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                Addiction from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

(By Aracely Kriete)

Most drugs move stagnant energy and harmonize. This is why they feel so good! 
They unblock, liberate, smooth over edges, harmonize and make us feel happy.
And it's natural to want to feel exactly like that. And it is equally natural that we seek ways and substances to help us feel this way.
Once we understand this, it is easier to address the challenges of addiction.

Addictions are not only to substances like alcohol, marijuana, tobacco or prescription medications. Addictions can be to actions also. It can mean feeling powerless when faced with the thrill or pull of the Internet, social media, pornography, sex or gambling etc. 

In Traditional Chinese medicine the heart is both the cause and the main sufferer when it come to addiction. Addiction is seen as a disease of the spirit and the heart.
If the heart, which is considered royalty, is not in harmony, it will not reign properly and cause other organs to be out of balance too.
Since the Chinese know that the spirit resides in our heart, addiction will block our communication with other beings as well as heavenly and cosmic influences.  
Drugs as a coping mechanism will block spiritual growth and languish intuitive processes and our maturation as humans. With continued exposure to repetitive harmful substances or lifestyles, our bodies also loose their natural ability to adapt to changes in diet, emotions, environment. Serious emotional and physical damage may arise.

But let' go back to the organ imbalances. If an organ gets too weak or too dominant it is our body's natural desire to keep an even keel. Drugs are perceived as a balancing factor. The patient starts seeking a substance (or action) that brings about short term relief and equilibrium.
This self-medication can work (in some case even for a longer time), but a drug doesn't just give; A time comes when a drug begins to take back and deteriorates the body.

Drugs and Organs                                                          
Addiction always affects the heart. The heart belongs to the element fire and the emotion  attached to it is joy. Drugs, with their inbuilt, forced "high" and strong feel good factor do exhaust the heart.

Most commonly co-affected is the element earth, which represents Stomach and Spleen.The Spleen and Stomach get weakened by excessive worry and anxiety. Sweet taste for example can boost the Spleen, but only in small amounts. Eat a little bit of chocolate it can help, eat a whole big bar, it will weaken you more. Sweet soothes worry, it harmonizes and it settles anxiety.

Considering that in Chinese medicine theory the mouth belongs to the earth element, oral addictions come as no surprise (anything you put in your mouth, food,drink, cigarettes etc...) They are rampant and have to be addressed by strengthening the Spleen and stomach and calming the nerves.

In many cases the Liver is equally out of balance. This is the organ that manages frustration, anger, aggression and depression. Alcohol, for example, is a "warm" drug and moves Qi (energy) which makes it such a liberating drug. It unblocks, gives courage and moves energy up. Its sugar also soothes the Spleen (worry, anxiety).

Acupuncture is a powerful way to treat these imbalances. An effective form of acupuncture for addiction is the “NADA” protocol. Coined by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, NADA targets five points in each ear.  Each point balances an organ.

Acupuncture also addresses the emotional causes of addiction and has a strong, calming effect on the nervous system.

A calm nervous system is a good foundation from which to investigate what it is we really crave.

What's the alternative to a drug?

Understanding why we crave what we crave, create organ balance and then finding ways that nourish us in a way that will fill the void without being destructive or disruptive to our life and health.

Do you crave intimacy? Do you feel the need for relief of pain and sorrow? Do you feel the need to disconnect from extreme emotional pain? Physical pain? Are you after the thrill of excitement and risk? You want to fill emptiness and loneliness? You want support? An outlet for your positive or destructive aggression? Tap into your creativity? Tap into being free? You want consolation? A reward? A reward for what? Do you cannot find a purpose in life?
What is the void that wants filling? Can you not find purpose in your life?

It is important and interesting to realize, that we all seek to alter our mood or consciousness for very, very  different reasons.
It is stunning how different our needs are and what a drug can give us in order to fulfill our specific needs. And very efficiently so. Which is why addictions are so addictive.

Let's use some real life examples from our clinic: 

Practitioner: "When do you feel the need to smoke?"
Patient 1: "I won't allow myself a break from work without a cigarette. I don't dare to look out for myself. I don't deserve a break or something good."
Patient 2: "I am sometimes scared of intimacy. The smoke makes me feel protected. Also i can't smell the other person and they can't smell me. It makes it easier when things get more intimate."
(Remember the classic 'cigarette after sex' -scene in the movies?)

Practitioner: "When is the time you feel most tempted to smoke marijuana?"
Patient 3: "I need to smooth out the rough edges of live. I feel stressed, anxious, like time is moving too fast. I need to slow it down."
Patient 4: "I feel so crappy since my last break-up. I never feel shiny and happy anymore these days. I fear no one will like me when I am always so depressed."
Patient 5: "I am so lethargic. Believe it or not, Ganja gives me a kick. When I take a hit, I actually get shit done and go play tennis afterwards."

Practitioner: "What happens when you drink?"
Patient 6: "I get uninhibited. I feel free."
Patient 7: "It totally relaxes me after a long hard day. I need it to wind down, shut off my thoughts."
Patient 8: "I am so angry with..... At the moment drinking helps me swallow my aggression and helplessness."

Practitioner: "What do you get out of sugar?"
Patient 9: "Bread is my crack. Keeps me running. I am a single mom. I have to run like a clockwork." (carbohydrates can also be a stimulant par excellence!When you lack sleep, are overworked, overburdened, a sugar roller coaster will help you through the day- crashes included, but the next chocolate bar is never far.)
Patient 10: "I feel really lonely. I want love in my life."
Patient 11: "I deserve it. You know how horrible my  work day is? I hate my boss! If i don't get my sweets, what else is left in my life?"
Patient 12: "After chocolate nothing looks so dark anymore."

Am I an addict?

Unlike most diseases addiction is hard to diagnose and mainly depends on self-diagnosis. Healing starts with ourselves owning that we have a drinking problem or a gambling problem etc.  
It might be important to ask yourself honestly: Am i still in control over this habit or is the habit controlling me? Do i still have a choice or is the habit always winning?

The next step is often reaching out to our community, friends, family or professional help.

If you deal with addiction. Our clinic is a safe place to come. No matter how long it takes and how many relapses you'll go through. It is worth the journey. And we accompany you.
Please talk to us, so we can start to help you find your way back to balance. 

Our goal is to help you get away from ‘fight or flight’ mode, and back to ‘rest and digest' mode where you can be and feel like your true self again.