Introduction

With the known affects that smoking has, not only on the human body but the world around it, many individuals that are addicted to nicotine still find it incredibly hard to quit. Many patients will have already been through numerous amounts of patches, gum, and counselling in order to quit, with no avail.

This article will explore a clinically effective method in the assistance of nicotine addiction withdrawal. This method, stemming from thousands of years of Chinese Acupuncture, and half a century of European medical research, innovation and practice is known as Auricular Acupuncture, and just may be the answer that smokers are looking for.

What is it?

Auriculomedicine (Also known as ear acupuncture, auricular acupuncture, auricular therapy etc) is a method that originally spawned from Lyon, France. It is a therapy that utilises fundamental modern medical science (primarily based on neurophysiology / neurology) and concepts of traditional acupuncture.

The actual method involves either placement of sterile, single use hair thin needles onto the external surface (outer) of the ear. Alternatively low level laser may be used. Generally a selection of points (normally 2 – 5) are used, and often combined with specific body points (again able to be stimulated by needle or laser). It is a 100% pain free method that often leaves the patient relaxed and very comfortable.

How does it work?

There are many theories about how acupuncture works, however, auricular acupuncture is an exception – its’ effectiveness is known and well researched. When the auricle is stimulated, either with needle (considered more effective) or laser (less, but still effective), the body will release endorphins (natural pain relieving biochemicals).

Endorphins are secreted by the pituitary gland and certain parts of the central nervous system (CNS). Auricular Acupuncture has been shown to influence the blood serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of endorphins.

When an individual is addicted to nicotine (via tobacco smoke) they will naturally have higher endorphin levels. So, why then does Auricular Acupuncture, which induces endorphin release work?

For two reasons, one when an individual makes the step to give up smoking the endorphins within their CNS will naturally drop and will need to be maintained. And two, Auricular Acupuncture doesn’t increase the levels of endorphins, it merely stabilises the rate of release. In this way, patients that have quit, and need help with withdrawal can be treated, and patients that need help in actually putting down the cigarette can be treated.

The other factors involved in Auricular Acupuncture are those associated with a sense of calmness and relaxation. This happens because of the release of the before mentioned endorphins and stimulation produced analgesia. This analgesic effect of Auricular Acupuncture occurs due to activity produced via reflex stimulation within the periaqueductal gray (PAG), hypothalamus, thalamus, and somatosensory and prefrontal cortex. This allows the withdrawal symptoms or anxiety, restlessness, stress, and other physical cravings to be successfully treated.

What is involved in a treatment?

First and foremost patients must be sure that the acupuncturist or doctor they see is trained and experienced in the specialty of Auricular Acupuncture (not just Acupuncture as taught by Universities). Most people who are knowledgeable in this method will have done training within specific clinics overseas, in Europe, or the United States. There are only a few practitioners in Australia that are able to utilise this method effectively.

Treatment will normally involve a full assessment of the individuals’ condition through various diagnostic means. One particular method of assessment that practitioners will apply is the checking of laterality dysfunction. Laterality is the state of harmonious interaction between the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain. The dominant hemisphere (i.e. left side in a right handed person and vice versa) must first be established in order for proper point selection to be made. Laterality disorders may result from any physical or emotional trauma that has occurred during the patients’ life, it may occur at any time.

Laterality dysfunction may present itself through learning disorders (ADD, ADHD, dyslexia etc.), behavioural problems (depression, anxiety, stress), or productivity problems (such as concentration and confusion in co-ordination). Clinical research has found that individuals who are addicted to a substance (particularly nicotine) are trying to re-lateralise (balance) themselves. It has been seen, clinically, that Auricular Acupuncture is the best and quickest method to treat such disorders.

Laterality Dysfunction is often the cause of many acupuncture treatments (such as protocol based clinics) not being as effective. In actuality, laterality dysfunction can be seen as a blockage to therapy, and therefore must be assessed and treated first.

Following the above, practitioners will either use a filter or polarised object t in conjunction with a specific pulse method (known as the Vascular Autonomic Signal or VAS) to determine which of the points on the auricle are most “active”. The reason for this is that there are hundreds of acu-points located on the ear and without this method practitioners are merely “stabbing in the dark”. Protocol based laser therapies unfortunately are like this and therefore do often not completely assist the patient.

Patient Inclusion

It is important that the practitioner explain to the patient what the process is going to involve and how long it is going to take. In my experience any where between 2 – 6 treatments is necessary. Sometimes a follow-up or “booster” is recommended to ensure they are still on track.

Patients must also do some work as well. I often suggest before the first treatment to try and not smoke (at least for a few hours), as many patients will have a cigarette before the treatment to quell any anxiousness they may be experiencing. During the actual process it is also recommended to the patient to avoid the social settings or stressful situations in which they would normally smoke, this can be hard and is often determined by will power as well.

Conclusion

Auricular Acupuncture is a highly effective method of treatment for those wishing to quit smoking. The notions that surround acupuncture about being painful and uncomfortable do not apply to this method, most patients find that they enter a deeper sense of relaxation, which often boosts their confidence and determination to quit.

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