It is no secret that this pandemic and consequent life changes have caused enormous stress. Mental health has been a struggle for many people during this past year. Those who have tendencies toward addictive behaviors have faced even more challenges. Leading socially distant lives may prompt or hide an ongoing battle. Dependency often brings a sense shame to sufferers which then negatively reinforces the habit. Those enduring chronic pain may have had reduced access to their pain-relieving therapies during the last year. This accelerates self-medication, a dangerous path, and the source of many opioid addictions in this country. People seek out addictive substances and behaviors for all kinds of reasons- a desire to feel good, increase performance in some way, escape from something, or because of social pressure or general curiosity. The pandemic has amplified these causes and added to the list: boredom, isolation and lack of social support, illness, unemployment, home life stresses (family dynamics, homeschooling kids, etc), physical pain, anxiety, and depression. Online12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous may pose challenges- not just for those who lack access to the technology, but virtual support is not the same as in-person meetings. People need help, and when life resumes some semblance of normalcy, many will find themselves struggling with t his monumental problem.
Statistics show that both opioids and stimulant use have increased and there has been a huge spike in overdose deaths since the pandemic began. Binge drinking reportedly surged last spring, too. While bars and after work happy hours are not as available, many people have escalated their intake of alcohol at home as a coping mechanism. As defined by psychiatry.com, “Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex condition in which there is uncontrolled use of a substance despite harmful consequence.” Behavioral addictions fall under a similar definition, as any such habits pose a threat to quality of life, relationships, work, and overall health. Addictions may be physical, psychological or both (e.g.,smoking/vaping). The psychological attachment to whatever indulgence a person believes they need is tremendous. This may include: overeating, sex, gambling, even overwork and obsessive social media consumption.
I have treated patients over the years with all types of addictions, both physical and psychological. Consider the dualistic nature of yin and yang: the two opposite and interconnected energies as they are depicted ebb and flow into one another, balancing each other out. Yin is female, yang is male; yin is dark, yang is light; yin is cold, and yang is hot, yin is negative, yang is positive, and so on. When there is a deficiency of one, there is an excess of the other. They rely on one another for balance. In Chinese medicine, addiction is usually rooted in yin deficiency (although eventually, yang deficiency may also be present). Offending substances and behaviors which slowly lead to this imbalance perpetuate and exacerbate the disharmony. Furthermore, chemicals in habit forming drugs can diminish jing essence, which is related to the kidneys and contains both yin and yang aspects. It is formed from prenatal and postnatal(or congenital and acquired) qi and dictates the quality and longevity of one’s life. As jing gets depleted by things like addictive chemicals and toxic behaviors, health, well-being, and lifespan decline. Changes in the brain, sometimes permanent, will affect perception and provoke withdrawal symptoms or intense cravings. Many patients experience a sense of emptiness in themselves; a hole that needs to be filled. This is endemic in yin deficiency- the sense that something is missing and is then artificially and temporarily filled through addictive behavior, which entirely misses the mark and leaves an even bigger vacancy.
Rehabilitation and recovery attempt to fill that void with healthy routines and a sense of self worth and wholeness. When I treat such issues, I usually employ points which clear heat and nourish yin, primarily kidney yin. I always add a 5-point detox protocol of ear points to target cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These points encourage relaxation and release endorphins, so this protocol is effective for highly stressed patients (I’ve used it more this year than ever!). To counter the offenses of tempting addictive behaviors, it is important to encourage healthy daily lifestyle habits such as proper sleep, balance of work and rest (and social media!), self-care and a balanced diet. Maintaining an exercise regimen is essential, too, and while these things might feel difficult to maintain, meditation and quiet contemplation may help cultivate self-awareness and a sense of calm to reduce the mental chaos that often feeds addictive patterns. Take stock and ask yourself: do you have any unhealthy habits, either physically or psychologically, that you need or want to change? Is there something you are avoiding? It is never too late to start over and no better time than right now.
Below are some resources and helpful tips on how to assist yourself or others who may be struggling with these issues. Know that you are not alone, regardless of whether you suffer from moderate cravings or full-blown physical addiction. Support is out there for you:
Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment 24-hour National Treatment Referral Hotline (1-800-662-HELP)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration1800-662-4357
To find a group near you, visit the website and search by location for local meetings and support groups:
Alcoholics anonymous: aa.org
Narcotics Anonymous: Na.org
Overeaters Anonymous: Oa.org
Sex Addicts Anonymous: Saa-recovery.org
Other online support, highly rated for 2021:
CBT-Based: Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART)
Sobriety and Recovery App: Loosid
Secular Group: LifeRing
For Mindfulness: Club Soda
For Women: Women for Sobriety (WFS)
For Mothers: TheHealthyMomCoach.com