What Is Addiction?

If you have an addiction, you're not alone. According to the charity Action on Addiction, one in three of us are addicted to something

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (for example, alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (such as gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.
Causes of addiction?

What is the cause of an addiction?
The causes of addiction vary considerably, and are not often fully understood. They are generally caused by a combination of physical, mental, circumstantial and emotional factors. ... Addiction is Habitual psychological or physiologic dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control.

What causes addiction in the brain?
The Biochemistry of Addiction. Dopamine plays an important role in the reward system. Dopamine is a natural chemical in the brain that sends signals to the limbic system. When introduced into the limbic system, drugs either mimic dopamine or cause an overproduction of it in the brain.

Why do people get addicted to things?
In a person who becomes addicted, brain receptors become overwhelmed. ... People who develop an addiction typically find that, in time, the desired substance no longer gives them as much pleasure. They have to take more of it to obtain the same dopamine “high” because their brains have adapted—an effect known as tolerance.

What causes an individual to have an addicted personality?

Elevated Dopamine Levels. The primary chemical cause of an addictive personality is abnormal dopamine levels. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that binds to certain receptors in the brain and helps to regulate emotions, feelings of pleasure and movement.

What are the traits of an addictive personality?
An addictive personality is a set of personality traits that make addiction more likely. Addictions can come in a wide range of forms, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, exercise, pornography and more. Uniting these addictions is the repeated use of pleasurable activities to cope with stress, pressure and conflict.

How do you know if you have an addiction?

• Cravings. People may experience intense urges or cravings for the drug as their addiction develops.
• Physical dependence. ...
• Tolerance. ...
• Withdrawal symptoms. ...
• Poor judgement. ...
• Drug-seeking. ...
• Financial trouble. ...
• Neglect responsibilities.

What are the five signs of an addiction?
Withdrawal: As the effect of the alcohol or drugs wear off the person may experience symptoms such as: anxiety or jumpiness; shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or loss of appetite and headaches.

How do you stop an addiction?

5 Steps to Starting a New Habit to Beat Addiction

If you’re ready to begin a new habit and replace your addiction with something positive, there are five things you’ll need to do.

1. Simplify Your Goals. If you try to change your entire life in a day, you’re going to fail. Pick one goal and be willing to let others fall by the wayside for a bit. Focus first on what is most important and build on your goals as you gather more strength and resilience.

2. Make A Daily Change. Your goal for a healthy new habit has to be a change you make on a daily basis. This way it’s constantly occurring. If your goal is a weekly or monthly activity, then you’re likely to forget about it.

3. Set Reminders. Create reminders of your goal everywhere necessary. Write is on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, create an alert in your phone, tell a friend. Even the best goal setters forget from time to time to what goals they’re trying to focus on and WHY they were so motivated to do so in the first place.
4. Create A Trigger. This is some sort of ritual you perform right before you act out the new habit you’re trying to perform. If you’re trying to quit smoking, this could be something as simple as doing push ups or drinking a glass of water every time you fight the urge to smoke a cigarette.

5. Get Rid Of Temptation.
Rid your life of anything that will tempt you to break your goal. Remove drugs or alcohol from the home if you’re trying to quit these substances. Do not go to places where you know they will be used. Avoid friends who use substances you’re trying to get away from if they’re unwilling to support your goals.

Breaking addictions, healing, forming healthy habits for a healthy and happy life is within your reach, no matter how far into addiction you or your loved one may have gone.

Stop Smoking

England has been a different place from the 1st July 2007, when the smoking ban came into effect. The new law will help the 72% of current smokers who want to give up, but many may not be aware that acupuncture is a great way to help you quit by reducing the problematic withdrawal symptoms of the addiction, making it easier to kick the habit for good.

With the obvious health risks of smoking, passive smoking and the financial strain of a 20-a-day habit costing at least £1,500 per year, it's easy to see why giving up is so important. Acupuncture offers an effective, natural way to curb the cravings and stop smoking.

Rachel Peckham, British Acupuncture Council member and NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) trainer explains how auricular (ear) acupuncture is used to help people stop smoking: "A combination of five auricular points can aid smoking cessation by helping to reduce cravings, and promoting an increased sense of calm and relaxation. Press studs, gold plated beads or magnets can be placed on two of the points following the acupuncture, and left in between treatments to further enhance the effects."

