An Integrated TCM Way for Healing Chemical Dependency
by Ricardo B. Serrano, R.Ac., MH, ADS

Capital [C]hemical dependency is a physiological and psychological dependence to substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, heroin, cocaine, crack, methadone, psychiatric medications and even to food which produces eating disorders. In western terms, addiction is characterized by physiological and/or psychological dependence upon a human activity (relationships, romance, sex, gambling, spending, indebtedness, power, work, television, jogging, etc), process, or chemical substance, and is a function of the environment, the individual, and the activity or substance to which one is addicted. In eastern terms, addiction is a dependence from the energy from substances, activities, and processes outside ourselves rather than connecting to the energy from our inner selves for love, peace, health and contentment.

This lack of inner love, calm or contentment which leads them to their self destuctive habits characterized by addicts is described in Oriental medicine as "empty fire," "yin deficiency" and "constrained or stuck liver Qi or stuck emotions." Because the root cause of addiction comes from the body, mind, emotion and spirit disharmony, transformation and recovery is attainable energetically through Oriental medicine and western self-relations psychotherapy.

My approach or clinical protocol in the holistic integrated drug-free TCM treatment of addiction especially chemical dependency includes ear and body acupuncture, Chinese herbal formulas and nutrition, acupressure and reflexology, emotional healing and guided meditation, medical cannabis (depression, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia and chronic pain), Qigong and pranic healing with spiritual psychotherapy, and Solution Focused Addictions Counselling.

During my first session which takes about two hours or more with my client, I explain what to expect from the treatments, ask their personal history and symptons, look at their tongue, feel their pulse, teach emotional healing techniques, twin hearts meditation and circulation of energy which they have to do between treatment sessions, recommend books and give them handouts to read and study, prescribe herbal formulas appropriate for their constitutional and symptomatic symptons, and perform ear and body acupuncture with acupressure and pranic healing. For emotional and spiritual support, I encourage them to get counselling and join appropriate groups such as A.A., N.A. or meditation groups to their liking. Their goal of the meditation practices, counselling and attendance in support and meditation groups is not only recovery from the harmful addictive substances, processes and activities but also at the same time fill the inner void or lack of love by self loving rather than self destruction through the courage to return to love.

Medical cannabis is indispensable to handle withdrawals from alcohol, drugs and prescription drugs cessation, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms such as hyper-vigilance and re-experiencing traumatic memories (night terrors). It helps people with trauma forget the traumatic events (rape, mugging, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, combat exposure, car accidents, physical abuse, etc.). It is best combined with herbs, acupuncture, Qigong, diet and exercise for best results.

NOTE: I should stress that because most addicted clients are experiencing early withdrawal symptons especially from either one or a combination of hard drugs such as heroin and other opiates, or alcohol, and lesser hard drugs such as cocaine/crack, crystal, or ice, two hours talking to them is not a practical idea especially during the first visit. For eating disorders or addiction from other substances that shows less withdrawal symptons, two hours talking time is possible during the first visit if they are interested. In a private setting where I have an hour or more I can spend per client, only after two weeks or a month of sobriety from hard drugs will I be able to spend two hours talking to them about meditation or feeling good techniques if they are interested. In a group setting treating 20 or more people per hour, 2 minutes ear needling time per client is all I have and zero talking time (time for energy of loving-kindness radiating to the group Qi through and from me). My flexible treatment philosophy is to fit the protocol to the individual client and situation and not the other way around. One good example is fitting a diet to the client and not fitting the client to a diet.

Depending upon the individual client's symptons and differential diagnosis, by the physical intervention of acupuncture to unblock the stagnant yang energy throughout the body treating withdrawal symptons, generally for body points I needle and/or moxa Liver 3 (to get the heat out, to get the stuck liver Qi moving and for headaches), Stomach 36 (to supplement the middle digestive energy, affect the solar plexus point and for low energy), Kidney 3 and 7 (to supplement yin deficiency and for excess sweating ), Lung 7 (to stimulate lung detox function and excess sweating), Large Intestine 4 (to calm down, affect the upper face, dessipate heat and headaches), Gall Bladder 20 (to sedate heat in the face and headaches), Pericardium 6 (to calm down, affect the upper burner, for anxiety and depression), Heart 7(sedate heart deficiency fire, for anxiety, depression and sleep problems), yintang (to balance laterality which is the connection between left and right brain, for anxiety and depression), Governor Channel (Du Mo) 20 and 23 (sedate empty fire in the whole body, for anxiety, depression, drug dreams, low energy, and sleep problems) and Back Shu organ points for detox: Bladder 13(stimulates lungs), Bladder 18 (stimulates liver), Bladder 23 (stimulates kidneys).

