During the past decade, the rates of drug overdose, suicide and alcoholism-related diseases have increased exponentially. These three classes of illnesses are collectively called “diseases of despair,” and in 2018 they accounted for over 150,000 deaths in the United States. This has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world.
I hate to begin with such bleak statistics, but it highlights how important emotional health is and how closely it is tied to physical well-being. Unfortunately, there has been little progress in correcting this trend. Substance abuse, including prescription drugs and alcohol, continues to climb; and the consequences have been well documented.
How Can Traditional Medicine Help?
The factors that contribute to diseases of despair are depression, pain and hopelessness. People turn to drugs and alcohol as medication, which, in turn, can result in long-term physical damage. Although acupuncture and traditional medicine can’t cure the root cause of this despair, they have shown to be excellent ways to treat the symptoms of it.
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, stress, anxiety and depression may contribute to 80% of all illnesses. Consistent acupuncture has been shown to increase one’s overall sense of well-being and thus improve baseline immunity. While no amount of needles can reduce the number of stressors a person experiences, it can moderate the biochemical responses to them. In addition, there is clear psychological benefit in taking 30 to 45 minutes to lie quietly and focus on self-care.
As anyone who has suffered from chronic pain understands, it is exhausting and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. While the opioid epidemic has raged across the United States, a lot of research has gone into alternatives for pain management. One study of military personnel found that opioid prescriptions dropped by 45% when paired with traditional medicine. Anti-inflammatory drugs saw a similar reduction of 42%. Traditional medicine is effective in alleviating pain, freeing up energy for other tasks and improving one’s overall outlook on life.
Mood-altering substances are often used by people as a means of escape from physical or emotional pain. When used together with standard treatments, acupuncture can help to break the cycle of addiction and reduce cravings, possibly by modulating the mesolimbic pathway — or the “reward center” of the brain.
Numerous studies have shown that acupuncture and the wider umbrella of traditional medicine is effective in treating diseases of despair, reducing the potential risks of pharmaceuticals. This low-cost, noninvasive option can make a significant difference in the lives of people who need help. Anyone who is suffering from symptoms of depression, chronic pain or addiction should consider traditional medicine as an adjunct to their treatment regimen.