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Rising Tide Natural Medicine
Liam McClintock, ND, MAcOM, DHANP
Naturopathic Doctor, Master Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine,
Board Certified in Homeopathy & Acupuncture

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Treating Addictions with Acupuncture

by Liam McClintock, ND, MAcOM

Chinese medicine has a long history of treating addictions, the most significant period since the Opium Wars of 1840.  After 150 years, and likely many more, the Chinese have perfected an effective system of treating all types of addictions with the use of acupuncture.  On the other hand, treatment of substance abuse in America continues to be a growing problem with few adequate solutions.  One conventional approach to treating addictions in America has been to replace addiction to one substance with addiction to other similar substances or addiction to the same substance with alternative modes of delivery.  In-patient facilities for treating addictions have proven costly with discouragingly high levels of recidivism (return to the addictive behavior).  Although these approaches occasionally lead to more socially acceptable behavior, they do little to remove the addictive behavior and solve the addiction problem in the long term.

Some experts say that virtually all Americans are addicted to some form of behavior, where addiction can be considered a dysfunctional or maladaptive behavior which affects a person's function in any area of life.  Ironically, addiction to substances that are legalized in America present some of the most difficult problems in treatment.  It is commonly recognized in detoxification clinics that withdrawal from alcohol addiction has the most severe symptoms compared with any other substance. Studies have shown acupuncture to be more effective than conventional methods in the treatment of alcohol dependence and withdrawal symptoms (such as delirium tremens), while maintaining a lower recidivism rate.1,2,3,4,5,6

Cigarette and other nicotine addictions have recently been the center of much debate, since the FDA began investigating tobacco manufacturers for adding the addictive substance to their products.  Many poly-substance abusers find that nicotine is more addictive than any other substance, including the much publicized opiate drugs such as opium, morphine, and heroin.  Despite tobacco manufacturers' claims that tobacco is neither addictive nor disease-causing, any user who has tried to quit after significant use can attest otherwise. There is also an abundance of research on the risks associated with cigarettes, including effects to fetuses, effects of secondary smoke, increased risk of emphysema and lung cancer (among a wide variety of other associated diseases), and the extremely addictive and toxic nature of nicotine.  Conventional therapy has focused on encouraging alternative modes of delivery of nicotine into the body in replacement of smoking, without addressing the addiction problem. Provided a person truly makes a commitment to stop smoking, acupuncture therapy is extremely effective at helping to reduce the cravings associated with withdrawal, encourage the lungs to clear out the residues left from years of smoking, and minimizing the weight gain and other effects commonly associated with quitting smoking.

Many studies have been conducted to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating opioid addiction (including opium, morphine, heroine, and methadone), cocaine addiction, and poly-substance abuse.  Conventional treatment of opiate chemical dependency involves substituting methadone addiction, which is admittedly much more difficult and costly from which to withdraw.7 Since addiction therapy likely evolved in China primarily to treat opium addiction, it is no wonder that the studies show a preponderance of positive and cost-effective results with acupuncture treatment.8,9  The more recent addiction problem of cocaine and crack-cocaine has also proven to be effectively treated with acupuncture.10,11,12  Additionally, acupuncture can be used safely and effectively to treat chemical dependency during pregnancy, where alcohol and cocaine are commonly the primary problems.13 One unpublished study even demonstrated an increase of birth weight in babies whose substance abusing mothers were treated with acupuncture.14 Many practitioners who have worked in drug addiction treatment have found that acupuncture therapy, combined with drug-free housing, is more effective at redirecting the addictive behavior than the more costly alternative of inpatient facilities.

It is difficult to dispute the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in treating addictive behavior.  This is particularly obvious when conventional treatment focuses on costly inpatient treatment and substitution of addictive substances with the same or similar substances.  Although currently less recognized in the conventional approach to treating substance abuse, acupuncture provides a superior solution to the difficult problem of addictions, which the studies bear out.


1.  Toteva, Sonya and Milanov, Ivan.  "The Use of Body Acupuncture for Treatment of Alcohol Dependence and Withdrawal Syndrome:  A Controlled Study".  American Journal of Acupuncture, v.24, n.1, pp.19-25, 1996.

 2.  Lane, Carolyn A.  "Final Report, 1988-89 Evaluation, Acupuncture Detoxification Demonstration Project, Hooper Center, Central City Concern".  Alcohol and Drug Program, Multnomah County, Oregon, October 1989.

 3.  Milanov, Ivan and Toteva, S.  "Acupuncture Treatment of Tremor in Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome".  American Journal of Acupuncture, v.21, n.4, pp.319-322, 1993.

 4.  Lao, He-Hon.  "A Retrospective Study on the Use of Acupuncture for the Prevention of Alcoholic Recidivism".  American Journal of Acupuncture, v.23, n.1, pp.29-33, 1995.

 5.  Bullock, Milton L., MD, et. al.  "Acupuncture Treatment of Alcoholic Recidivism: A Pilot Study".  Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research, v.11, n.3, pp.292-295, May/June 1987.

 6.  Bullock, Milton L., MD, et. al.  "Controlled Trial of Acupuncture of Acupuncture for Severe Recidivist Alcoholism".  The Lancet, pp.1435-1439, June 24, 1989.

 7.  Brumbaugh, A.  Transformation and Recovery.  Stillpoint Press:  Santa Barbara, 1993.

8.  Washburn, Allyson M, PhD. et. al.  "Acupuncture Heroin Detoxification:  A Single-Blind Clinical Trial".  Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, v.10, pp.345-351, 1993.

 9.  Newmeyer, J. A., et. al.  "Acupuncture as a Detoxification Modality".  Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, v.16, n.3, pp.241-261, 1984.

 10.  Margolin, Arthur, PhD, et. al.  "Acupuncture for the Treatment of Cocaine Dependence in Methadone-Maintained Patients".  The American Journal on Addictions, v.2, n.3, pp.194-201, 1993.

 11.  Avants, S. Kelly, PhD, et. al.  "Acupuncture for the Treatment of Cocaine Addiction".  Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, v.12, n.3, pp.195-205, 1995.

 12.  Lipton, Douglas S., PhD, et. al.  "Acupuncture for Crack-Cocaine Detoxification: Experimental Evaluation of Efficacy".  Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, v.11, n.3, pp.205-215, 1994.

 13.  Smith, M.O.  "Acupuncture as a Treatment for Drug Dependent Mothers". Testimony Presented to the New York City Council, April 11, 1988.

 14.  Smith, M.O.  "Relation of Maternal Treatment Involvement (i.e. Participation in Substance Abuse and Prenatal Services) to Infant Birth Weight". Unpublished report available from the Lincoln Clinic, Maternal Substance Abuse Services, 349 East 140th Street, Bronx, New York 10454.

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