Laser Therapy for Addiction
Addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, and cigarettes affects lives—both of the person suffering the addiction, and the family and friends who are be subject to the complications surrounding it. In the cases of drug and alcohol addictions, the consequences can be financially costly, and ultimately life threatening. Addiction to cigarettes can bring long-term health problems, and in an era of anti-smoking laws, isolation for the smoker. Rehabilitation programs abound, using traditional medicine, 12-step programs modeled after the Alcoholics Anonymous concepts, and alternative therapies. Low-level laser therapy is a treatment that offers a possible solution to the cravings that prolongs addiction and the problems that can come with them.
Why use Laser Therapy for Addiction?
The basic principal behind laser therapy in treating addictions is a simple one: the laser sends a signal to the brain to begin the immediate production of endorphins—the chemicals in the brain that help to body to relieve pain or fight cravings. The greater the production of endorphins, the better a person will feel. With nicotine, or even in the cases of drug, food, or alcohol use, removing the substance will deplete the receptor sites and consequently create cravings for whatever substance a person has ceased to ingest.
Under normal circumstances, regular endorphin production is slow. Laser therapy is believed to speed up that process and even create an increase in endorphin production, while also increasing serotonin production, another brain chemical that helps a person relax and maintain calm nerves. When a laser therapist treats a patient suffering from addiction, a pointer-like wand will be placed on pressure points on the hands, face, and ears that have been determined to be beneficial for addiction. The process is an entirely external, non-invasive, drug free, and non-thermal procedure. The sessions generally last 30 minutes and are completely painless. The effects of the laser therapy will last several days.
While the laser is being administered, the person receiving the therapy will watch a therapy video that is a blend of tranquil images and serious, assertive messages about the hazards of the addiction being treated—especially in the case of smoking or food addictions. Laser therapists do not make promises of miraculous or instantaneous cures—the treatment does not necessarily eliminate the craving that is prominent with addictions. However, it is a crucial component in a regimen of exercise, deep breathing, and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle that can successfully address addictions.
How Can Laser Therapy Help Addiction?
With regular treatments, laser therapy can help in the same way traditional acupuncture does in some people. The light used on the designated pressure points can stimulate endorphins—the chemicals necessary to maintain a feeling of well-being, decrease stress, and reduce the need for what an addiction might help supply. If the stimulation of endorphins is consistent, the cravings that are crucial to maintaining an addiction can be eliminated. Despite the doubts expressed among some members of the medical and scientific community, laser therapists have concluded that this therapy has been proven helpful to some clients in eliminating various addictions, especially for smokers.
What is Laser Therapy?
Laser therapy (also known as low-level or cold laser therapy, or as one aspect of energy therapy) employs the use of lasers in specially designed devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for various purposes, including pain management and for treating addictions, especially smoking. The basic premise underlying its use is similar to that of acupuncture and the focus on certain pressure points in the human body. Just as is recognized in acupuncture, certain pressure points are acknowledged as receptor sites. Cold laser therapy is used in place of acupuncture needles under the same treatment regimen. Energy therapy might also involve other forms such as magnetic, sound, or other variations.
First of all, it is important to understand the nature of the wavelengths and power levels that are used for this type of therapy. The power level is far below that of lasers used for surgery, for instance.
The necessary parameters that a laser therapist should observe when administering this laser therapy will include:
- Most beneficial wavelength—measured in nanometers (nm), set in the probe and not changed once it is set
- Correct power level
- Consistent application of energy as measured in units known as Joules
- Pulsing frequency
The wavelength frequencies used in Laser Therapy measure between 620 and 675 nm in the red light laser probes, and between 780 and 950 nm in infrared or invisible laser probes.
Red Light Laser Probes
Red light laser probes are used with the following qualifications:
- Light is readily absorbed by mitochondria, and thus offers the best potential for stimulatory effects.
- Offers top source for stimulation with a range of growth factors
- Light does not penetrate below the surface of the skin and not into the tissue below.
- Light best for wound healing or superficial injuries, not deeper wounds.
Infrared Laser Probes
Infrared laser probes are used with these qualifications:
- Light absorbed through the cell walls create a cell response that is more specific to wavelengths in the infrared range, and responds uniquely to each wavelength.
- Penetrates into the tissue more deeply—especially in the 780-830 range—so is more effective being used through skin that is not broken, and effects better relief for pain.
In fact, professionals in this field have determined that cluster probes, which offer a range of wavelengths, provide the best opportunity for clinicians administering the treatment.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it Center for Devices and Radiological Health supervises the use of any laser equipment for any medical or alternative medical treatment. The FDA prohibits any manufacturer of equipment from making claims that have not been scientifically proven, however, low-level laser therapy is not prohibited.
What is Addiction?
An addiction can be described as any activity, substance, object, or behavior that becomes the major focal point in a person, who ultimately excludes all other activities not related to that particular addiction. Addiction can be physical, psychological, or include elements of both. In the case of a non-substance related addiction such as gambling, running, sex, and other such activities, the addiction can actually result in a change in the brain chemistry with beta-endorphins produced that will give the individual an actual physical “high” or rush of adrenaline when undertaking it—or when pursuing it at an abnormal rate. Even though drug and alcohol addiction does have measurable physical effects, these two types of addictions are believed to produce a similar effect within the brain that will make a person crave the substance or activity that has provided the sensation.
When the issue is addressed by laser therapy, the addiction would most likely involve substance abuse of some kind, commonly including drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or even food. The physical effects of addiction should be addressed first if successful treatment is a goal in any therapy. The psychological effects and the underlying reasons for the addiction due to a person’s personality issues must then be addressed for long-term treatment to be effective.
What Causes Addiction?
The debate continues into the early twenty-first century regarding what specifically causes addictions, and how great a factor genetic predisposition is to such a disease. Some disagreement remains, though genetic factors are believed to be a serious risk factor in developing an addiction, particularly to drugs and alcohol.
What actually occurs in drug addiction, as an example, indicates that when a drug is used repeatedly, the reward pathways in the brain are altered. Drugs will cause physical changes in the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. The cells use chemicals known as neurotransmitters to communicate. Neurons release these neurotransmitters in the gaps between the nerve cells, and are received by receptors on other neurons and on the bodies of their own cells. Even tobacco and alcohol use are believed to cause similar reactions, creating a physical dependence in addition to a psychological dependence. If the cycle is not broken, the addiction can become life threatening.
Risk factors besides genetics for various addictions include:
- Personality – with such problems as depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and other such disorders
- Social environment
- Anxiety, depression, or loneliness
- Type of addictive substance—some drugs such as heroin and cocaine have been determined to result more quickly in dependence than other drugs; for those with a genetic predisposition toward alcoholism, even drinking beer in excess on a regular basis can result in alcoholic dependency.
"Cold Laser Therapy" from the American Cancer Society.
“Laser Facts” from the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
“What are Addictive Behaviors?"