The Role of Acupuncture in Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Acupuncture is one of the most popular alternative therapies for treating substance and alcohol use disorders. This ancient practice has been gaining popularity in the West in recent years. Acupuncture has many benefits, including reducing pain, improving sleep, boosting the immune system, and calming anxiety. 

Luxury rehab centers often use this therapy to help patients with withdrawal symptoms and cravings during detox and relaxation during rehabilitation. Despite its reputation as physical treatment, acupuncture can help heal on spiritual, psychological, and emotional levels.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for centuries to treat various conditions. It involves placing thin, sterilized needles inserted into the skin along the body's surface at places called meridians. 

There are two schools of thought on this practice: Acupuncturists and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. Acupuncturists believe that a blockage causes disease and pain in the flow of qi, which can also be called life force. On the other hand, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that a blockage causes illness and pain in the flow of blood, lymph, and other bodily fluids.

Acupuncture triggers neurohormonal responses such as the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals that alleviate physical sensations while soothing the mind. It is also thought to improve blood circulation and promote healing. The needles are placed at specific points close to the end of these meridians to release the energy flow.


Research has shown that the primary benefit of acupuncture is stimulating the central nervous system. It also improves blood circulation, which boosts the immune system and helps cells rejuvenate. 

Acupuncture is a very safe procedure, and most people report feeling relaxed during the session. Some patients experience a slight increase in pain when acupuncture needles are inserted, but most people say the procedure causes only minor discomfort.

There is scientific evidence that supports the use of acupuncture for certain conditions, like headaches, allergies, and sleep issues. However, most Western countries still consider it a complementary or alternative therapy. It may also help with weight loss, fertility issues, muscle recovery, and athletic performance. 

Acupuncture is effectively applied to treat sports-related injuries, cramps, aches, and joint stiffness, among other complaints. Some experts suggest acupuncture as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. 

A Brief Look at the Origins and Progression of Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been a treatment method since before the dawn of recorded history. According to acupuncture's historical accounts, abscesses were pierced and drained with sharp-edged implements and stones in the Stone Age. 

Huang Di Nei Jing, or The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, was an ancient Chinese medical book that first documented acupuncture. 

Modern acupuncture may trace its roots back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the foundational text, The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion, was published. By the sixth century, when travel was more accessible, acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) had made their way to Japan.

Acupuncture has been used in the Western world since the 17th century. However, it wasn't recorded until 1810 in Europe. Chinese acupuncture first became popular in the United States when President Nixon discovered it on a visit to China in 1972. 

In 1996, the FDA officially classified acupuncture needles as legitimate medical equipment. In 1997, the National Institute of Health officially acknowledged acupuncture as a viable therapy option for many medical conditions. More clinical research is emerging showing the efficacy of acupuncture and its viability as a recovery treatment for addictions.

How Does It Feel to Have an Acupuncture Treatment? 

Needles used in acupuncture are hardly thicker than a human hair. When placed at a point within a meridian, they may cause patients to feel a dull aching or a little pressure. During the procedure, needles may be subjected to heat or a tiny electric current. 

Acupuncture has been said to provide some individuals with a renewed sense of vitality, while others report feeling the opposite and calm. When a needle is placed incorrectly, it may be uncomfortable for the patient. 

Needles must be sanitized before use to avoid spreading disease. That's why it's crucial to see a skilled acupuncturist for treatment. Reasonable manufacturing procedures and single-use sterility requirements are applied to acupuncture needles by the FDA, just like other medical products. 

Acupuncture points may also be stimulated without the use of needles in a variety of ways:

  • Electromagnetic energy bursts
  • Heat (moxibustion)
  • Friction
  • Pressure (acupressure)
  • Suction (cupping)

How Effective Is Acupuncture for Addiction Recovery?

Nowadays, acupuncture is chosen as a popular therapy for alcohol and drug rehabilitation efforts to help sufferers cope with painful physical symptoms and regain control of their lives.

