Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the use of thin needles inserted into the skin at various points on the body. The process stimulates the flow of energy (“qi” or “chee”) and restores your body’s balance.

Acupuncture is often used as a complementary treatment in addiction therapy as it helps stimulate the central nervous system, releasing essential neurotransmitters as well as alleviating stress and anxiety.


Understanding Addiction

Addiction is complex and multilayered. What’s more, it can manifest in different ways. There are substance-related addictions and behavioral addictions.

Substance-Related Addictions

Substance-related addictions are characterized by an addiction to a substance, such as alcohol or drugs. Drug addictions include opioids, cocaine, nicotine, heroin, and prescription drugs.

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions are characterized by an addiction to a behavior. Some behavioral addictions include gambling, the internet, video games, shopping (compulsive buying disorder), and sex.

Conventional Treatment Approaches

Many of the conventional treatment approaches for substance and behavioral addictions focus on behavioral therapies, counseling, support groups, and medication.

  • Detox: Before treatment plans begin, individuals are encouraged to detox. This applies to substance-related addictions. Many people with a severe addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Behavioral Therapies: After detox and an initial assessment, healthcare professionals typically put together a customized treatment plan. This includes individual counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
  • Support Groups: Many individuals going through treatment programs are well served by support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). The supportive peer environment can help lessen feelings of isolation.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): Healthcare professionals may prescribe medication to reduce cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms.

In both categories of addiction, the focus is to provide clients with coping skills to prevent relapses.

Historical Context of Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment

Acupuncture, a branch of Chinese medicine, dates back thousands of years and is based on balancing the “qi” or energy in your body along the 12 main channels called meridians. If this flow is disrupted for any reason, health problems ensue. The practice of acupuncture goes as far back as 6000 BCE, where long, sharp bones were used instead of needles.

Today, acupuncturists use very thin needles to penetrate your skin. The needles may be heated or may have a small electric current. Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate your central nervous system, which then sends out chemicals to the brain, muscles, and spinal cord. Acupuncturists believe this process helps stimulate the body’s healing process.

Historical Use

Historically, the Chinese used acupuncture predominantly for pain relief, such as recurrent headaches, muscle pain, and joint pain. Beyond alleviating physical discomfort, acupuncture was also used to address internal organ issues, including respiratory and digestive problems. People turned to acupuncture to improve their mental and emotional well-being as well, for issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, and even addiction.

Principles of Acupuncture

In Chinese medicine, the body functions at its peak when there is balance and harmony. The principles of acupuncture include:

  • Qi (pronounced “chee:): Qi is defined as your “life flow” or the ebb and flow between yin and yang. When this flow is disrupted, you may experience pain or illness.
  • Yin and Yang: These forces represent complementary opposites. Yin is characterized as passive and cool whereas yang is characterized as active and fiery. The two opposing forces need to be in balance for optimal health.
  • The Five Elements: The five elements in Chinese medicine are Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal, and Water. Each of these elements is related to our organs and our emotions.
  • Meridians: Acupuncturists believe the body has 12 meridians or channels, and each meridian has its own Qi.

How Acupuncture Influences the Body and Mind

Acupuncturists insert thin needles into specific points along one of your meridian channels. This stimulates the central nervous system to release chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, that aid in restoring balance to your body.

In addition, the practice is said to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Acupuncture in Addiction Therapy

Acupuncture techniques play a valuable role in addiction treatment, helping individuals in their recovery from both behavioral and substance-related dependencies. Here are some ways acupuncture is used in addiction treatment:

  • Helps With Withdrawal Symptoms: Acupuncture helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms by soothing the central nervous system. This technique is beneficial in addressing specific withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.
  • Helps With Cravings: Acupuncture activates the central nervous system, prompting the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin. This process helps diminish cravings for substances such as alcohol and drugs.
  • Reduces Stress: By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, acupuncture can help reduce stress, which is often a trigger for relapse.
  • Improves Emotional Well-Being: The practice of acupuncture can help improve the emotional well-being of many. This holistic approach helps with mood swings and depression.
  • Balances Energy Flow: Chinese medicine focuses on restoring the body’s flow and energy. Through this process of rebalancing, acupuncture fosters physical well-being.

Research and Efficacy

While some scientific research shows clear benefits of using acupuncture in treating addiction, overall, the evidence is mixed. Still, in 1996, the WHO accepted acupuncture as a treatment for drug abuse, and over 700 addiction treatment centers use acupuncture as a form of treatment.

As mentioned, acupuncture is said to stimulate the central nervous system into releasing chemicals, such as enkephalin, epinephrine, endorphin, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. These feel-good neurotransmitters can help restore the body’s deficiencies after years of drug or alcohol abuse.

Auricular acupuncture, or ear acupuncture, is said to be effective in treating drug and alcohol abuse in both the United States and Europe.

On the other hand, several studies have shown that acupuncture has little to no effect on addiction disorders. Separate studies on cocaine, opiates, and nicotine were performed on human subjects with little to no evidence that acupuncture helped.

These studies may be limited as variations in acupuncture techniques have not been accounted for. Still, while acupuncture may not be effective as a standalone treatment, its stress and anxiety-reducing effects make it a good candidate as a complementary form of treatment.

Integrating Acupuncture with Conventional Addiction Treatment

Although acupuncture shouldn’t be a standalone treatment for addiction, it can complement traditional addiction treatment plans by addressing some issues.

  • Helps With Withdrawal Symptoms: Individuals going through detox may suffer excruciating withdrawal symptoms. While some of the withdrawal symptoms can be alleviated with medication, acupuncture can help smooth the detox process by alleviating anxiety and insomnia.
  • Reduces Stress: While psychotherapy teaches clients essential coping skills to fight triggers like stress, acupuncture complements these efforts by reducing stress.
  • Promotes Emotional Well-Being: Mood swings and depression are common symptoms among individuals in addiction treatment programs. Acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, releasing neurotransmitters associated with positive emotions.
  • Mindfulness: The practice of acupuncture allows individuals to focus on the mind-body connection, encouraging them to live in the present moment.
  • Helps With Medication-Assisted Treatments: Some individuals need medication, such as Antabuse, to fight cravings. Although there is little evidence that acupuncture reduces cravings, it can still play a role in fostering a sense of well-being, offering complementary support to medications.

Challenges and Considerations

When combined with traditional treatment methods, acupuncture provides a range of benefits. However, there are still challenges in using acupuncture for treating addiction.

Due to the limited scientific evidence, there is skepticism within the medical professional world on whether acupuncture is effective. This skepticism limits its widespread adoption. As a result, acupuncture isn’t readily available for everyone. It is often limited to bigger cities and urban areas.

Acupuncture is considered alternative medicine, and most of the Western world has had limited success in integrating it into their mainstream healthcare system.

In addition, as acupuncturists vary in their skill levels, there isn’t a standard technique that has been implemented. This variation can produce different results. There are also varying licensing and regulatory requirements, which can lead to concerns.

Finally, on the client side, there may be a reluctance to try acupuncture due to a lack of knowledge of Chinese medicine and its principles.


While the use of acupuncture in treating addiction hasn’t been fully embraced by the medical community, there is some evidence that it works as a complementary form of treatment to traditional treatment plans. Acupuncture provides a holistic view of addiction recovery, enabling individuals to recover physically, mentally, and emotionally.

To find out more about acupuncture in addiction treatment, contact us at Allure Detox. Our team can help you on your recovery journey. We offer acupuncture, yoga, chiropractic care, holistic therapy, massage therapy, and more.



Published on: 2020-04-19
Updated on: 2023-12-27

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