Can Acupuncture Help With Addiction

Can Acupuncture Help With Addiction?

The effectiveness of addiction treatment lies in its multi-disciplinary approach. Apart from medications to counseling, complementary/alternative therapies are also gaining popularity. One of the most sought-after is acupuncture, which is said to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a practice that involves the insertion of thin, metal needles into the skin. These are activated by the acupuncturist through gentle movements. In some cases, electricity is used to stimulate the needles.


As a form of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture works on the belief that 2,000 points in the body are connected by meridians. These pathways create Qi or the energy flow that maintains overall health. When the Qi is disrupted, a disease may occur. In essence, acupuncture helps promote optimal health by improving/restoring the flow of Qi.

How Does Acupuncture Affect the Body?

Acupuncture helps stimulate the nervous system. When this happens, hormones that affect the brain, spinal cord, and muscles are released. These substances, in turn, promote ‘natural’ healing. At the same time, these hormones can bring about an improvement in the person’s physical and emotional well-being as well.

Acupuncture Affect the Body

Due to its many benefits, acupuncture is often used to manage the following conditions:

  • Low back pain
  • Arthritic pain
  • Myofascial pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Headaches
  • Dental pain (after surgery)
  • Nausea due to surgery or chemotherapy
  • Asthma
  • Addiction

Acupuncture for Addiction: A Brief History

As mentioned, one of the many conditions that acupuncture can help manage is addiction. Many practitioners make use of opiate treatment because it is simple, low-risk, and inexpensive. Apart from preventing withdrawal symptoms, it may help curb relapse as well.

Acupuncture’s benefits on addiction are not new discoveries. It was documented in as early as the year 1972 in Hong Kong. In his research, Dr. Wen applied acupuncture with electrical stimulation to 2 ear points and 4 body points. Surprisingly, those who underwent this therapy experienced relief from opioid withdrawal symptoms.

This treatment eventually reached the American shores in 1985, many thanks to the acupuncture protocol developed by Dr. M. Smith. Here, he advocated the insertion of 5 needles (without stimulation) to the outer ear, and the points termed liver, lung, kidney, shenmen, and sympathetic. According to the protocol, this technique helps relieve withdrawal symptoms and minimize cravings. At the same time, it can help improve a person’s participation in a long-term treatment program.

In this modern-day and age, experts use auricular acupuncture for alcohol and substance addiction. A total of 250 institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom practice this method.

In China, a development promoted by Dr. Han of Peking University has led to the novel use of self-sticking electrodes. Expectedly so, this device is known as Han’s acupoint nerve stimulator.

These are placed over certain points where they are stimulated with electricity. As with conventional acupuncture treatments, it may help reduce the signs of opiate withdrawal. Add to that, it may help prevent heroin relapse as well.

How Does Acupuncture Help With Addiction?

Opiate use affects the levels of dopamine in the brain. They bring about a sense of pleasure and well-being, which then prods the user to abuse more drugs.

Once opiate is removed from the person’s system, the level of dopamine in the brain decreases. This leads to a state of distress, which is why the user has a strong desire to seek the drug.

According to a study, acupuncture may help reduce the feelings of withdrawal by stimulating the production of naturally-occurring opiates in the body. As these help bring about the feelings of pleasure of euphoria and pleasure, the addict’s tendency to seek drugs can be curbed.

Add to that, acupuncture can also reduce cravings by activating several opioid receptors in the brain.

What to Expect During Your Acupuncture Session

While each acupuncturist has a distinct style, he/she may begin by asking about your lifestyle, behavior, and current symptoms. He/she may also check the following:

What to Expect During Your Acupuncture Session
  • The color of your face
  • The shape, color, and coating of your tongue
  • The rhythm, quality, and strength of your pulse
  • The painful body parts

All in all, this initial assessment can take about an hour.

During the treatment, your acupuncturist may insert 5 to 20 needles at various depths – across different parts of the body. You may feel a sensation of pressure/pain once the needle is inserted, though some people report not feeling anything at all.

The acupuncturist will then move or twirl the needle. Some may even electrify the needles with a mild current. According to those who have undergone the procedure, this can bring about a sense of relaxation. As for other individuals, this electrification can lead to a burst of energy.

After the needle manipulation, the acupuncturist may leave the needles in place for 10 to 20 minutes. You will not feel discomfort with needle removal.

Generally speaking, one issue may require one to two acupuncture treatments a week. Overall, it’s common to receive six to eight sessions to address the problem.

What are the Risks That Come With Acupuncture?

The risks are relatively low as long as you choose a qualified provider. After all, these experts make use of disposable needles.

Although this is the case, it is normal to feel sore – even bleed – at the site of needle insertion.

While acupuncture has many benefits, it’s not suitable for all types of people. Complications may arise in people who:

  • Are taking anti-coagulant medication. Severe bleeding and bruising can occur in people taking Warfarin, Heparin, etc.
  • Have bleeding disorders. Similar to those taking anti-coagulants, those with bleeding disorders at a higher risk of bleeding/bruising.
  • Have pacemakers. The electrical stimulation can affect the pacemaker function.
  • Are pregnant. Acupuncture may bring about labor. In turn, it has the potential to lead to a premature delivery.


Acupuncture is a useful treatment for combating addiction. However, it’s best used in conjunction with other necessary treatments. These include the use of medications, attendance to counseling/therapy, and participation in long-term programs as needed.

Latest posts by Raychel Ria Agramon, BSN, RN, MPM (see all)