Treatment with acupuncture appears to have a bidirectional effect on neurotransmitters implicated in drug-seeking and mesolimbic (reward) dopamine pathway dysfunctions. In this way, it provides the underlying effectiveness of acupuncture in holistic recovery from drug addiction. Many attempts have been made to cure drug addiction, yet relapse rates remain high. 

Functional problems, such as substance use disorder, may respond well to acupuncture treatment. Research using neuroimaging techniques has shown that acupuncture can stimulate neuronal activity in brain regions responsible for addictive behavior. 

Acupuncture aims to restore biological equilibrium by altering brain reward networks and controlling neurotransmitters that drive addictive behavior. The sensitivity of specific brain circuits to drugs and drug-related stimuli might lead to drug cravings. 

The amygdala acts as a mediator between the drug and the brain's arousal-stress system. Researchers studying addiction have shown that stress systems in the brain have a detrimental role in reinforcing drug-seeking behaviors. Acute drug withdrawal is characterized by a lack of desire, which may be caused partly by the activation of the brain's stress system. 

Acupuncture's positive effects on reward function and mood effectively reduce drug desire and relapse. Neurotransmitters and receptors for dopamine and adrenaline are both controlled by acupuncture, as are those for stress. 

There have been positive results in clinical trials for people with cocaine addiction, and the holistic approach has proved beneficial in reducing cravings in others with opioid addiction. 

Yin and Yang Theory and NADA Protocol (Auricular Acupuncture)

By keeping the complementary but opposed energies of Yin and Yang in equilibrium, Oriental medicine promotes a state of optimal health. When these two energies are out of sync and harmony, it manifests as illness. 

The ability of acupuncture to restore equilibrium by modulating and harmonizing Yin and Yang is proven in clinical settings. Shen Men, an auricular (ear) acupuncture point, has been the focus of several studies because of its effectiveness in treating addiction.

The NADA protocol, a form of acupuncture developed by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, is a valuable treatment for overcoming substance use disorders. 

The NADA protocol was developed at Lincoln Detox in the Bronx, New York, in the 1970s. NADA acupuncture sessions last 30-45 minutes. Needles are inserted at the following five points to complete the acupuncture protocol: 

  • The Shen Men point, sometimes called the "Divine Point" or the "Heavenly/Spirit Gate," is said to have a sedative impact on the body and psyche. It may aid in pain relief, cleansing, and energizing other specific points. 
  • The lung ear point eases a person's emotional release and increases breathing capacity. 
  • The sympathetic acupuncture point aids in the regulation of the autonomic nervous system's sympathetic (controls the "fight or flight" reaction) and parasympathetic (keeps you relaxed and digesting food) systems because it relaxes the muscles around the blood vessels and helps with pain. 
  • The liver ear point aids in detoxification from substance abuse and blood purification. Additionally, many individuals report feeling less aggression and self-assurance after its stimulation. 
  • The kidney point enhances internal organ health and reduces anxiety.

Why Detox and Rehab Works

For people struggling with substance or alcohol use disorder, detox and rehabilitation are two distinct but sometimes indispensable components of addiction recovery for many reasons. 

Detox helps rid the body of harmful substances from prolonged addiction. A medically supervised detox process can also help reduce the risk of further health complications. 

The rehabilitation following the detox stage of treatment provides a structured and supportive environment to begin the course of recovery. Thus, rehab can be invaluable for those who want to live healthier lives without drugs and alcohol and change their behavior. 

Together, detox and rehab provide individuals with the tools and knowledge to overcome their alcohol or substance use disorder and maintain long-term sobriety.

Supplemental therapies like acupuncture, particularly the NADA protocol, may help treat addiction when combined with therapeutic options that consider a patient's unique needs, such as the comprehensive, customized treatment plans at addiction recovery centers like Wish Recovery

It has also been shown that acupuncture may help treat compulsive gambling and overeating. Acupuncture may relax people, help them sleep better, and lessen their tension and anxiety. Patients who are open to and invested in their treatment receive the most significant benefits from acupuncture therapy.

Contact us today to learn more about acupuncture at our luxury rehab center.

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