comparison to the recommended, research-based addiction therapies that are more familiar, Eastern medicine does not have as much evidence behind its effectiveness. Current drug treatment standards are based on careful processes of testing and measuring outcomes of various methods. Because there’s not a lot of research into Eastern medicine, it is often not known whether or not these methods are truly helpful in treating addiction.
What Is Eastern Medicine?
A description in the International Journal of Health Sciences defines the practices of Eastern medicine as being involved mainly with balancing the individual’s essential life energy, or qi (pronounced “chi”). By balancing this vital life source, the individual can enable the body’s innate healing capabilities to operate, returning the individual to health.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) estimates that about 10,000 practitioners provided services to more than 1 million people in the US in 1997. Since then, US surveys have found that:
- More than 3.1 million people have used acupuncture.
- About 2.3 million people practice tai chi on a regular basis.
- Around 600,000 people practice qi gong.
These numbers seem to be increasing as time goes by. As they become more popular, some uses have been applied to areas of mental health treatment as well as physical health; this includes addiction treatment.
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Eastern Medicine Practices
The NCCIH information lists a number of the practices of Eastern medicine, which include:
- Acupuncture: using needles to release blocked energy
- Herbal medicine: tinctures, teas, and other plant-based medicinal blends
- Tai chi or qi gong: energy therapies and exercises
- Tui na: a type of Chinese massage
- Moxibustion: burning herbs over the skin to warm pressure points with herbal “energy”
All of these practices are employed to address the individual’s qi, helping to balance energy around the body. This, in turn, can help activate the body’s natural healing mechanism. For example, as described in an article on Live Science, acupuncture is thought to stimulate nerves, causing the brain to release certain hormones and other chemicals that help physical processes balance out and return to normal.
This is the philosophy behind how these practices can help with addiction: Because addiction is the result of disrupted neurochemical and hormonal responses, Eastern medicine is thought to regulate those responses and return their functions to what it was before substance abuse began.
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Pros of Oriental Practices
A study from the Acta Pharmacologica Synica about Chinese medicine used in opiate addiction treatment has shown that using the methods in combination with research-based, Western medicine practices can decrease side effects of treatment and improve immune function, increase working memory, and prevent neurological disorders.
Other pros of Eastern medicine may include:
- Enthusiasm to participate in addiction treatment for those who otherwise might not
- Relaxation and stress relief through the practice of tai chi and qi gong, which are considered very safe
- Potential reduction in the need for medicines used in treating withdrawal symptoms
Cons of Eastern Medicine
According to the NCCIH article, a number of Eastern herbal medicines have been found to have contaminants or toxins in them. Because they are categorized as “nutritional supplements,” they are not as thoroughly regulated as science-based medicines are. Therefore, their quality cannot be guaranteed by US regulatory authorities. In addition, some of these herbs can interact with science-based medicines and cause additional problems or severe reactions.
Similarly, while acupuncture is normally quite safe when practiced by trained professionals with sterile equipment, it can be dangerous otherwise. It is important to verify that an acupuncturist is qualified to practice, and that all needles and other equipment are sterile and/or single use as required.
Alternative medicines are often more costly than those provided through research and scientific development. This can present a barrier to treatment for those who can’t afford them.
These cons require careful consideration, as they can constitute a threat to life or health.
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Finding Eastern Medicine Treatment Programs
Because of potential risks associated with some elements of Eastern medicine, it is extremely important to use caution when seeking out programs. Practitioners should be certified by accredited training programs, and any herbal medicines provided should be guaranteed not to be toxic. Before taking herbal medicines, it can be beneficial to discuss them with a medical doctor to make sure there are no adverse reactions with other medications.
As with many complementary treatments, Eastern medicine practices generally work best when combined with traditional, research-based addiction treatment. Psychological therapy and 12-Step programs, as well as other evidence-based practices shown to result in positive treatment outcomes, may be supplemented by practices, such as qi gong, tai chi, or even acupuncture, if these methods motivate the individual and promote self-confidence and commitment to treatment.
By working with the treatment program provider to determine which elements to include in the individual’s treatment plan, clients may benefit from the addition of traditional Eastern medicine practices. These practices may provide a positive enhancement to traditional addiction treatment, making it more likely that some individuals may achieve recovery and stay on the path of long-term abstinence.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for research purposes only. Desert Hope may or not offer the types of therapies discussed in the article. It is recommend that people interested in Eastern medicine or similar practices call to find out if specific therapy options are offere