Ear acupuncture For ear points which build kidney energy and short circuit the circuit breakers in the ears I needle and/or laser shenmen, sympathetic, kidney, liver and lungs (NADA's Dr. Michael Smith's basic detox 5NP protocol) plus master points to address the individual client's symptons such as adrenals (for low energy), valium/tranquility point (for anxiety, depression and sleep problems), pineal or epiphysis (for anxiety and depression), internal secretion (for excess sweating) and thalamus (for pain).

Depending upon the individual client's symptons and differential diagnostics, to unblock the stagnant yin energy throughout the organ-systems of the body treating withdrawal symptons, different Chinese herbal formulas are used as follows: Cessiac and yuccalive for detoxification and immune system boosting; Bupleurum D formula (Chai Hu Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang) for clearing heat from the liver and the heart, brings down liver yang, sedates and calms the spirit and unlocks the three Yang stages. It is indicated with irritability, restlessness, insomnia, hysteria, mania, constipation, delirium, convulsions, palpitations, and fullness in the chest; Coptis Relieve Toxicity (Huang Lian Jie Du Pian) for clearing heat from all three burners of the triple burner, clears heat in the blood, relieves toxic heat, drains fire, drains damp heat and cools liver heat and heart heat. It is indicated for mania, nose bleed, insomnia, dry mouth and throat, high fever, bad breath, bleeding from excess heat, delirium, palpitations, blood in stools or urine, boils, carbuncles, incoherent speech, anxiety, emotional instability and dysentery; Free and Easy Wanderer Plus (Jia Wei Xiao Yao San) for clearing heat and moving stagnation of liver blood and Qi. It is indicated with hepatitis B or C, cirrhosis of the liver, depression, angry outbursts, red skin rashes, menstrual and pre-menstrual disorders, headache, irritability and constipation; Heavenly Emperor's formula (Tiang Wang Bu Xin Dan) for deficiency fire of the heart and kidney, nourishes blood, tonifies the heart, calms the spirit and strengthens the will. It is indicated with nervousness, insomnia with restless sleep, hyperactive thyroid, forgetfulness, inability to think or concentrate, anxiety and fatigue; and Salvia Ten formula (Dan Shen Jia Si Jun Zi Pian) to circulate Qi and blood, cools the blood, clears phlegm, builds Qi, tonifies the spleen and stomach, calms the spirit and soothes the nerves. It is indicated for depression, anxiety, iritability due to constrained emotions, restlessness, fatigue, weak digestion and lack of appetite due to depression, palpitation and mental disorder or dizziness due to phlegm accumulation.

Pranic healing symbolQigong and advanced pranic healing psychotherapy with or without crystal healing is a very important adjunctive therapy because with drug addicted clients, the subtle energy body is depleted. The basic chakra, navel chakra, spleen chakra, and the solar plexus chakra are depleted. This is the major reason why addicts feel such a strong urge to use drugs. These chakras have to be cleansed and energized

The treatment for drug addicts is divided into two parts. The first part is to remove the addiction and hallucination by removing the negative elementals and negative thought entities, and to heal or seal the wounds of the protective webs by energizing them with light violet pranic energy by using the crown/hand-chakra technique. The affected upper chakras are the solar plexus, throat, secondary throat, ajna, forehead, crown, back head, back heart and ears. By cleansing and energizing the front and back solar plexus chakra, the patient will feel a substantial relief from the addiction.

The second part is to reduce the withdrawal symptons by energizing with light-red pranic energy on the depleted lower chakras--basic chakra, navel chakra, and spleen chakra--by using the basic/hand-chakra technique.

The combined practice of Stephen Gilligan's self-relations psychotherapy (from his book The Courage to Love), emotional healing (John Gray's feeling good technique described in his book What You Feel You Can Heal), Merkaba Meditation and spiritual psychotherapy by Master Choa Kok Sui's Meditation on Three Hearts, circulation of pranic energy, and healing by prayer and affirmations has integrating, connecting, cleansing and energizing effects on the mental, emotional and spiritual energy body. It expels negative elementals and seals holes or cracks on the protective webs to a substantial degree. Therefore, it should be practiced daily by addicts. It is very important that the addicted clients have a certain degree of intention to improve.

The regeneration diets from Paul Pitchford's book Healing with Whole Foods, with their emphasis on cereal grasses, seaweeds, sprouts, light, metabolism-enhancing GLA/omega-3 oils, chlorophyll foods, and their restriction of heavy, greasy, stagnation-producing foods, are optimal for clearing liver stagnancy and the attendant emotional and physical problems.

