Acupuncture as a Method of Addiction Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation

Acupuncture as a Method of Addiction Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation

Acupuncture is an Eastern medicine technique that has been utilized for centuries. It has been used for various physiological issues in Asian culture but only more recently has entered the United States.

Since it’s induction into popular culture, use of Acupuncture has been broadening to treatment for many different health problems. Some of which include:

  1. Back and Neck Pain
  2. Sports Injuries
  3. Knee Injuries
  4. Fibromyalgia
  5. Headaches
  6. Digestive and Gynecological Problems

One of the uses that surprise most people is acupuncture as a method to treat symptoms of substance abuse withdrawal.

A Treatment Found by Mistake

It was 1970 and a neurosurgeon by the name of H.L. Wen, the only one in all of South China, was getting ready to use electro-acupuncture as a method of surgical analgesia. The patient who happened to be withdrawing from opium, reported a relief in symptoms of withdrawal. Wen immediately canceled the surgery and went looking for patients who were also experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. Wen utilized the same acupuncture treatment and found that these patients also experienced a reduction in symptoms. It was at this moment that acupuncture as a treatment for substance abuse withdrawal came into fruition.

How Can Acupuncture Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms?
  1. Physical withdrawal symptoms are reduced.
  2. Relieves: depression, anxiety, and insomnia brought on by withdrawal.
  3. Specific withdrawal symptoms include:
    • Cravings
    • Body Aches
    • Headache
    • Nausea
    • Sweating
    • Muscle Cramping


What exactly is Qi?

Qi, pronounced chee, is achieved by inserting needles into routes underneath the skin which are called ‘meridias’. The only translation for the word Qi, which is not exact, is ‘vital energy’. If Qi is working properly it protects the body and makes the transition from one body state to another smooth. Chinese medicine works under the assumption that sickness occurs when energy cannot flow through the meridas freely. The needles utilized in acupuncture work by unblocking the meridias and allowing Qi to flow freely.

How Does Acupuncture Treatment Work?

There are points in the ears that pertain to specific organs in relation to detoxification treatment. To be more specific, this includes: the liver, kidneys, lungs, and the nervous system. Needles are placed in each ear, which relate to each organ mentioned prior. The entire treatment takes approximately forty five minutes. This is a good time for the patient to relax, meditate and take this time to think about changes that need to occur in one’s life. One of the reasons that acupuncture helps to relieve symptoms, is because endorphins, a natural body chemical, are released. Endorphins can be called the ‘happy hormones’. Endorphins tend to reduce cravings, ease symptoms of withdrawal and also tend to increase feelings of relaxation.

How Do They Know Where to Stick Those Needles?

The Chinese have been utilizing the proper acupuncture points for years; however, it wasn’t until 1955 that Paul Nogier, a French doctor completed research on these positions. Dr. Nogier, when testing for electrical activity on the surface of the skin, found that all the traditional acupuncture points on the body had a parallel point on the human ear. From that point on, needle stimulation of the ear, otherwise known as auricular acupuncture has been used. This type of stimulation has particular benefit in substance abuse treatment as it allows for several treatments to take place simultaneously thus eliminating the need for privacy.

What Does the Treatment Feel Like?

When needles are placed in the inpidual’s ears, they may begin to feel warm or start to tingle. Some people do not feel anything and others may even fall asleep. Regardless of which response the person has, they are all natural and normal. Acupuncture is a treatment which will not reap immediate results. It is only after treatments taking place over time, that a true benefit will be felt. The important thing to remember is that it takes time for the treatments to show results.

What is the Detoxification Process?

The purpose of detoxification is to remove toxins from the blood stream that have been building up due to substance use. Your body is able to filter out the toxins that have been stored up. This improves the circulation of blood throughout the body. It is possible to feel out of sorts during this period. One may have aches and pains and may not be sleeping well. Some people have even reported dreaming about substance use. If any of these symptoms occur, it is advisable to let the acupuncturist know in order to alter the pressure points utilized or add additional points in.

Is Acupuncture Treatment a Sufficient Form of Substance Abuse Treatment?

No. Acupuncture is a wonderful complementary treatment to add on to traditional for substance abuse management. In order for substance abuse to be effectively dealt with, a whole team of professionals need to be incorporated. If an inpidual is interested in natural treatments such as acupuncture, it is advisable to locate a program that specializes in Holistic addiction treatments.

Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN


  1. Gori, L & Firenzuoli, F. (2007). Ear acupuncture in European traditional medicine.
  2. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. Sep;4(Suppl 1):13-6.
  3. Margolin A, Avants SK, Arnold R. (2005) Acupuncture and spirituality-focused group therapy for the treatment of HIV-positive drug users: a preliminary study.
  4. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. Dec;37(4):385-90.
  5. Tian X, Krishnan S. (2006). Efficacy of auricular acupressure as an adjuvant therapy in substance abuse treatment: a pilot study. Alternative Therapy Health Med. Jan-Feb;12(1):66-9.

Topic Discussion

  1. Addict

    I am surprised that there are no comments. I know first hand that properly administered acupuncture can produce the same effect of a low dose of morphine.. I experience it nearly 20 years ago when volun teers were solicited for a demonstration at my university. I supposed that the big pharma groups can't make enough on it to make it worth while. I found this piece becaue i am writing a paper on the use of acupuncture in drug addiction counseling.

    • Addict

      I had no idea that could even be possible, wow.

    • Addict

      I did heroin for a year and a half.Went on a methadone program for two years; Then I discovered acupuncture.This was back 1974.Acupuncture saved my life.To anyone thinking about using acupuncture do it.

      • Addict

        Dear Charli,

        I really need to know if you cured only with acupuncture.

        I know about the combination of methods rehab and acupuncture- that works.

        What about you conscious not using the drug?

        Close friend of mine is an alcoholic, i take him to acupuncture but he still buys booze and drinks and not really trying. Any suggestions?

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