By alleviating energy blockages in the body acupuncture works to relieve stress, reduce cravings and strengthen energy and vitality, allowing the body to become more balanced and giving your will power a chance to succeed.

Acupuncture can be effective for:

    • managing stress which often causes people to reach for the cigarettes
    • reduction and relief from cravings (including cigarette addiction)
    • treating acute withdrawal symptoms
    • promoting an increased sense of calm and relaxation
    • enhancing the immune system
    • overcoming troubled sleep and insomnia
    • boosting general well being
    • increased energy levels

How can acupuncture help me give up smoking?

When people decide to give up smoking, some are able to do it without too much difficulty, while others find it extremely difficult, and sometimes almost impossible. In general, the people who find it most difficult are those who began smoking in their teens and have smoked continuously since.
Through extensive clinical use, acupuncture has proved to be an effective treatment that has helped many people to overcome their tobacco addiction, and indeed has helped many people in their withdrawal from other addictive substances. Because of its proven effectiveness, acupuncture is widely used in drug detox clinics around the world.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs known. When you combine this chemical with the flavour of tobacco smoke and the oral satisfaction of a cigarette, you get an addiction that is very difficult to break. However, acupuncture treatment tends to change your experience of smoking into a bad experience which makes smoking cessation less difficult. Some people find that the taste of the smoke becomes unpleasant; others find that the smell of the smoke makes them feel nauseous; and others find that smoking makes them become unpleasantly warm. This change also helps you to stop smoking, by putting you off the experience of smoking. Also, acupuncture treatment alleviates nervousness, agitation, and other signs of mental distress. This calming effect may also make the smoking cessation experience less stressful.

Cessation strategies to help you stop smoking

When using acupuncture treatment to help you give up smoking, you could either choose to stop smoking suddenly, at the start of treatment, or to gradually withdraw from smoking.
Stop suddenly: With this approach, the critical time is in the first week or two. You should not regard it as a failure if you take one cigarette. This is still a great reduction compared to before the start of your cessation campaign. Rather regard yourself as withdrawing gradually.
Gradual withdrawal: This approach is easier on the body. Acupuncture treatment changes the taste of cigarettes, which would usually help you to give up. You should:

    • gradually increase the time between cigarettes
    • reduce the amount of each one smoked.
    • use a card to log cigarettes, and the amount of each cigarette smoked

The disadvantage of this approach is that the usual triggers to smoke are still present.

What form does the acupuncture take?

There are various methods that we can use to treat your addiction. We tend to use a combination of body acupuncture points, and certain acupuncture points on your ears. During the treatment, we would needle certain acupuncture points on your body. These would usually be selected to ease your withdrawal symptoms, to calm your mind, and to treat the effects that smoking would have had on your body over the years. Of course, if there are any other underlying problems, we would also treat those as well. We would then usually place special seeds on certain acupuncture points on your ears. These are held in place by small plasters and they would remain in place for a few days. They would continue the effects of the treatment over the following few days, and would help to ease any tobacco cravings that you might have. Each time you experience a craving, you would be able to press the seeds, which would usually help to ease the craving.

How many acupuncture treatments will I need?

This will vary from person to person. Generally though, if you are going to instantly withdraw from smoking at the start of the treatments, we would recommend three treatments per week for the first week, and then two treatments in the second week to help you get through the most difficult patch. You might then change to weekly treatments, and gradually increase the interval between treatments as you find the cravings subsiding and your health improving.

If you are going to gradually withdraw from smoking, we would suggest starting with weekly treatments, and then gradually increasing the interval between treatments when you feel comfortable doing this.

As to the overall number of treatments that it might take, this really will vary from person to person. Some people respond to the treatments much better than others. The only way to discover this in your own case is for you to receive a few treatments. It should then be possible for me to gauge how many you might need in total.

What are the benefits of acupuncture treatment?

The treatments would not only treat your withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for you to stop smoking, but would also improve your general health. Of course, once you have stopped smoking, your health would tend to improve as a result, but if you are undergoing acupuncture treatment while you are stopping, the improvement in your health would normally be more pronounced.
Also, an added bonus is the tremendous financial benefits that you will have once you have finally managed to stop smoking.


