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Acupuncture For Addiction

Can acupuncture be an important and effective component of treatment for addiction?

While the science may not be conclusive, auricular acupuncture as certified by NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) is a growing option for those in addiction treatment.

And a new randomized prospective study to determine if auricular acupuncture plus traditional treatment enhance outcomes: quality of life, depression, anxiety and abstinence from substance abuse seems to show that among certain demographics, it is indeed effective.

“The neurochemical and behavioral evidence showed that acupuncture’s role in suppressing the reinforcing effects of abused drugs takes place by modulating mesolimbic dopamine neurons. Also, several brain neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, opioid and amino acids including GABA have been implicated in the modulation of dopamine release by acupuncture. These results provided clear evidence for the biological effects of acupuncture that ultimately may help us to understand how acupuncture can be used to treat abused drugs,” the study authors explain.

From my perspective, as someone who supports an emphasis on evidence-based treatment, auricular acupuncture is hands-down something for addiction treatment and mental health professionals to get excited about.

Although I don’t get to do as much hands-on ear acupuncture as I once did simply due to the nature of my work, I’ve found over the years that a 30-minute session of ear acupuncture leads to remarkable results. Generally, I recommend that it occurs after a group therapy session because this gives the patient time to sit and reflect on what happened in group. Also, it can be so relaxing that after acupuncture, patients might be so relaxed they’re sleepy.

One of the biggest challenges for those in the behavioral health fields is keeping patients engaged and coming to treatment. Ear acupuncture does just that. Despite the tiny pinch of the needle or needles, most patients report a sense of calm and relaxation (and a relief from withdrawal symptoms and cravings) after the needles have been inserted, and this relief can even remain for up to a few days after treatment.

I’ve had a few patients tell me directly that if it weren’t for auricular acupuncture, they wouldn’t have shown up for treatment after the first time. Today, it’s recognized that most patients in addiction treatment have co-occurring disorders–both a mental illness and an addiction. For example, even mild depression and anxiety can lead to substance abuse as people seek relief from their symptoms, and substance abuse exacerbates the existing mental illness, which leads to more substance abuse, and so on.

We are seeing more and more patients in treatment who were prescribed medication for severe pain and “suddenly” discovered that prescription opiates relieve anxiety or depression symptoms they didn’t even realize they had!

Acupuncture is a viable component, even a necessary component, of treatment which may help alleviate cravings and well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.



Acupuncture For Addiction

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2018). Acupuncture For Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2018
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