Traditional Chinese Medicine Promotes Healing in Early Recovery
By Meghan Vivo
As the health care system in the U.S. falters and more Americans embrace the concept of “alternative” medicine, acupuncture and other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are becoming more widely used. Approximately 38 percent of adults and 12 percent of children in the U.S. use some form of complementary and alternative medicine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2007 National Health Interview Survey.
Two years ago, Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu and West Los Angeles, saw the potential for TCM to aid in recovery and was among the first to introduce a comprehensive holistic addiction treatment program. What began as a pain management unit for opiate withdrawal quickly expanded to address all forms of emotional and physical pain during detox and early recovery.
What makes the Promises TCM program unique is that licensed and certified acupuncturist, Margot Chambers, conducts a complete diagnostic of every patient multiple times per week. She uses Traditional Chinese Medicine including Chinese nutrition to treat pain, insomnia, anxiety, digestive issues and the host of other complaints common in early recovery.
“Because people in early recovery are under acute stress, their bodies change rapidly,” says Chambers, who earned a master’s degree in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine and maintains a private practice in Los Angeles. “Every time I see a client, I create a new treatment protocol designed to return balance to the body. The more balanced their bodies are, the less emotional and physical pain they feel.”
Acupuncture for Detox & Addiction Recovery
Acupuncture is an ancient form of Traditional Chinese Medicine that uses fine needles placed at specific points on the body to stimulate the flow of “Qi” (or energy), restoring balance and function. Although it originated in the east, acupuncture is gaining a strong following in the west, where an estimated three million Americans use it to treat various forms of pain and for overall wellness.
As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chambers believes that every individual has a specific constitution, or inherent set of strengths and weaknesses in the body. Chambers tailors her treatments to the client’s constitutional make-up to alleviate symptoms and restore balance.
“By stimulating specific points on the body, acupuncture gently pushes the body toward a more balanced state,” says Chambers. “People in early recovery respond immediately and positively to acupuncture treatments, reporting that they feel calmer and more grounded and experience fewer symptoms of emotional and physical pain.”
At Promises, clients are offered three acupuncture treatments per week. Although most have never tried acupuncture before, 95 to 100 percent come back – and come back often, says Chambers.
Acupuncture is particularly beneficial during drug detox. There is a specific pattern in Chinese medicine that Chambers sees repeatedly in her detox clients. Characterized by alternating fever and chills with muscle aches, Chambers has found that this pattern responds particularly well to acupuncture. After treatment, body temperature is regulated and clients feel well enough to get out of bed and get involved in the rest of the treatment process.
Research supports her findings. Both the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization have found acupuncture to be an effective treatment for a range of conditions. In controlled studies, auricular (ear) acupuncture has proven particularly helpful in minimizing withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings during drug detox. Participants receiving acupuncture are more likely to successfully complete detox, stay in treatment and avoid relapse.
“In addition to reducing pain, clients find that acupuncture helps them relax,” says Chambers. “Recovery from addiction requires a lot of hard work, and in the acupuncture room clients have the opportunity to look inside and focus in on their internal system. It is important to heal ourselves from the inside as well as the outside.”
Chambers also utilizes tuina and cupping (massage-like techniques to clear disease from the musculoskeletal system) and teaches movement therapy, using qigong and tai chi poses to improve function and reduce pain in different organ systems.
Nutrition for the Recovering Body
Shortly after introducing acupuncture at Promises, Chambers began a juicing program based on TCM nutrition principles. After analyzing a client’s constitution, using tongue and pulse as the main forms of diagnosis, Chambers creates an individualized nutrition plan for each client.
“Every time we eat, it is an opportunity to heal or hurt the body,” says Chambers. “This concept of food as medicine is central to Traditional Chinese Medicine but has yet to be embraced by western society.”
In TCM, every organ system corresponds to a specific group of foods, she explains. For example, the liver color is green, the taste is sour, and the emotion is anger or resentment. If her analysis shows that a client would benefit from detoxifying the liver, Chambers may recommend a full day’s diet of collard greens, green apples, kiwi and other similar foods.
“There is something about using clean medicine to get clean,” says Chambers. “Clients come to Promises because they have been self-medicating with substances that harm them. The Traditional Chinese Medicine program empowers them to instead heal their bodies in a natural, holistic manner. It teaches clients an alternative way to deal with emotional and physical pain; it empowers them.”
Clients at Promises have widely embraced Traditional Chinese Medicine. Chambers estimates that 75 percent get their own TCM doctor after leaving treatment. Even though they are at Promises for only about a month, Chambers teaches them nutrition strategies for the entire year so that they can figure out for themselves where they are out of balance and eat in the most healthful way.
For the first time, she says, clients are leaving treatment leaner. Chambers encourages clients to eat every couple of hours to maintain balanced blood sugar levels, which improves mood and helps them focus on the work of recovery.
A Modern Use for Ancient Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine has evolved over thousands of years. Alone or combined with western treatments for addiction, TCM can produce dramatic and long-lasting results. For this reason, some of the nation’s leading drug rehabilitation centers offer acupuncture, nutrition planning and other TCM services.
“Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete health care system that can ultimately treat many ailments, from digestion and heartburn to various types of pain,” says Chambers. “Rather than putting on a band-aid, TCM treats health problems where they originate.”