Finding Serenity – Treating Addiction With Traditional Chinese Medicine


TWC Health and Wellness Blog

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the body holistically. This holistic view takes into account what you eat, where you live and even how the weather affects your health.

The basis of one’s health in TCM can be defined by how well their qi (chee) is flowing through the meridians or channels of their body.

Qi is a life force that is in all things. The air we breathe contains life-supporting oxygen (called clear qi), and the water and food we eat and drink also contain vital, life giving qi.

In our bodies, the channels (meridians) are the pathways that carry qi, allowing it to flow and permeate through the whole body.

When our qi is flowing smoothly, we are well, emotionally, spiritually and physically. When there is a blockage caused by emotional, spiritual or physical factors, qi cannot flow smoothly resulting in disharmony and/or disease. Engaging in activities that work to promote the free flow of qi, like acupuncture, meditation and breathing exercises, you can effectively rebalance and restore wellness at an accelerated rate.

There is no doubting the damaging effects that stress and addiction have on the body. These types of prolonged stressors overwhelm the nervous system and create an internal state of agitation. Known as the “Fight or Flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, it is a response generally reserved for cases of emergency, intended to act as a life preservation system.

However, stressors like chronic pain, trauma (PTSD) and addiction trigger this part of the nervous system keeping it active, wearing your body down as it becomes deprived of the balance that rest and relaxation provide. As a person in the early stages of recovery, it may sometimes feel that you have little control over your body; that the pain, restlessness and emotional exhaustion you are feeling have all of the control, but by learning and practicing relaxation and meditation techniques you have the opportunity to take back some of this control.

The most immediate effects of regular relaxation:

  • Slowing your heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Increasing blood flow to your whole body
  • Reduced muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improved concentration and mental clarity
  • Reduced negative feelings like anger, frustration and resentment
  • Improved sleep

As when learning any new skill, it is important to practice. Start slow, with only a few minutes a day and build up to longer periods as you get more comfortable. There are many techniques to choose from, and it is not expected that you will like all of them. Choose one or two that work best for you, and give yourself time to get familiar with them.

Get creative by combining various parts of different techniques that you like, or alternate between a few every week. Whatever you choose it is important that you choose one or two techniques that resonate with you, fit your lifestyle, and that you ENJOY.

Tips for success:

1. Schedule a set time to practice each day.

Set aside some time each day as your relaxation time. Try to schedule a time of day where you typically have the most energy. For some this may be first thing in the morning before the tasks and responsibilities of the day get in the way. You will be more successful if you are consistent. Using these techniques during acupuncture is a great way to start implementing and benefiting from them.

2. Practice relaxation techniques while you’re doing other things.

One of the main purposes of these practices is to help you become more self aware and able to control your internal environment. Practicing when you are out doing other things helps to build confidence and increases your ability to elicit a state of calm when stressors we cannot control are present in the moment. Try deep breathing when waiting in a doctor’s office or at a stop-light. Do a body scan for tension and try to release it using visualization or any other technique while making dinner or any other activity.

3. Avoid practicing when you are tired.

You will get the most benefit if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert allowing you to truly feel the effects of relaxation and self-awareness. Do not practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol.

4. Expect ups and downs.

Don’t be discouraged if you miss a few days or get off track by even a few weeks. It happens. Just get restarted and slowly build up again. The body will remember what to do.

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About the author: 

Dr. Kim Graham, heads the Together We Can Acupuncture Program, and is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. With eight years of education in Eastern and Western medicine, Dr. Graham is an expert in her field, and has hands-on experience with homelessness, addiction, and mental illness in Vancouver’s downtown East Side and at Harbour Light. 

Dr. Graham has been facilitating acupuncture treatments for men in early recovery since 2002, and is an expert at recreating balance and alignment for the processes within the human body.

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