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Asclepius' Ampoule - Addictions

Psycho-emotional addiction in TCM

by Enrico Colmi, surgeon and expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine


Please note: in this article we won't deal with the topic of "physical addiction", in the terms of addiction to a specific substance, with all the problems related to addiction and detoxification. This state needs to be treated specifically by medicines: the approach is easier and results appear more interesting and effective.



Addiction can be treated until complete recovery using principles and techniques of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Anyway, to deal with a problem as complex as it is, we need to know it in order to avoid prejudices which can be restrictive for an objective approach.

Among all the numerous definition, we chose the one from Wikipedia, very essential:

Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. Despite the involvement of a number of psychosocial factors, a biological process – one which is induced by repeated exposure to an addictive stimulus – is the core pathology that drives the development and maintenance of an addiction.


Sometimes we consider occasional use of particular substances or behaviors we define as unacceptable as real addictions. But it's the social context which determines the selection criteria; what we consider as normal in a selected context can be considered unacceptable in a different one.

We can bring infinite examples, but, looking for a solution to this problem, it's important to avoid the judgement of a particular behavior as good or bad, and consider when actions, habitudes and attitudes become pathologic (in other words, which procure suffering), and find a concrete solution.


Addiction* can shape in several forms, but if we study the object of addiction we can find a unique mechanism considering the psycho-emotional basis of the phenomenon. In other words: at first we have an alteration in our emotional part of the brain; then this state of unease results in a state of dissatisfaction which we try to fill by the use of substances or by morbid behaviors.

All the dynamics related to addictions have been studied and classified; in this case we won't analyze them, since we want to understand deeply the mechanics which stay at the basis.

*this argument is valid in any situation in which we find an addiction. We make some examples (the classification is only indicative):
- addiction to physical factors: drugs, medicines, alcohol, food, smoke, etc.;
- addiction to particular behaviors: rituals, compulsive shopping, gambling, sex, work, etc.;
- addiction to outer mental conditioning: television, internet, videogames, etc.


If the phenomenon of addiction can be considered uniform, we can find different triggering events and, therefore, the modalities of treatment.
Sociologic and psychologic schools dealt with it, also the classic medicine and the unconventional medicines: results were more or less satisfying, considering also the hard topic. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a particular approach towards addiction.


We are talking of "addictionS", in the plural form, because from the point of view of causes and dynamics we can find different mechanics.

When pain (on a psycho-emotional basis in this case) is not cured, the individual (unconsciously) starts to compensate this lack of relief with something which can substitute it (the object of addiction), which procure a compensative pleasure.

It's necessary to find the primary cause, individuating it using the principles of TCM, and then act on the organs which are responsible from the energetic-emotional point of view, rebalancing them using the TCM techniques.

The diagnosis doesn't have particular difficulties, looking from the TCM point of view, and this explain the good results when we use the correct instruments.


This is the most critical part, fo the peculiar characteristics of every addiction: the subject is usually not very open nor collaborative (even at a conscious or unconscious level) and it's difficult to intervene against his/her will. Then it's contraindicated using those instruments which requires an active participation of the subject (in TCM, Chinese dietetic or pharmacology are completely useless, also physic-energetic techniques as Qi gong are useless).

We can observe better results with acupuncture and auriculotherapy.

Acupuncture has an intense effect, it act on the deepest causes of addiction but not directly on addiction mechanics, then it doesn't provoke a resistence from the subject; the treatment requires more than one session, then the difficulty is represented by the long terms of the recovery.

Auriculotherapy has a less intense action: it involves the reflexology, but it has a shorter term of application and the positioning of nails can be done in a unique session; this procedure eases the positive response from the subject. This treatment can be considered as the best one in treating addictions and can help the therapy of drug withdrawal.

These techniques can be used only for some kind of addictions (e.g. smoke, food, and some behavior addiction) and can bring good results when the addiction is strictly connected to an anxiety-producing component (acupuncture and auriculotherapy are effective against anxiety). Thanks to this action, we can also reduce the typical anxious reaction of the subject during de-habituation (e.g. the smoker which, when stops smoking, becomes nervous and tends to gain weight.)

Treating addictions with TCM can lead to excellent results (around 100%) if we operate in a protect environment (communities, clinics, nursing homes, rehab clinics) where the subject is obliged to respect specific rules. In an open environment, the subject finds in the outer all the conditions that brought him/her to addiction, then any kind of intervention is destined to insuccess (except for particular cases where addiction is spontaneously resolved from the psycho-emotional side and only a clinic intervention of de-habituation is required).

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