Acupuncture Today – May, 2008, Vol. 09, Issue 05

The Cycle of Addiction, Part 3

By Randal Lyons, AP, LAc, DOM

The first two articles (November 2006 and February 2007) of this series examined the disharmony of addiction by way of using the Chinese Five-Element and the Eight-Principle theories. This provided us with a working model of the addict's repetitive patterns and showed us how the basic mechanism of addiction works.

In this current article, we will answer the question: "How do we actually treat an addiction?" In order to properly address this inquiry we must first answer a question for ourselves: "What constitutes success in the treatment of addictions?"

This answer may not be as simple as we first believed. For example, what if we have in treatment room #1 an obese person addicted to the physical over-consumption of food and in treatment room #2, we have a person addicted to cigarettes. Is it success if, after the prescribed courses of treatment, the person in room #1 no longer overeats and person in room #2 no longer smokes, but they've changed rooms? In other words, what happens when our overeater picks up cigarettes to deal with the new stress and our nicotine addict turns to food? Would you constitute this as a success? As a practitioner, when do you "call it quits"? How long do you continue to treat? At what point is it good enough? And does this answer come from you, or the client or is it an understanding between the both of you?

In looking at this complicated issue, we must ask ourselves if our definition of success is defined by the "stopping?" Is it the cessation of the intake of a particular substance or stopping a repetitive unhealthy action that determines the entirety of treatment? My suggestion is "absolutely not." Is it a step in the right direction? Of course; however, generally this is only the start of treatment and now we can begin to dismantle the entire structure that the cycle of addiction is built upon.

In psychology, the term substitution identifies this particular problem that we raised earlier with our overeater and our smoker. 1 It is extremely common and absolutely normal for an addict to find themselves most uncomfortable in their new situation and to try to find relief from these feelings in the form of another immediate addiction.

Water Belief
Wood Motion/Path
Fire Desire
Earth Manifestation/Experience
Metal Reinforce or Release

Using the chart above, the issue of substitution affects only one particular aspect of the entire cycle and that's Earth: the manifestation. By replacing one substance for another, all we are doing is changing the addiction's manifesting. We are not preventing the addiction from manifesting or transforming any of the energies that go into keeping the machinery of addiction churning. In order for an addiction to be treated at the level upon which it was formed, all of the Chinese Five-Element aspects must come into play. A move towards balance in each of the aspects is essential for the person to fully emerge from the clutches of this affliction.

Overview of Treatment

For the TOM treatment of an addiction to work, it must go into every phase and an overview of this is as such:

  • Water - A change must occur in the core beliefs, which are the original seeds of an addiction.

  • Wood - The birth of another path of action must be offered that leads right from the water's new treated belief directly into the fires of heart's passion.

  • Fire - Desire must be altered so that the cessation of pain or the escape from reality is not the goal. The patient must learn how to grow the fires of their heart's true passion.

  • Earth - Manifestation: After the stoppage of intake of drugs and/or alcohol, now what? What is the experience that is put in to replace it? This new experience must provide enough nurturing qi to affect a realistic and lasting change in one's life.

  • Metal - The death of the original limiting core belief must take place here. Otherwise what remains will reinforce the entire cycle to repeat.

Treatment in Detail

Water. The term core belief is another one from modern psychology that identifies certain beliefs at the foundation of a person that are so powerful, they affect how one operates on a daily basis. In an addiction, these core beliefs usually originate from some type of painful event or series of events from the past.

For example, if a person consistently gets teased and beat up as a child, they may form the core belief, "I am weak." As this person becomes older, they may react to this belief by becoming addicted to weightlifting, which they feel will give them the image to protect them from being beaten up, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.

Another child who is subjected to this same type of trauma and develops the same core belief might manifest it in a completely different way. As they get older, they may manifest a life that truly mirrors their weakness. They feel the pain daily and seek relief in alcohol, which of course just reinforces the belief that they are indeed weak.

Either way, the core belief manifesting as an addiction needs to be illuminated for exactly what it is: past events that serve as a type of "programming" in today's life. Until the addict begins to see how they are reacting to repetitive pattering from the past instead of acting from a present-moment conscious choice, then the core belief system will be controlling their current life.

Wood. Once the core belief has been revealed and seen for what it is, then the path of action that it took can also be examined. Water's old belief will carve a flowing groove into one's Earth life by manifesting a trail of wreckage that is easy to track. This identification of one's unhealthy behavioral patterns can be replaced with a variety of established and time-tested practices. From the modern ideas of 12-step programs and psychotherapy to the ancient traditions of recognized religions and philosophies, the addict has many doors to choose from that lead to paths already well-worn by those who have gone before.

Fire. I have found this to be one of the most difficult and painful phases with which an addict must come to grips. Usually in an addiction, the person has no idea, or completely forgotten or totally lost touch with the fire of their true heart's passion. 2 On top of this, the fire energy of this element has been spent on the acquisition of indulgence in, and then the hiding from the ramifications of, their particular drug of choice. It is a full-time job, which often results in disharmonies like anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders of all types. A first-time discovery or a new rekindling of one's heart's passion must be implemented for the long-term success of an addiction. If not, then the common syndrome and accurate label of a "dry drunk" will apply.

Earth. We have already addressed the Earthly issue of substitution, so for an addiction treatment to be realistic and successful, it must provide the person with a healthy substitution that replaces the addictive substance or action. Ideally, this will be an experience that can take the person into a place of "communion" that is an Earthly manifestation of their fire's heart's desire. This is not a one-time thing; it will be a process that occurs over time and with an applied amount of discipline. This is the only way Earth can control water, in that the new experience must effectively control their limiting core belief.

Metal. The magic of release occurs here in the form of death. This is where the original core belief is put to rest and the transformation of all of the negative emotions manifested during the cycle of addiction happen. In order for these wondrous healing events to occur, one must learn how to grieve properly. In addition, the ability to praise 3 must equally be acknowledged because they are indeed one and the same thing. All forms of honest, deep-felt and usually long-stagnated emotions are expressed here to the best of one's ability. This opens metal's lock on the cycle and releases all of the pent up energies that have been built up over time in all of the elements.

The cessation of the intake of a particular addictive substance or action does not determine ultimate success in the treatment of addictions. As holistic practitioners, we must treat holistically and affect as much of the whole as we can. This may never be so true as in the case of addictions and the Native American saying that states what we do right now affects seven generations.

There is no doubt that an addict's destructive behavior can affect seven generations, so the repair of this behavior can do the same. In spiritual practice, what we do now can "feed" the spirits of our great grandparents, grandparents and parents, or even relieve them of their current burdens. Obviously, when an addict changes their behavior it will immediately affect their children, which will affect how they raise their kids, and how they then raise our great-grandchildren. So I ask you, what could be more important than this?


  1. For good or ill, this idea is actually used as a treatment for heroin addiction by substituting this illegal substance for a daily and usually lifelong prescription of methadone.
  2. I prefer this to the traditional joy in that it more appropriately identifies the fire of the heart. At the same time, it also reflects the negative emotional attributes of fire in that an addict feeds their false passion of addiction with a tremendous amount of fire.
  3. All thanks are sent to my teacher Martin Prechtel for introducing me to these indigenous concepts that are found throughout the entire world, and which have enhanced my understanding of the metal element and fostered my own ability to grieve, praise and stay sober.

Randal Lyons, LAc, DOM, is an international consultant for addiction treatment centers. He serves on-staff for various health care facilities and maintains a private practice in Palm Beach County, Fla. He is the author of Opening the Eyes of the Heart, a step-by-step guide through the Chinese Five Elements, and has written for numerous publications. He can be contacted through his Web site,


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