Acupuncture for Addiction: Is It Effective?

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Acupuncture for Addiction: Is It Effective?

Amidst the opioid and drug epidemic, there has never been a time more ripe for alternative therapies. Studies show that addiction treatment is more effective when addressed from a holistic perspective. By that, I mean therapy, counseling, group support, and medication in addition to traditional medicine. Moreover, meditation, yoga, music and art therapy. So why not acupuncture for addiction, as well?

In January of this year, a letter from the Joint Acupuncture Opioid Task Force Now Foundation and the American Society of Acupuncturists detailed multiple benefits from acupuncture treatment for opioid addiction.

“…acupuncture has the potential to reduce or even in some cases eliminate the need for opioids and non-opioid drugs while also helping to treat opioid addiction.”

Acupuncture in general can have many benefits, including pain relief and a reduction in stress. From a psychological perspective, acupuncture can also increase levels of a variety of chemical in the central nervous system, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, endrophin, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals are largely response for reward, pain management, and general feelings of well-being.


Some researchers contend that acupuncture can replace opioids by stimulating production of the body’s own “endogenous opioids”. In essence, acupuncture uses the body’s own chemicals to copy the benefits of synthetic opioids, such as Oxycontin or Vicodin.

The World Health Organization (WHO) accepted acupuncture as addiction treatment in 1996. This was following by acknowledgement from the National Institutes of Health in 1997, confirming that acupuncture was an acceptable alternative to modern medical treatment.

Currently, there may be more than 700 addiction treatment centers using acupuncture as alternative and/or adjunctive therapy.


While there may be many potential benefits to acupuncture therapy, the evidence on the efficacy of acupuncture is mixed and/or lacking. Earlier this year, the journal Chinese Medicine stated that there was a general lack of evidence that acupuncture for addiction was significantly effective.

Furthermore, mixed findings resulted from the recent aggregated study “Acupuncture Therapy for Drug Addiction“. It included 161 recent studies from 2000-2014. The studies were categorized based on how acupuncture was being used, and what substance addiction it was treating. You can follow the previous link to absorb as much detail as you can stand.

The authors admitted to flaws in the study, however, including variance among sample sizes, study protocols, and treatment duration.

Despite this, many studies appeared to reveal positive results. However, when come of these studies were replicated, there were only average or zero results that acupuncture showed a significant effect in the treatment of addiction.

The findings likely reveal that there may be benefit in acupuncture therapy for some. However, in general, acupuncture has yet to show significant value as a single treatment for addiction.


As a stand alone treatment for addiction, acupuncture is probably not scientifically viable at this point. However, as an adjunctive therapy (in conjunction with other treatments) it may yield greater effects.

The pain and stress relief reported from use the therapy may also help to decrease the number and amount of opioids prescribed – thus, reducing the chances of addiction or overdose.

Disclaimer: Just Believe Recovery does not currenly offer acupuncture therapy, although we may do so in the future. This article was intended for informational purposes only.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

Related: International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – June 26

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