Research by HD Medbo et al (2001) was conducted on 45 healthy men and women who smoked 20 cigarettes per day. The group was randomly split into a test group in which acupuncture was applied to anti-smoking acupoints. A control group received acupuncture on points considered to have no effect on smoking cessation. Before each treatment, after the last treatment, 8 months and 5 years after this study, each subject was questioned about his/her smoking habits. Blood samples were also taken to measure substances related to smoking.

During treatment cigarette consumption fell from twenty to six cigarettes a day for the test group. During the following eight months their consumption rose to a total of eleven cigarettes a day with no increase after that period, showing a maintained reduction in smoking. This group also reported that cigarettes tasted worse after treatment and their desire to smoke fell. No effect was seen in the control group.

The test confirms that acupuncture treatment can help motivated smokers to reduce smoking or quit completely.

Statistics supplied by DOH 2006.


"I had smoked for 20 years and felt that it was now time for me to give up. I had tried to quit in the past but it didn't seem to last very long. I had a few acupuncture sessions a week. I found afterwards that the little things that would often cause stress didn't seem so stressful, I felt calm and relaxed. Anita, would put some seeds on my ear to stimulate points in between treatments, she said this would give me extra support. I found my cravings started to reduce after each treatment. I couldn't believe how relaxed I was feeling, even my family and friends noticed a difference! I haven't smoked since my acupuncture treatments. I can't believe it. I would recommend acupuncture to anyone who wants to stop smoking."

Substance Misuse

In the UK, the prevalence of substance misuse is around 9 per 1,000 of the population aged 15-64 years, and around 3 per 1,000 inject drugs, in most cases opioids (NICE 2007). In 2005/6, around 181,000 people were using drug treatment services in England and Wales (Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection 2006). Also, research in England in 2005 estimated that 7.1 million people, or 23% of the adult population, could be categorised as hazardous or harmful alcohol users (Drummond 2005). Indeed, in England, 150,000 hospital admissions annually result from acute or chronic alcohol use, and alcohol use is implicated in 33,000 deaths each year (Academy of Medical Sciences 2004).
Dependence on drugs is a cluster of physiological, behavioural, and cognitive phenomena in which the use of a substance takes on a much higher priority for a given individual than other behaviours that once had a greater value (WHO 2007). Drugs of abuse include cannabis, opioids (opiates), CNS stimulants (cocaine, crack, amphetamines, ecstasy, crack), CNS depressants (barbiturates, benzodiazepines, alcohol), hallucinogens (LSD, psilocybin), and volatile substances (glues, gases, aerosols) (DTB 1997).

Opioid misuse and dependence are associated with a wide range of problems, such as overdose; infection with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C; thrombosis; anaemia; poor nutrition; dental disease; criminal behaviour; relationship breakdown; lost productivity; unemployment; imprisonment; social exclusion; and prostitution, as well as withdrawal symptoms (National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse 2006). Problems associated with excessive alcohol use include hypertension, accidental injury, hand tremors, duodenal ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, cognitive impairments, anxiety and depression. The development of alcohol dependence appears to involve changes in brain neurotransmission.

Treatment programmes to help people with drug and alcohol problems include a range of individualised psychosocial interventions such as counselling, self-help groups, and rehabilitation programmes, in addition to medication.

How acupuncture can help

Acupuncture is used extensively, and worldwide, in substance misuse treatment centres. This stems from the development of a simple 5-point auricular acupuncture protocol at New York's Lincoln Hospital in the 1970's, originally for drug users but subsequently extended to tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances and behaviours. The protocol was designed to operate within Western health settings and mutual peer support systems, not as an isolated treatment.

In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being. Stimulation of certain acupuncture points has been shown to affect areas of the brain that are known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry.

Acupuncture helps relieve symptoms of drug withdrawal by:
• normalising the release of dopamine in the mesolimbic system. This reduces the over-stimulating effects of abused drugs and modifies behaviours associated with addiction such as those around desire and reward. Several brain neurotransmitter systems, for example serotonin, opioid and GABA, are implicated in this.
• reducing anxiety. Acupuncture can alter the brain's mood chemistry, reducing serotonin levels, and increasing endorphins, and neuropeptide Y levels;
• modulating postsynaptic neuronal activity in the nucleus accumbens and the striatum to reduce nicotine addiction and increasing corticotrophin-releasing factor  to attenuate anxiety-like behaviour following nicotine withdrawal.

