PAIN RELIEF, SUBSTANCE ADDICTION & MENTAL HEALTH
By Joyce Leung Lilly, DAc LAc
June 6, 2016
Status Quo on Rx Drugs
In 2012, “259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which are more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills,” according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention.
Acute pain from surgical procedures are an easy way into the world of substance abuse because pain medication is readily dispensed to those in immediate & high level pain. The patients are trusting of their physicians & dutifully take their medication to alleviate the pain. Soon their bodies become accustomed to the prescription pain killers, & they find themselves not only in physical pain, but emotional angst without the medication. Over time, their tolerance levels for the medication increases so that they require a higher dosage of the addictive substance originally prescribed for pain. “Overdose deaths from abuse of prescription painkillers in the US now outnumber deaths involving heroin & cocaine,” according to The L.A. Times.
The same holds true for patients with anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorders. Our bodies are made up of chemicals, the pharmaceutical companies reason, so if we rebalance the chemistry in the body, the body will be homeostasis. If we were purely chemical beings without emotions & thoughts, that could possibly be the solution. However, human beings are highly intelligent & emotional beings, so simply rebalancing the chemicals of the body without other forms of intervention may be shortsighted & dismissive, to say the least.
“In New York, 50% of people who suffer from mental health disorders are simultaneously struggling with some form of substance use,” states the NYS Health Foundation. This figure is staggering. What this statement is alluding to is that physicians are not spending enough time with their patients; they are simply handing the patients a prescription for their issues, but not addressing the issues themselves. The medications will abate the symptoms, but only temporarily. The patients will still have the same issues when the medications run out. The patients are then at a deeper disadvantage because not only do they still have their original mental issues, but now it is further complicated by a substance use problem that was created by the physicians themselves. We see this in everyday life: from mild cases of functioning citizens struggling privately with substance addiction, to the returning veterans who have witnessed intense & horrific life & death situations while in the service, to the extensive prison population who have an incredibly large number of mentally unstable individuals due to poor socialization, childhood traumas & abuses, & other mental illnesses. Whatever the reason for the emotional disorders, pills alone will not resolve them.
According to 2015 government drug statistics, the US makes up 5% of the world’s population, & consumes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs. In our nation of plenty, drugs are among the bountiful & readily available. Due to its prevalence, 54.2% of prescription drug users receive their pills from either their friends or relatives, states the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Is it any wonder, according to the Center for Lawful Access & Abuse Deterrence, that medical emergencies resulting from prescription drug abuse has increased by 132% since 1999, with opioid involvement rising 183%?
Sadly, nearly 3 in 5 American adults currently take a prescription drug regularly, markedly higher since year 2000 due to a much higher use of almost every type of medication, including antidepressants & painkillers, according to The Washington Post. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2015, “researchers found that the prevalence of prescription drug use among people 20 & older had risen to 59 percent in 2012 from 51 percent just a dozen years earlier.” During the same period, the percentage of people taking five or more prescription drugs nearly doubled, to 15 percent from 8 percent.
Young adults, ages 18-25, are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, & anti-anxiety drugs. Many young people think that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by a physician, dispensed by a pharmacist, and manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. According to a 2013 Monitoring the Future study, prescription drugs are the second-most abused category of drugs, after marijuana. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2014, 476,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever, with 168,000 having an addiction to prescription pain relievers. Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers, & as a consequence, the rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013.
What’s the Alternative?
As a result of these increasingly devastating figures involving overly prescribed painkillers & stimulants, & the overall declining mental health in the American society, people are beginning to seek alternative methods to help with their symptoms & heal their pains without drugs. People are turning to Alternative Medicine to ameliorate their health complaints holistically. Among the Alternative Medicines, Chinese Medicine, especially Acupuncture, is highly sought after because it has been proven to relieve pain using only the person’s own energy patterns. It sounds otherworldly to the uninitiated, but for those who have tried this alternative therapy, they swear by the results.
In Chinese Medicine, the body is viewed as an interconnected unit of systems, where every part of the body affects the other. The body-mind-spirit connection is an essential part of the medicine, & it is believed that disease occurs as a result of the interconnectedness being obstructed at any of the three levels. In Chinese Medicine, the human body is considered to be a complex network of intricately related processes played upon by opposing forces – Yin and Yang. Health is viewed as the maintenance of balance and harmony between Yin and Yang, while illness is an expression of unbalance and disharmony between Yin and Yang. It is recognized that physical ailments can occur as a direct result of emotional traumas or disturbances. Balance is the goal in the Chinese philosophy. Balance in lifestyle, balance in work, balance in play, balance in rest. Equal time & energy should be spent cultivating our work, as should be spent cultivating our mind, body & spirit.
Acupuncture is very successful in addressing the issues of pain relief, substance addiction & mental health. In a study pertaining to acupuncture & pain relief led by Jonathan Wilkinson & published in the Oxford Journal in 2007, “Needling affects the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) concentrations of the naturally occurring opiate substances: dynorphin (acting at spinal level), endorphin (acting within the brain), and encephalin (acting both in the brain and at a spinal level). Endorphins and enkephalins are potent blockers or modulators of pain arising from the musculoskeletal system. Dynorphin is a powerful modulator of visceral pain; it has a weaker effect on musculoskeletal pain modulation.” In short, strategically placed acupuncture needles will release the body’s naturally occurring opiate substances, flushing our cells with pain relieving chemicals to diminish our perception of pain. Acupuncture also increases blood circulation to the areas of pain, which can either initiate or catalyze the healing process.
Acupuncture also addresses substance addiction & mental health: According to Medscape, “Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention has been widely practiced for the treatment of many functional disorders including substance abuse and mental illness in Eastern countries through diverse methods such as manual acupuncture, electro-acupuncture and acu-point nerve stimulation. Importantly, acupuncture has become a standard procedure in many detoxification programs for drugs, worldwide.” There is a mesolimbic dopamine system in the brain that is believed to play a pivotal role in the development of opiate addiction. Opiate abuse changes in the levels of dopamine in the brain; dopamine in the brain are associated with feelings of pleasure & well-being, providing positive reinforcement of opiate use. The withdrawal of opiate usage reduces the dopamine flow in the brain, causing distress & dysphoria. So according to the research studies, acupuncture is useful in raising & maintaining the dopamine levels in the brain to ease the severe withdrawal symptoms which is important for successful substance recovery. In mental health patients, the raised dopamine levels benefit the overall mood, focus & clarity, which allows for better productivity & smoother personal & professional relationships. Given all the positive effects of acupuncture, aside from helping with pain, addictions & balancing one’s mental state of health, shouldn't we all be trying acupuncture?
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