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Acupuncture Today
December, 2013, Vol. 14, Issue 12
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Acupuncture & Substance Abuse Rehabilitation

By Abbey Tucker Seiden, MSOM, LAc, CMT

One of the most rapidly changing areas of healthcare is that of addiction medicine. Advances in brain imaging technology have allowed doctors and scientists to understand addiction, and recovery from addictive disorders, at the level of the individual neuron in the brain.

While, older theories of treatment for addiction tended to focus on "character flaws" and "the addictive personality" today's standards of care for those suffering with addictive disorders are way more sophisticated.

Contrary to what many believe, there is no "one-size-fits-all" model of addiction treatment. Patients in the early stages of recovery from drug, alcohol and other addictions need many different types of support. Seeking individual guidance from a therapist or participating in a group session within a 12-step program is essential. A choice to remove oneself from the stress of society and live amongst other sober people may be a necessary step as well.

Nevertheless, especially for individuals struggling with substance abuse, the transition from using drugs and alcohol can be daunting. Patients often have difficulties dealing with life's events, can feel overwhelmed, and perhaps have a history of trauma as well. Sober living communities provide a drug and alcohol free living space that is nourishing and safe. But simply removing people from their addiction triggers cannot supply the necessary changes to behavior.

The active therapy supplied by acupuncture has a history of intervention in these dependencies, providing care for patients struggling with substance abuse and addiction through the 5-point ear protocol. Established in the 1970s at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx of NYC by Michael Smith, this protocol has thus far been the established treatment approach, and has been used countless times to effectively help patients transitioning into sobriety. Since 1985, therapists have become certified in the protocol through the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association. As part of its mission statement the Association promotes community wellness through the use of auricular acupuncture for behavioral health including addictions, mental health, and disaster and emotional trauma.

When I began work as the acupuncturist at Rebound Brooklyn, expectations were that I would use the accepted 5-point NADA ear protocol. However, as a licensed acupuncturist and massage therapist, I was eager to offer additional therapies that I felt would be effective in patient treatment. My years supervising community acupuncture clinics and treating patients in private practice provided a wealth of options, and I wanted the freedom to draw from this deep well of clinical experiences.

Thus, in addition to offering the NADA protocol, I proposed full body acupuncture during group sessions, and in collaboration with the medical director of Rebound, Dr. Scott Bienenfeld, I designed an innovative and unique acupuncture approach. Both the ear acupuncture protocol and full body acupuncture would be implemented to provide comprehensive and individualized care in a group setting.

A typical group acupuncture session at Rebound Brooklyn includes between four and 10 participants. Each session lasts one hour and takes place in a room with large open windows, soft relaxing music, and comfortable seating.

Encouraging the participants to sit comfortably, I begin with a guided meditation. First is a body scan, in which participants are instructed to imagine the bottoms of their feet deeply rooted into the Earth, while relaxing the body and resting their hands on their thighs. Next, they are asked to turn their attention inward, taking note of any areas that feel either constricted, disconnected, warm, or cool. Based on the feedback each individual shares after this body scan, a selection of points is chosen. It is helpful during this process to clearly communicate to the participants exactly what to expect prior to my applying the acupuncture. Giving each person an idea of what is going to happen next, as well as allowing individuals to sit and observe first if they feel uncertain, helps to build trust and feelings of safety. All participants are aware that the acupuncture is voluntary. This promotes a sense of partnership in the process and empowers the patients in their relationship with the practitioner.

Systematically, I move through the room connecting individually with each patient, obtaining further feedback from the body scan, setting points, and writing down clinic notes, keeping a record of needle count and time of treatment. Once all the treatments are in place, another guided meditation is offered to help circulate the energy, using color and healing sounds. Participants are allowed to rest comfortably while soft music is played. Needles are removed using standard OSHA protocol, and after all participants are needle-free, the group ends with a return to the guided body scan and a closing meditation.

Coupling acupuncture with a guided body scan strengthens internal awareness and aids empowerment. Cultivating the ability to focus inwardly provides skills necessary for recovery, particularly when individuals are to face the triggers that led to their dependencies. In the early stages of recovery, it is essential to not only create new pathways, provide healthier alternatives to triggering events and slow reaction times, but also to redirect the cravings for substances as coping mechanisms. By raising awareness in a community setting, the path of recovery is supported and hope is restored.

Abbey Seiden, MSOM, LAc, CMT is the owner of Life in Balance Acupuncture, faculty member of Tri-State College of Acupuncture and proud mother of a six-year-old daughter. Abbey uses a blend of acupuncture, massage, and life-style counseling to empower her patients and students. She specializes in the blending of modalities to release holding patterns and habituations through awareness.


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