Acupuncture for Addiction and Substance Abuse

Acupuncture for Addiction and Substance AbuseThe use of acupuncture in addiction treatment began in the 1970’s when Dr. Wen, a neurosurgeon in Hong Kong used it to treat postoperative pain in a man who also happened to be withdrawing from heroin. He noticed that the man’s withdrawal symptoms had disappeared. Wen subsequently began treating narcotic addiction with acupuncture and reports of his success reached Dr. Smith at New York’s Lincoln Hospital, who adopted the approach in the mid 1970’s for a methadone program. Smith and co-workers have refined the detox protocol into five ear points and founded the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). At the same time, the Haight-Asbury Free Clinic in San Francisco began to utilize acupuncture for the treatment of alcohol withdrawal and drug addiction. Since then, over the past 25 years, the number of facilities has grown steadily and is now estimated to be 1,200 in the US and over 4,000 worldwide. Programs utilizing this acupuncture protocol are located in county jails, maximum-security prisons, outpatient drug treatment programs, homeless shelters and mental health facilities. A 1997 National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel concluded that acupuncture should be part of a comprehensive management program for addiction.

A recent Yale study reported on a randomized controlled trial of ear acupuncture in cocaine-dependent subjects; 53.8% of those receiving the acupuncture treatment tested free of cocaine at the end of the study, compared with 23.5% and 9.1% in the two control groups. Those who completed the acupuncture treatment also had longer periods of sustained abstinence than participants in the control groups. Arthur Margolin, Ph.D., a research scientist at Yale’s Department of Psychiatry stated: “in addition to its effectiveness, acupuncture is a low cost treatment and has few, if any, side effects”. Margolin explains that acupuncture not only minimizes cravings and withdrawal discomforts, it has long-term benefits such as being less likely to return to drug use.

Research published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment from the Consortium Treatment center in Oregon, reveals that acupuncture detoxification had the following measurable outcomes among chronic offenders: increased patient retention, reduced number of arrests, more drug free urinalysis and decreased numbers of days needed for successful patient progress. Patients who had been involved with acupuncture programs for addiction had the following comments: “moods are less erratic”, “full of energy”, “headaches are gone”, “feeling less stress”, “since acupuncture I’ve stopped the craving”. Counselors have mentioned that those utilizing acupuncture come in more balanced emotionally and physically.

A publicly funded study at the Boston University in 1994 found that among the acupuncture clients, 18% were readmitted to detox with in six months compared with the 36% of non-acupuncture residential clients who were readmitted within six months. The study suggested there is great value for outpatient acupuncture programs as a component of a substance abuse treatment system. The authors further noted its usefulness when space in residential treatment programs is limited.

There has been substantial research done on why acupuncture assists addicts with recovery. Dr. Lewith, director of the Center for Complimentary Therapy and Integrated Medicine in Southhampton, UK explains that acupuncture helps with anxiety because it triggers the release of calming transmitters, which are like opiates. Scientific research has shown that addiction, withdrawal and recovery are all related to brain chemicals such as the opioid peptides and to stress-regulating hormones in the body. In a 2005 Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients it is documented that acupuncture increases levels of opioid peptides such as endorphins, substance P and cholecystokinin among many others. In addition, acupuncture may induce alterations in certain hormones including coritisol and ACTH to reduce stress.

Acupuncture More Common in Rehab for Addiction Recovery

The number of programs incorporating acupuncture is growing each year. Those in recovery need acupuncture to improve the quality of their recovery and reduce the risk of relapse. Acupuncture is especially attractive because it does not involve long-term administration of medications, which for a substance abuse addict is an especially positive aspect.

Many studies have documented the effectiveness of the NADA protocol. Among the benefits reported by patients and health care providers are:

  • Improved retention in drug treatment programs
  • Reductions in cravings and anxiety
  • Fewer episodes of sleep disturbance
  • Reduced need for pharmaceuticals
  • More optimistic attitudes about detoxification and recovery

Ranch Creek Recovery is a holistic and evidence based drug and alcohol addiction treatment provider that provides acupuncture for addiction and substance abuse recovery. To learn more and check availability, call Admissions at 877-997-8931