My Experience Using Acupuncture to Treat Addiction
BY MARGARITA ALCANTARA
APRIL 20, 2013 7:10 AM EDT
Even before I became a Licensed Acupuncturist and Reiki Master I believed in the powerful energy medicine of acupuncture and Reiki. I always knew I loved medicine and healing, ever since I started reading my father’s medical texts in his library at a young age (he’s a retired radiologist). During regular trips to the Philippines throughout my childhood, I became familiar with the existence, relevance, and interconnectedness of Western medicine and traditional or indigenous forms of healing.
My path eventually led me to what I love to do — learn how to help heal the physical body by healing the spirit and emotions, and vice versa. Because they’re totally connected!
One experience that brought this concept home for me was when I worked at a harm reduction agency in the Bronx, in what was called “The Sanctuary.” I provided an Ear Acupuncture protocol called NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association). NADA refers to the five-point Ear Acupuncture protocol for recovery from addictions, particularly addiction to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and even hunger cravings.
Not only does this system reduce the cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and need for pharmaceuticals, but it helps create a more optimistic and synergistic attitude towards the process of recovery, and has been reported to improve program retention.
It essentially reboots the sympathetic nervous system, that “fight or flight” response that can get out of hand, causing us to experience escalating anxiety and heightened stress. In fact, because of its track record, the particular program I was running at the agency was funded by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.
Each time I entered The Sanctuary and set up for the day — laying out the filiform, sterilized, one-time use stainless steel needle packets, alcohol swabs, turning on a relaxing music CD on the boom box, fixing the chairs and prepping the treatment tables and lighting some incense — I knew I was creating a safe space for everyone who entered. Sometimes I was also there to maintain the peace, since I served a lively bunch! They were all at different stages of recovery, and I met them wherever they were at the time they entered. Sometimes they wanted to chat, and I got to know some of their lives well.
So, with a smile and my hand pointed towards the nearest empty seat, I’d welcome them. I rarely saw women in The Sanctuary, but when I did, I had a sense that they appreciated being treated by a female. As I soon learned, many of these women had experienced much in life — sexual abuse during childhood and going into adulthood, physical abuse in general, jail, homelessness, selling their bodies to get their next hit, being prohibited from seeing their children, trials experienced in the court system, and dealing with diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.
Aside from simply providing acupuncture and Reiki, it was important to me to connect with them while keeping my strength intact. Sure, by getting a voucher from me at the end of their treatment they were able to redeem it for a delicious authentic lunch in the kitchen, but I think they also enjoyed taking that one moment out of their day just to obtain a sense of serenity. Many of them took naps during their treatment, often they hung out past the typical 15 minutes that ear needles are left in for. And, despite the disruptions that sometimes occurred, most left The Sanctuary feeling much more relaxed and calm. When they nodded their head at me with a sincere word of thanks, along with a sparkle in their eye that they didn’t have when they first came in (we Chinese Medicine practitioners call that Qi), I could tell that their Shen/Spirit was back home.
Although I no longer work at the harm reduction agency, I am still floored by the physical and emotional healing impact of acupuncture and Reiki on those recovering from addiction. True, it was a job I was being paid to do, but it was an absolutely priceless opportunity to be able to connect on a heart level with the community. It was actually I who felt enriched!