The Yin and Yang of Addiction

Breaking the Cycle with Acupuncture and Lifestyle

by Grace Rollins and Paolo Propato

yin and yang of addictionOvereating, sugar, coffee, smartphone checking, YouTube binging, over-exercising. It may not be news that drugs, sex and gambling aren’t the only addictions out there.

Many people have behaviors they feel a compulsion toward on a regular basis, even though it negatively impacts their health, quality of life, finances or relationships. What gets in the way of acting in our own best interests? And what makes some people more vulnerable to addiction?

We can get some insight by viewing addiction through the lens of yin and yang, a Daoist concept important in acupuncture that describes the relative aspect of all phenomena. Yin and yang are opposites, but depend upon one another in a fluctuating dance, like night and day. Physiologically, yang refers to the ability of the body to act, move and metabolize, while yin relates to our physical substance and restorative process. Much like the night, yin allows the body to rejuvenate; while yang allows us to make the most of the day.

Disharmony between yin and yang contributes to addictive behaviors. A common pattern we see in acupuncture clinic is called yin deficiency. This results from trauma, severe illness or a lifestyle that “burns the candle at both ends”, leading to depletion of yin energy.

Burdened with a feeling of lack and fatigue, a person with this imbalance will seek a “fix” of some kind in order to fuel their yang activity. Sugar, caffeine and stimulation from electronics and exercise temporarily give the feeling of a boost, but these activities ultimately consume more yin, rather than nourish it. The feeling of depletion is thus exacerbated, and the desire for stimulants grows stronger. In an advanced case, one may start to suffer symptoms such as hormonal imbalances, urinary problems, insomnia and crippling anxiety.

Stagnation of yang energy leads to a different sort of addiction. Imagine a child not being allowed to play or speak for a few hours. Turn your back and they’ll be sure to break something in the house in order to get out their yang energy. Adults have their version of this as well. If one is too sedentary, fails to communicate in relationships or lacks an outlet for stress, the body will suffer energetic stagnation. It might come out later as anger or abuse toward someone else, or a habitual need for alcohol, carbohydrates, marijuana or prescription medications to sedate the system. These quick fixes just deepen the stagnation, and it is common for physical symptoms like headaches, muscle pain, gastrointestinal problems and other issues to manifest.

Fortunately, there are constructive ways to restore the balance of yin and yang. A person with yin deficiency should seek restorative activities such as seated meditation, creative arts and relaxing time in nature. This person needs plenty of sleep and rest—and perhaps more alone time. A person with stagnation of yang energy should regularly engage in fun, satisfying exercise, develop strong communication skills and can benefit from a moving meditation form like qigong or yoga.

To make the process of amending one’s lifestyle easier, acupuncture can help break the orbit of an addicting habit or substance. Known widely for its effectiveness in reducing symptoms of withdrawal from powerfully addictive substances like cigarettes, cocaine and heroin, acupuncture also addresses the root cause—disharmony of yin and yang—putting the brakes on compensatory compulsions, regardless of the type of addiction.

In this way, acupuncture can provide much needed support while the patient establishes what was once lacking in life. As true as night becomes day, by restoring the harmony of yin and yang, it is possible to finally be free from harmful addictions.


Paolo Propato, LAc, and Grace Rollins, MS, LAc, practice acupuncture at Bridge Acupuncture, in Doylestown. Connect with them at 215-348-8058 
or BridgeAcupuncture.com. June 2015.


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