Opinion: Acudetox: A Proven, Ancient Practice to Help Veterans Overcome PTSD & Substance Use Disorder

Veteran in therapy | Image by AnnaStills/Getty Images

Michael (name changed for anonymity) has spent the last five years tortured by nightmares, waking up in a pool of sweat almost every night. By day, he’s burdened by crippling survivor’s guilt over his fallen brothers and sisters, agonizing that he couldn’t save their lives. A veteran who was deployed in Afghanistan, Michael turned to alcohol to help him cope and to sleep. But between his PTSD and the booze, his life had been a mess, and his wife threatened to leave him if he didn’t get help.

As part of his treatment program, Michael agreed to participate in acudetox, a special acupuncture therapy for addiction treatment. The treatment is quick and painless, taking just 30 minutes before he heads into his weekly group therapy session. But the results have been profound, easing Michael’s withdrawal and helping him address the trauma at the heart of his addiction.

Easing detox lowers treatment barrier

According to a survey by the US Veteran’s Administration, nearly 1 in 3 Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans suffer from PTSD, not to mention those who are undiagnosed.

Because of their trauma, addiction is a huge problem in the veteran population, which leads to long-term issues with assimilating back into civilian culture, including maintaining employment, housing and relationships. Among the 2.4 million veterans with substance use disorder (SUD), 7 out of 10 struggle with alcohol addiction, and many are reluctant to get treatment because of fears over the detoxification process.

Acudetox drastically reduces those symptoms and lowers the barrier to treatment.

Ancient medicine, modern practice

Borrowing from ancient eastern alternative medicine, acudetox is a form of auricular acupuncture that brings the body, mind and spirit into balance to aid in substance detoxification and facilitate mental health treatment as part of SUD recovery.

During an acudetox session, the practitioner stimulates five specific points on the ear, each connected to vital organs: the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs and nervous system. Unlike traditional acupuncture that involves tiny needles inserted at trigger points, the acudetox program at Greenhouse Treatment Center in  Grand Prairie, Texas uses a microcurrent generator to deliver extremely small electrical current to the five auricular points.

The practice has immediate results, reducing the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, benzodiazepines, methamphetamines, and cocaine while drastically lowering stress levels and even blood pressure and heart rate.

One patient, an insulin-dependent diabetic was suffering with hallucinations and tremors. After just one acudetox treatment, his tremors immediately stabilized. A post-treatment blood glucose check revealed his blood sugar had dropped from 299 to 60. The calming effect of the treatment had amplified the effect of the insulin, bringing his glucose level down to a normal, healthy range.

In addition, veterans who participate in acudetox also find relief from their intrusive nightmares so they can finally get better-quality sleep, which is critical for recovery and overall health and wellbeing.

Enabling emotional healing

The emotional benefits of the treatment are also profound. Many veterans can be extremely stoic, having developed a tough outward persona to cope with their trauma. Some can barely tolerate even being touched at first because they’re so guarded and their fight-or-flight response is so acute. These emotional barriers complicate their SUD recovery, which depends on addressing the underlying emotional trauma.

Acudetox treatment helps participants become calmer and more introspective, willing to open up and talk about their trauma. This ability to finally express their emotions is a huge breakthrough, dramatically improving the quality and outcome of group therapy sessions. The combined treatment makes for a smoother, more effective and sustainable recovery.

As part of their acudetox session, some participants opt to have seeds—tiny plastic beads—attached to the trigger points on their ear with adhesive. These tiny seeds allow the individual to self-stimulate these areas on their own to extend the benefit of the treatment for up to a week between sessions.

Proven results for veterans in the Dallas area

Beyond just anecdotal benefits, research has proven acudetox to be extremely effective in supporting recovery. Studies have shown it increases alcohol abstinence and alcohol detox patient retention by 50%, reduces demand for sleep medications during detox by 90%, increases abstinence for cocaine users, and substantially boosts the retention rate of methamphetamine addicted patients from just 5% to 90%.

Warriors know the more you train, the less you bleed in battle. Acudetox helps these heroes train to better cope with their emotions, so they suffer less and have a much greater chance of winning the battle over addiction.

Anyone is eligible for acudetox treatment at Greenhouse Treatment Center, one of the only facilities in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area to offer such a program. To learn more, visit https://greenhousetreatment.com.

Article by Esther Ontiveros-Flores, Clinical Lead Therapist III, Battalion Program Coordinator at Greenhouse Treatment Center, an American Addiction Centers facility

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