Acupuncture for Addictions

by Nicole Murray, L.Ac., MSTOM

Patients at Beach Community Acupuncture and successfully use acupuncture to treat addiction, including:

  • alcohol
  • cigarettes and other tobacco
  • street drugs
  • prescription drugs
  • sugary and processed foods

In most cases, the practitioner will use a specific addictions protocol. Five needles are inserted in each ear, for a total of 10 needles. Upon insertion, there may be a stinging or warm sensation that quickly subsides. After all the needles are inserted, most patients report that they feel very calm and relaxed.


This addictions protocol works to:

  • Relieve withdrawal symptoms;
  • Aid general relaxation and homeostasis; and
  • Enhance mental and physical functioning.

This can be explained by the traditional functions of the points, and also by modern studies showing acupuncture causes endorphins to be released. The needles are retained for 45 minutes. It is most helpful, especially during detoxification, to get treatment as frequently as possible. We usually advise people to come daily for 10 days to start, then come as needed for maintenance and support.

About Acupuncture and Addictions

The treatment of addictions with acupuncture is a modern application of an ancient medicine. In 1974 at the Lincoln Recovery Center in the Bronx, clinicians started using acupuncture to help people get relief from symptoms associated with methadone withdrawal. Dr. Michael Smith of Lincoln Hospital developed a basic, still used five-point protocol of ear acupuncture to be used for any chemical dependency, from nicotine to crack cocaine, alcohol to heroin.

The results at the Lincoln Recovery Center were so promising that, in 1985, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) was established to educate clinicians about acupuncture and chemical dependency.

In 1985 research at the University of Minnesota and the Downstate Medical Center in the United States confirmed that acupuncture substantially reduced withdrawal symptoms and the craving for drugs. A subsequent study at the Lincoln Hospital in 1988 provided further evidence of the successful use of acupuncture for the treatment of opiate dependency.

A recent study conducted at an outpatient acupuncture addictions treatment program in Hamburg, Germany replicated promising results for the treatment of addictions with acupuncture. The results show “…a significant decrease of withdrawal symptoms, a slight improvement of the physical and mental state, and a reduction of alcohol and cocaine consumption.”

A randomized trial of 141 adults in treatment for smoking cessation showed that “Acupuncture and education, alone and in combination, significantly reduce smoking; however, combined they show a significantly greater effect.”



National Acupuncture Detoxification Association


Sources cited:

▪ Kolenda, J. A Brief History of Acupuncture for Detoxification in the United States. Acupuncture Today. September, 2000. Vol. 01, Issue 09.

▪ Schwartz, Michael, et al. The Value of Acupuncture Detoxification Programs in a Substance Abuse Treatment System. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. December 1999, Vol. 17, Issue 4. Pages 305-312.

▪ Margolin, A. et al. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Cocaine Addiction: a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2002 Jan 2;287(1):55-63.

▪ Bier, I et al. Auricular Acupuncture, Education, and Smoking Cessation: A Randomized, Sham-Controlled Trial. American Journal of Public Health. October 2002, Vol 92, No. 10. 1642-1647

▪ Verthein, U., Haasen, C., and Krausz, M. Auricular Acupuncture As a Treatment of Cocaine, Heroin, and Alcohol Addiction: A Pilot Study.



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