Learn / Treating Addiction With Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing modality. And in recent decades, it’s also grown popular in the U.S. Millenia of use show that it can safely treat a wide variety of conditions.
Many rehabs offer acupuncture as part of a holistic approach to recovery. It isn’t meant to replace traditional options like talk therapy and medication, but it can still be an effective and important part of treatment.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).1 In most sessions, the practitioner inserts a number of small needles into your skin. Each needle is carefully placed to achieve a particular goal. Some practitioners also offer these alternative types of acupuncture:2
Acupuncturists are licensed professionals with extensive training. If you get acupuncture in rehab, you may have regular sessions throughout your time there. The clinician will likely create a long-term plan of care, and track your progress after each treatment.
In your first acupuncture session,4 the practitioner will take your health history. You’ll describe any current symptoms, and they’ll perform a physical exam. During the session itself, your provider will use needles to stimulate acupuncture points. There are about 350 of these points located on 14 meridians on the body, each with a different purpose. The clinician will plan needle placement around your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
Next, you’ll lie down in a calm and quiet treatment room. The acupuncturist will insert needles into various parts of your body. These needles are much smaller than the ones used in most medical procedures. While you may feel some discomfort when they’re first put in place, the process is rarely painful.
In most acupuncture sessions, the provider will then leave you alone for 10-20 minutes. You can use this time to relax, meditate, or process any emotions that come up. Then the acupuncturist will return and remove the needles. They may ask you about your experience, or even perform another physical exam.
Because this is a holistic treatment, it can help you heal every aspect of yourself. This includes physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns. Acupuncturists aim to achieve this by improving the flow of qi, or vital energy.
Acupuncture is based in the belief that the flow of vital energy through the body can impact your health. Acupuncturists refer to this vital energy as qi.4
Qi moves through the body via meridians, or distinct energetic channels. If the meridians get blocked, the flow of qi is interrupted. Acupuncture uses needles to break up these blockages. This helps qi flow freely again, and reach a state of equilibrium. Once your qi is in balance, you can reestablish physical and spiritual wellness.
Most people find that acupuncture doesn’t hurt.4 Some clients experience numbness or a small amount of pain or tingling. This is actually called “de-qi,” and may be a sign of successful treatment. If you’re a candidate for acupuncture, there is a very low risk of serious side effects.
However, this treatment isn’t safe for everyone. You should avoid acupuncture4 if you have any of the following conditions:
Make sure you talk to your provider about any concerns before your first session. You can also consult with your doctor to make sure this treatment is safe for you.
Experts have been using acupuncture to treat various health concerns for centuries. Despite this, Western scientists call for more scientific data on the subject. This is partly because the research that’s currently available shows promising results.
Studies show that acupuncture is effective at treating many conditions,4 including the following:
It not only helps with ongoing issues; acupuncture can also treat acute pain.5 Research even suggests that for some clients, it can replace opioid use. This may be especially helpful for clients healing from addictions related to chronic pain.
If you’re in addiction recovery acupuncture might be a viable alternative to prescription drugs.6 Data suggests this therapy can treat many diagnoses, like anxiety and depression.
Acupuncture is especially good at alleviating depressive symptoms7 for clients who engage in ongoing treatment. This might even mean that you continue to get acupuncture after you leave rehab.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized acupuncture as a legitimate treatment for substance abuse8 in 1996. Today, over 700 rehab facilities offer acupuncture as part of addiction treatment.
One of those centers is The Hope House Scottsdale. “Addiction disconnects mind from body, so we work on reconnecting the two,” explains Brenna Gonzalez, clinical director. Her team uses acupuncture to help clients strengthen the connection between mind and body. This treatment can have a powerful impact on people in every stage of addiction recovery.
Acupuncture can help reduce the severity of some withdrawal symptoms.6 It is especially helpful for emotional symptoms, like anxiety. More research is needed to determine whether acupuncture can help with the physical symptoms of detox.9 But because this treatment has few negative side effects, it may be worth trying in any stage of recovery.
Auricular acupuncture, or “ear acupuncture,”10 uses needles to stimulate parts of the ear. This localized treatment lets clients stand and walk around during the session. It may be a good option if you can’t comfortably sit still for long periods. Research suggests that this type of acupuncture can effectively treat several types of addiction.8
Acupuncture may help the body find homeostasis6—a healthy state of biochemical balance. Experts believe that acupuncture can affect the same neurotransmitters that regulate addictive behavior. Treatment may minimize cravings, helping you guard against relapse.
Acupuncture is a powerful treatment method. This therapy balances your energy, helping you gather strength for your ongoing recovery journey. If you’d like to take a holistic approach to healing, this therapy might be a good fit.
Browse our list of rehab programs that offer acupuncture to learn more about their amenities, treatment philosophies, and other alternative therapies.
Acupuncture: In depth. (n.d.). NCCIH. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture-in-depth
Hao, J. J., & Mittelman, M. (2014). Acupuncture: Past, present, and future. Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 3(4), 6–8. https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2014.042
Lee, T.-C., Cheng, T.-L., Chen, W.-J., & Lo, L.-C. (2013). On the hazard caused by the heat of acupuncture needles in warm needling(溫針Wēn Zhēn). Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 3(2), 119–125. https://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.110410
Van Hal, M., Dydyk, A. M., & Green, M. S. (2022). Acupuncture. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532287/
Nielsen, A., Dusek, J., Taylor-Swanson, L., & Tick, H. (2022). Acupuncture therapy as an evidence-based nonpharmacologic strategy for comprehensive acute pain care: The academic consortium pain task force white paper update. Pain Medicine (Malden, Mass.), pnac056. https://doi.org/10.1093/pm/pnac056
Lee, M. Y., Lee, B. H., Kim, H. Y., & Yang, C. H. (2021). Bidirectional role of acupuncture in the treatment of drug addiction. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 126, 382–397. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2021.04.004
Armour, M., Smith, C. A., Wang, L.-Q., Naidoo, D., Yang, G.-Y., MacPherson, H., Lee, M. S., & Hay, P. (2019). Acupuncture for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8(8), 1140. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm8081140
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
Ge, S., Lan, J., Yi, Q., Wen, H., Lu, L., & Tang, C. (2020). Acupuncture for illicit drug withdrawal syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 35, 101096. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eujim.2020.101096
Auricular acupuncture—An overview | sciencedirect topics. (n.d.). Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/auricular-acupuncture
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