Alternative Techniques for Nicotine Addiction

Did you ever wonder exactly how many cigarettes you can have and still be healthy? Or, have you been curious about whether you have the willpower to quit? These questions and many others about addiction are asked regularly in my practice. The thing to remember is that in order let go of an addiction, especially one that is so habitual and heavily advertised such as tobacco and nicotine products, you must be ready and willing to quit. And when you are ready, integrative medicine such as hypnosis and acupuncture can support you in quitting. Before we get to that part though, let’s look at some key points in history surrounding tobacco use.


When tobacco started gaining more popularity in the Western culture around the 1820’s it was used as medicinal. It was a French scientist named Jean Nicot who managed to isolate the nicotine in tobacco, and it suddenly became a popular drug for many ailments from headaches to colds. Around 1890, people began seeing negative reactions to the drug, and it was no longer prescribed in the US. Instead, oral use of tobacco in the form of chew or cigars began to replace the isolated nicotine compounds and nicotine’s popularity for recreational use began to snowball. This was when cigarettes began to get popular. In the 1960’s about 40% of the US population smoked (which is super high). Lucky for us, current numbers have seen a dramatic reduction. Only about 19% of the population smokes now. This is because of all the research and medical discovery surrounding tobacco use.

From Habit to Addiction

Most people addicted to nicotine started as teenagers.  This is in part due to advertising and the romanticizing of cigarettes in TV and movies. It also tends to run in families. If a child’s parent smokes, they are more likely to pick up the habit. Another issue is that you can buy tobacco products when you are 18, making them accessible to the youth. A teenage brain is not fully developed; if an adolescent begins smoking they are sending signals to the brain that this is “normal”. This happens because nicotine affects many portions of the brain, and it increases activity in those areas. A brain that is being consistently activated by an external factor no longer needs to do as much work. In these cases, the brain basically develops to include smoking in its functioning.

  • Interesting fact: Tobacco companies spend way more money on advertising to black, LGBTQ, and low-income groups. In a city like Baltimore where I practice, tobacco use is very prevalent. And how are people supposed to quit such a dangerous and addictive substance when advertising for it is more aggressive in their neighborhoods? To learn more about the disproportionate advertising of tobacco, check out this ad campaign by Truth Initiative.

Where Complimentary Medicine Helps

There are a lot of opinions surrounding addiction and quitting. One of the most popular schools of thought is that willpower alone is enough. This is untrue. Nicotine is an insanely powerful drug. It weaves its way into multiple areas of the body and mind, replacing normal functioning. People who quit undergo very intense changes that are extremely challenging. Remember how the brain literally develops itself around smoking? That development needs to be retrained! The body also has to remember how to properly function on its own again, without the aid of nicotine. This is where acupuncture and hypnosis can help!

One of the most potent ways acupuncture can help is through detox. Acu-detox works by enhancing the detoxification process of the body and calming the nervous system to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. This is done by putting 5 needles in each ear at certain points. They stimulate the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, and sympathetic nervous system. This helps to harmonize and support all the major systems affected by smoking. Keeping the body’s energy balance is crucial because during the painful withdrawal process it is easy to get lost in the physical or mental symptoms instead of seeing the larger picture. This leads us into hypnosis.

Hypnosis works by compounding suggestions in the subconscious mind. When a suggestion is offered that the patient finds appealing (such as a suggestion of relaxation to someone with anxiety), it then allows the patient to change their brain’s patterned way of thinking. The more a person can change their pattern of thinking to something they choose the less old patterns to hang on. I use this two-pronged approach and it is very useful in helping shift the mental/habitual components of quitting and can help the brain redevelop healthier habits.

Every person is different, acupuncture could be the solution for some, just as hypnosis might be the right path for others. Many people trying to quit can benefit from both! If you want to learn more details about how these two modalities work together, Click here to read my blog on enhancing outcomes with hypnosis.