Acupuncture in Addiction Recovery

Holistic treatment options such as acupuncture can be an effective complement to other therapies as part of a drug or alcohol addiction treatment program. Growing numbers of addiction treatment centers are incorporating acupuncture and other holistic approaches to help clients manage the physical and mental aspects of addiction.

Last Edited: 04/03/2021

Author: Heidi Bitsoli Heidi Bitsoli

Clinically Reviewed:

04/08/2021

Medical Reviewer:

Dr. Neil Shah

Dr. Neil Shah

What Is Acupuncture?

Part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and dating back thousands of years, acupuncture has been used for a wide variety of reasons. To practice acupuncture, people use small, thin metal needles to pierce various parts of a person’s body. They then use specific hand movements or electricity to activate the needles.

Activation encourages the qi or chi to flow, according to acupuncture practitioners. Pronounced chee, qi is the energy flow within the body. Disruptions in qi are believed by acupuncture practitioners to cause disease and damage a person’s overall health.

According to acupuncture philosophy, the body has certain places that serve as acupuncture points. Needles inserted and activated in these places can allow people to access and manipulate qi energy.

History of Acupuncture for Addiction Treatment

It appears that people have been using acupuncture for millennia, maybe even longer. More recent applications for the practice have included using it to treat drug or alcohol addiction.

  • About 100 B.C: The first text that mentions a practice that we recognize as acupuncture is The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, a Chinese document that dates from about 100 B.C.
  • 17th-19th century: Although it was developed in China, people were using acupuncture less in that country during this time because they considered it irrational and superstitious. At the same time, Western societies began exploring the practice.
  • 1972: Dr. H. L. Wen (sometimes known as Dr. H. L. Weng) reported that acupuncture and stimulation at four body points and two ear points appeared to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms for people with opioid addictions.
  • 1985: Dr. Michael Smith created protocols for the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). The protocols used auricular (ear) acupuncture to help people detoxify from drug addiction.
  • 1996: The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that acupuncture was an acceptable method to treat drug abuse.
  • 2005: Dr. Ji-Sheng Han modified protocols for using acupuncture to treat drug addiction.

Benefits of Acupuncture for Detox

People have been using acupuncture for drug-related conditions for decades. This includes using acupuncture in an attempt to detoxify (detox) ort remove drugs and alcohol from the body and reduce the physical effects they cause.

When using acupuncture with the goal of detoxify clients, the Members of the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) recommends placing up to five small needles at specific parts in a person’s ear.

Since it’s related to the ear, this process is also known as auricular detoxification as well as acudetox. People who have received acupuncture-based detox have reported that they feel more comfortable and clear-headed afterward. These effects indicate that acupuncture has potential to address both the physical and mental aspects of addiction.

How Might Acupuncture Help with Addiction Recovery?

There are also benefits of acupuncture in addiction recovery.

For one, acupuncture isn’t invasive or painful. While the process uses needles, practitioners don’t drive the needles deep into the skin. Properly trained acupuncturists know where to place the needles and how to insert them. Some people even say that receiving acupuncture makes them feel more relaxed or energized.

In fact, many people use acupuncture to treat pain. If they do that, they might not need to use medications. Pain-relieving medications such as opioids can be highly addictive, and people who have had prior addictions might embrace pain-relief methods — such as acupuncture — that don’t involve drugs.

Acupuncture is also a practice that can be more accessible and affordable. Acupuncture requires trained acupuncturists, special needles, and methods to sterilize the needles. It doesn’t require expensive machines, large teams of employees, or specially constructed spaces.

As an added bonus, people can use acupuncture with other approaches. In fact, while study results have been mixed, some researchers discovered that using acupuncture in conjunction with prescription medications appeared to reduce the intensity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Recent Studies on Acupuncture for Drug Addiction

A growing number of studies are examining the use of acupuncture to treat addiction.

Dr. Ji-Sheng Han has conducted extensive research on acupuncture, including research related to addiction. He noted that acupuncture spurs the release of endogenous opioids, which are substances inside the body that can do several things, including relieve pain.

He observed that using acupuncture and stimulating endogenous opioids appeared to ease withdrawal symptoms, such as normalizing the heart rate. Dr. Han added that another study found that acupuncture recipients reported less severe cravings for heroin.

Why a Holistic Approach to Addiction Recovery Is Best

Some drug and alcohol treatment facilities use holistic perspectives to healing, and those approaches incorporate acupuncture. Holistic treatments treat the mind and spirit as well as the body.

Addiction affects the mind and often the spirit. Holistic treatments address and treat all such aspects of a person.

For example, clients at one facility used buprenorphine, a prescription medication that is also known by the brand name Suboxone. People in recovery sometimes use buprenorphine to curb their cravings and reduce the effects and withdrawal symptoms from opioid drugs.

The same clients also received auricular (ear) acupuncture. Researchers found that the addition of acupuncture in these patients eased stress and anxiety. Since anxiety and stress also drive people to use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, acupuncture might be an effective tool to help prevent such addiction triggers.

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Acupuncture Becoming More Common in Addiction Recovery

Since acupuncture can help address the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, it’s becoming a more common treatment tool.

People who have had drug addictions might be afraid to use drugs as part of their addiction treatment regimen. Acupuncture doesn’t use drugs. But if people do want to incorporate drugs as part of their programs, they can use acupuncture in conjunction with medication-based and therapeutic options.

This versatility is partly why acupuncture is so appealing to many. Acupuncture is a different, more holistic practice than many Western medicine techniques, yet the different approaches can complement each other.

Acupuncture is old practice with many potential applications. People interested in a well-rounded, holistic approach to addressing the complexities of addiction might want to consider using acupuncture.

Sources

  1. hopkinsmedicine.org – Acupuncture
  2. acupuncturecanada.org – What Is Acupuncture?
  3. amcollege.edu – What Is Qi (Chi) Energy? AMC Acupuncture School Miami
  4. academic.oup.com – A Brief History of Acupuncture
  5. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Acupuncture for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction
  6. mdpi.com – Ear Acupuncture according to the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association)
  7. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Acupuncture Therapy for Drug Addiction
  8. acudetox.com – NADA’s History
  9. medlineplus.gov – Opioid Misuse and Addiction
  10. cmjournal.biomedcentral.com – Acupuncture Therapy for Drug Addiction
  11. academic.oup.com – Acupuncture Research Is Part of My Life
  12. medicine.yale.edu – Ear Acupuncture: A Tool for Recovery
  13. health.harvard.edu – Acupuncture

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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