Many individuals with severe addictions are hypoglycemic, and have extreme nutrient deficiencies in general. The regeneration diets supply an abundance of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and other necessary nutrients in their freshest, most assimilable form. If these or similar diets are not followed, simply adding nutrient-rich foods such as micro-algae, kelp or other sea vegetables, cereal grass, herbs (as indicated above), and fresh flax oil to the present diet will help. If the diet remains poor, supplements containing individual nutrients may be useful. Sauna (for detoxification), high dosages of multivitamin-mineral supplementation (to take care of biochemical deficiencies) are extensibly used by the drug rehabilitation program.

I find from my latest research and clinical results that without addressing the serotonin and glutathione depletion in the brain cells and nervous system, the root physical cause of addiction will not be addressed. Through supplementing with serotonin and glutathione precursors, the body will have the nutritional building blocks to address the physical root cause of addiction. Natural therapies such as acupuncture detoxification, herbal therapies, solution focused addictions counselling, pranic and holographic healing will have higher rate of success (99.9%) when combined with glutathione source supplementation and other antioxidant vitamins and minerals.

From my 20 years of clinical research and experience and from my addicted clients' outcomes I can truly say that when all of the above meditative practices, counselling sessions and treatments especially acupuncture, glutathione source supplementation, herbal, pranic and holographic healing therapies, depending on the individual client's progress and intention to improve, are followed five days a week for the first two weeks to a month, then two to three days a week for the second month, then one to two days a week for the third month, relapse prevention, transformation and recovery is a very highly attainable outcome.

Clients from special needs programs such as HIV+/AIDS and other infectious diseases, mental health dual diagnosis, and criminal justice system, shown from NADA research, can benefit from this natural drug-free holistic integrated Traditional Chinese medical approach in combination with conventional medical services such as counselling.

Research indicates that substance abuse is linked, through high-risk behaviors and the physical vulnerability associated with chronic substance abuse, to HIV, AIDS, TB, STDs, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. By treating substance abuse and other addictions, acupuncture and other Oriental medical therapies can act as a preventive measure before the onset of these diseases, and also as an effective treatment for people with these diseases and addictions by improving gastrointestinal symptons, infection processes and psychological factors, and for recovery from their addictions.

Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also have found that chemical dependence frequently occurs in conjunction with, or secondary to, other mental health dual diagnosis symptons which acupuncture and other Oriental medical therapies can effectively treat for the reduction in cravings, drug dreams, depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Lastly, the criminal justice system, the entire continuum of law and justice services, from crime prevention, arrest, adjudication, incarceration through post-release services can benefit from the cost-effective acupuncture and other Oriental medical therapies for chemical dependence because, according to NADA research, 85% of the jail inmate population, 75% of filed criminal offences (from break-ins, driving under influence, rape, murders, prostitution), and 65% of welfare aid to families with dependent children are directly related to alcohol and other drug dependence. If we assume that on average 75% of those costs are alcohol/drug related, then we can estimate that roughly half of all local municipality revenues are being used to react to the negative symptons of our growing drug and alcohol problem. No wonder our whole country is getting bankrupt.

Before I end this article, let me quote from Alex G. Brumbaugh's book Transformation & Recovery, "This crisis in funding for social and health, chemical dependency, and criminal justice services makes acupuncture program start-up prospects seem bleak; paradoxically, however, these drastic funding shortages are bringing into sharp focus the fact that society can no longer afford the luxury of paying for the terribly expensive consequences of alcoholism and drug addiction, such as those that are born by the law and justice, health care, and social services systems. The simple and emerging truth is that untreated alcoholics and drug addicts represent a far more expensive proposition for government than does the cost of effective treatment. This combination of emerging wisdom and desperation on the part of the government makes the prospects for acupuncture in the next decade very good indeed, because acupuncture (not a panacea) is portable, flexible, easy to administer, inexpensive, and effective. This does not make our job of program development easy, but it at least makes it possible.

Traditional Western chemical dependency treatment, unassisted, is a rather bleak landscape. Its proven effectiveness depends most upon clients remaining in treatment for a long time, and yet treatment drop-out is too often the norm. Some long term follow-up studies have found that even lengthy treatment stays ultimately produce low success rates.

The Twelve Step recovery programs, which are based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, have few good outcome studies due to the anonymity factor and other inherent research problems. These programs have a plenitude of anecdotal testimony as to their success, however, and have been integrated in one way or another into virtually all Western alcohol and other drug treatment settings. But the consensus among people in the treatment field and in recovery is that the majority of addicts and alcoholics will die as a direct or indirect result of their disease.

Help is needed, and acupuncture (with other therapies of TCM) has much to offer."

Without Inner Love, All Else Will Fail.

May the force be with you.


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Brumbaugh, Alex G., Transformation & Recovery: A Guide for the Design and Development of Acupuncture-Based Chemical Dependency Treatment Programs, Santa Barbara, CA, Stillpoint Press, 1994.

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