Top 5 Ways to Prevent Substance Abuse

While it’s practically impossible to prevent anyone and everyone from using drugs, there are things we can all do to avoid drug and/or alcohol abuse. By sharing this knowledge with those closest to you, you yourself may be able to prevent them from doing drugs, too. Here are the top five ways to help prevent drug abuse:

1. Effectively deal with peer pressure. The biggest reason teens start using drugs is because their friends utilize peer pressure. No one likes to be left out, and teens (and yes, some adults, too) find themselves doing things they normally wouldn’t do, just to fit in. In these cases, you need to either find a better group of friends that won’t pressure you into doing harmful things, or you need to find a good way to say no. Teens should prepare a good excuse or plan ahead of time, to keep from giving into tempting situations.

2. Deal with life pressure. People today are overworked and overwhelmed, and often feel like a good break or a reward is deserved. But in the end, drugs only make life more stressful — and many of us all too often fail to recognize this in the moment. To prevent using drugs as a reward, find other ways to handle stress and unwind. Take up exercising, read a good book, volunteer with the needy, create something. Anything positive and relaxing helps take the mind off using drugs to relieve stress.

3. Seek help for mental illness. Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. Those with a mental illness may turn to drugs as a way to ease the pain. Those suffering from some form of mental illness, such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder should seek the help of a trained professional for treatment before it leads to substance abuse.

4. Examine the risk factors. If you’re aware of the biological, environmental and physical risk factors you possess, you’re more likely to overcome them. A history of substance abuse in the family, living in a social setting that glorifies drug abuse and/or family life that models drug abuse can be risk factors.

5. Keep a well-balanced life. People take up drugs when something in their life is not working, or when they’re unhappy about their lives or where their lives are going. Look at life’s big picture, and have priorities in order.

Binge Eating and Food Addiction

Food is essential to human survival and is an important aspect of our wellness, in addition to a means of pleasure and enjoyment.  Food not only provides needed sustenance, it also adds a gratification factor through various tastes, smells, textures, etc.  However, for many individuals, food can become as addictive as drugs are to a substance abuser.

For men and women suffering from a food addiction, highly palatable foods (which are often rich in fat, sugar, and/or salt) trigger chemical reactions in the brain that induce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.  This reaction has been explained as comparable to an addict’s response to their substance of choice, as it activates the same brain reward center.

Food addicts become dependent upon the “good” feelings that are obtained from consuming certain foods, which often perpetuates a continued need to eat, even when not hungry.  These behaviors generate a vicious cycle.  As the food addict continues to gorge upon foods that induce pleasurable feelings, they often overindulge and eat beyond what is required for satiety and normal nutrition.
This can lead to several physicals, emotional, and social consequences, such as digestive issues, heart disease, obesity, low-self esteem, depression, and isolation.  A food addict will often re-engage in these destructive behaviors, even amidst undesired consequences, due to the need for induced feelings of pleasure.

How acupuncture can help?

At the root of food addiction and binge eating there are often psychological problems (eg low self esteem, sexual abuse) that drive people to use food as a kind of drug to calm their emotional state. Acupuncture has proven useful in food addiction for many people struggling with cravings, irritability and restlessness especially in terms of withdrawal by treating imbalances in the body. Acupuncture targets specific points on the body to help to regulate the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain responsible for hunger hormones, appetite and digestion.

There are many acupuncture points that can be stimulated in order to help control and reduce cravings. When someone binge eats or is addicted to food they will experience intense cravings and even a type of withdrawal when they are attempting to reduce their eating habits. Will power alone is sometimes not enough to minimize the symptoms of food addiction that perpetuate a person’s eating habits. Acupuncture can ease the distress and challenges of changing eating habits.

One of the reasons acupuncture can be so effective for people dealing with binge eating issues is that it can ease some of the stress, anxiety and depression that are often at the core of eating disorders. Certain areas of the body, when stimulated can help the nervous system to produce more serotonin- a chemical in the brain that helps you feel calm and happy.

Since many addictions are driven by unmanaged stress, acupuncture’s ability to produce a sense of calm is an effective way to help combat the symptoms of binge eating.