Can Acupuncture Help with Addiction? Exploring Benefits and Effectiveness
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there are many alternative treatment options available to consider, such as psychotherapy for addiction, yoga for addiction, and much more. One of the lesser-known but potentially effective methods is acupuncture. Acupuncture has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries to treat various ailments, including drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, research on the effectiveness of acupuncture in addiction treatment dates back to the 1970s.
Here, we will explore how acupuncture works, particularly as an addiction treatment. Additionally, we will discuss the potential benefits of acupuncture as a complementary therapy for addiction. Finally, we will consider how acupuncture can be integrated into a comprehensive addiction recovery plan to provide individuals with the best chance of successful and long-term recovery.
How Acupuncture Helps with Addiction
Acupuncture is a holistic therapy that works by stimulating specific points on the body with thin needles. This process helps activate the body’s natural healing processes, including releasing endorphins and other neurotransmitters. If signs of addiction are to develop, acupuncture is highly recommended as it helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, as well as improve overall well-being and mental health.
Since the 1970s, acupuncture has been used to treat various addictions, particularly heroin. It was first introduced as a substance treatment in the Lincoln Memorial Hospital in New York, where doctors found it to be more effective than prescribing methadone. One of the hospital’s doctors, Michael O. Smith, founded the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) in 1985 to advocate for auricular acupuncture, also known as ear acupuncture, in addiction treatment.
Today, auricular acupuncture is the most commonly used and recommended form of acupuncture in addiction treatment. The NADA Protocol involves inserting five needles into specific points in the ear:
- Shen Men Point
- Kidney Point
- Lung Point
- Sympathetic Point
- Liver Point
Each acupuncture point is believed to produce a different effect, such as detoxifying the blood (Liver) or soothing anxiety (Shen Men). Before starting acupuncture treatment, it’s important to identify any underlying health conditions that may contribute to the addiction and target those areas for pain relief.1
Acupuncture Therapy for Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is a significant global health concern that affects millions of people worldwide.2 In fact, overdose deaths are one of the leading causes of injury-related death in the United States, with the majority of overdose deaths involving opioids.3
Acupuncture, as a complementary therapy, has shown promising results in treating opioid addiction. Research has suggested that combining acupuncture with other therapies, such as individual counseling, group therapy, and support groups, can be highly effective in helping individuals overcome substance abuse. Acupuncture treatment for opioid addiction has also been associated with:4
- Reduced cravings
- Increased retention rates in rehab
- Alleviated withdrawal symptoms
- Eased physical pain
- Regulated emotions
- Decreased anxiety and stress
- Improved sleep quality
Moreover, studies have shown that acupuncture therapy may help ease physical pain and improve emotional regulation, anxiety, and sleep quality—making the recovery process more tolerable and manageable. Acupuncture was also found to be associated with reduced anxiety and depression in patients undergoing drug addiction treatment.5
More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of acupuncture for addiction and substance abuse. With that being said, combining acupuncture with other traditional forms of addiction treatment can be a highly effective approach to promoting recovery and overall wellness.
Potential Benefits of Acupuncture for Addiction Treatment
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to treating addiction. More traditional methods, such as medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapy have been effective in addiction treatment, and acupuncture can be a valuable complement to these sorts of treatment programs. While acupuncture alone may not be enough to treat addiction, when combined with other forms of addiction treatment, it can provide numerous benefits.
Benefit #1: Improves Mood and Reduces Stress and Anxiety
One major advantage of acupuncture is its ability to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for relapse. Acupuncture stimulates the release of endorphins, which can have a therapeutic effect on the mind and body.6 By reducing stress and anxiety, individuals are better equipped to manage their cravings and maintain sobriety.
Benefit #2: Eases Withdrawal Symptoms
Acupuncture can also help to ease withdrawal symptoms, which can be a major hurdle for individuals trying to overcome addiction. Withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, and pain can make the recovery process more difficult and often lead to relapse. However, acupuncture has been shown to be effective in reducing these symptoms, making the recovery process more tolerable and manageable.
Benefit #3: Enhances Mind-Body Connection
Another potential benefit of acupuncture for addiction treatment is its ability to enhance the mind-body connection. Addiction often takes a toll on both the mind and the body, and many individuals in recovery struggle to regain their sense of balance and well-being. Since acupuncture works by stimulating specific points on the body, this can help to restore balance and promote feelings of relaxation and inner peace. This can be especially helpful for individuals who have experienced trauma or other forms of emotional distress as a result of their addiction. By improving the mind-body connection, acupuncture can provide a more holistic approach to addiction recovery, addressing both physical and emotional aspects of the healing process.
By combining acupuncture with other forms of addiction treatment, individuals can reap the benefits of both. Acupuncture can provide a valuable complementary therapy for those struggling with addiction, helping them to overcome the physical and emotional challenges of addiction and move towards a healthier, happier life.
Incorporating Acupuncture into Your Addiction Recovery Plan
When considering incorporating acupuncture into an addiction recovery plan, it’s important to find a qualified and licensed acupuncturist who has experience in treating addiction. During an initial consultation, the acupuncturist will assess the individual’s condition and create a customized treatment plan that addresses their specific needs and goals.
Acupuncture sessions typically last between 30-60 minutes and involve inserting fine needles into specific points on the body. These needles are left in place for a period of time and may be stimulated by the acupuncturist to enhance their effects. Depending on the severity of the addiction, a course of treatment may require several weeks or even months of regular acupuncture sessions. By scheduling recurring sessions, individuals can ensure continued progress and maximize the benefits of acupuncture therapy as a complementary treatment for addiction.
Elevate Your Recovery
Research on the effectiveness of acupuncture as a complementary therapy for addiction treatment is promising. From its mental health benefits to its soothing effect on withdrawal symptoms, acupuncture can serve as a valuable addition to a comprehensive addiction treatment plan.
At Elevate Rehab, we encourage holistic rehab for recovery and understand the importance of providing individualized and comprehensive treatment plans for addiction recovery. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, please contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment options, including the benefits of incorporating acupuncture into your recovery plan.
- Stuyt, E. B., Voyles, C. A., & Bursac, S. (2018). NADA Protocol for Behavioral Health. Putting Tools in the Hands of Behavioral Health Providers: The Case for Auricular Detoxification Specialists. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 5(1), 20. https://doi.org/10.3390/medicines5010020
- Dydyk, A. M. (2022, June 21). Opioid Use Disorder. StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553166/
- Understanding Drug Overdoses and Deaths | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html
- Lin, J. G., Chan, Y. Y., & Chen, Y. H. (2012). Acupuncture for the treatment of opiate addiction. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM, 2012, 739045. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/739045
- Motlagh, F. E., Ibrahim, F., Rashid, R. A., Seghatoleslam, T., & Habil, H. (2016). Acupuncture therapy for drug addiction. Chinese medicine, 11, 16. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13020-016-0088-7
- Han J. S. (2004). Acupuncture and endorphins. Neuroscience Letters, 361(1-3), 258–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2003.12.019
Scott Friend, MSW, M.S.
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