Acupuncture has been a therapeutic technique for thousands of years in China. It’s relatively new in the West. However, it’s now popular there as well. That includes acupuncture for alcoholism treatment. For this reason, it’s often offered as a treatment option.
- Acupuncture Theory
- Acupuncture for Alcoholism
- Acupuncture is Popular
I. Acupuncture Theory
The theory of acupuncture is simple. It’s that a balanced flow of a life energy (Ch’i) is essential for good health. Adherents say that Ch’i travels through pathways (meridians) in a person’s body. Practitioners believe that an imbalance of Ch’i causes medical problems. Acupuncturists insert thin needles into the patient’s body at various points on the meridians. This is to remove blockages of Ch’i.
II. Acupuncture for Alcoholism
Acupuncture for alcoholism typically uses needles inserted at from three to five locations on the outer ear. This is auricular acupuncture. Practitioners believe that these spots occur on meridians leading to parts of the body weakened from alcohol abuse. Practioners sometimes use other locations on the body.
Different schools of thought disagree about how many meridians there are. About where needles should be inserted. Whether ying and yang should also be used, etc. But a common belief is that different meridians connect to different organs.
Other methods are micro-acupuncture, manual acupuncture, electroacupuncture and acupressure. Many popular alternative healing methods use similar philosophies. They include reflexolgy, reiki, shiatsu, and Qi Gong. Alcohol rehabs commonly offer acupuncture or related procedures.
The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol most often involves auricular acupuncture treatments. They’re given to large groups of patients who sit together quietly for 45 minutes. Alcohol and drug courts often use the NADA protocol. So do some prisons, hospitals, refugee camps, and in other venues around the world.
Advocates of acupuncture suggest advantages of the procedure. They include these.
“As a non-verbal intervention, it helps in reaching resistant patients.
It reduces anxiety and agitation while facilitating calm and receptive behavior.
It helps develop an inner meditative core in even the most troubled and fearful persons.”1
III. Effectiveness of Acupuncture
People have used acupuncture for thousands of years. However, there is no medical evidence that it is helpful in treating alcohol or alcohol dependent persons. The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that acupuncture may help ease some pains. However, it warns that “many factors—like expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain.”2
In other words, acupuncture may be a placebo. That is, act as a “sugar pill.” Although not directly related to alcoholism, the Center reports that “Acupuncture has been promoted as a smoking cessation treatment since the 1970s, but research has not shown that it helps people quit the habit.”
A review of the research evidence reported this.
“Even though widely used in today’s clinical practice, acupuncture has remained a controversial subject. Many reviews are currently available but most lack a critical stance and some are overtly promotional.
The aim of this overview is to provide a balanced, critical analysis of the existing evidence. Some of the original concepts of traditional acupuncture are not supported by good scientific evidence. Several plausible theories attempt to explain how acupuncture works. But none are proved beyond doubt. The clinical effectiveness of acupuncture continues to attract controversy.
Many controlled clinical trials and numerous systematic reviews of these studies have been published. Considerable problems exist when interpreting these data. Heterogeneity is a significant drawback of both clinical trials and systematic reviews. Some of the controversies may be resolved through the use of the new ‘placebo needles’ which enable researchers to adequately control for placebo effects of acupuncture. The majority of studies using such devices fails to show effects beyond a placebo response. Acupuncture has been associated with serious adverse events but most large-scale studies suggest that these are probably rare. Nonserious adverse effects occur in 7-11% of all patients.
In conclusion, acupuncture remains steeped in controversy. Some findings are encouraging but others suggest that its clinical effects mainly depend on a placebo response.”3
IV. Acupuncture is Popular
There’s a lack of scientific medical or clinical evidence that acupuncture is effective. So the wide offering of the procedure results from market demand. That is, give customers what they want. (Not what works.)
Fortunately, there are many other options for those seeking either to abstain from alcohol or to reduce their drinking. There are programs based on scientific principles and evidence-based methods. Not on tradition, philosophy, or faith.
V. Resources on Acupuncture for Alcoholism
Brewington, V., et al. Acupuncture as a detoxification treatment. An analysis of controlled research. J Sub Abuse Treat, 1994, 11, 289–307.
Bullock, M., et al. Acupuncture treatment of alcoholic recidivism. Alco Clin Exper Res, 1987, 11, 292–295.
Bullock, M., et al. Controlled trial of acupuncture for severe recidivist alcoholism. Lancet, 1989, i, 1435–1439.
Cho, S., and Whang, W. Acupuncture for alcoholism. A systematic review. Alco Clin Exper Res, 2009, 33(8), 1305-1313.
Han, J., et al. Acupuncture. In: Lowinson, J., et al. (eds). Substance Abuse. Philadelphia: 2005.
Kaptchuk, T. Acupuncture: theory, efficacy, and practice. Ann Int Med, 2002 136(5), 374–383.
Kunz, S., et al. Ear acupuncture for alcohol withdrawal in comparison with aromatherapy. Alco Clin Experl Res, 2007, 31(3), 436-442.
Lewith, G., and Machin, D. On the evaluation of the clinical effects of acupuncture. Pain, 1983, 16, 111–127.
Margolin, A. Acupuncture for substance abuse. Curr Psych Rep, 2003, 5, 333-339.
Otto, K. Acupuncture and substance abuse. Am J Addict 2003, 12, 43–51.
Sapir-Weise, R. et al. Acupuncture for alcoholism treatment. Alco Alco, 1999, 34(4), 629-639.
Trumpler, F., et al. Acupuncture for alcohol withdrawal. Alco Alco, 2003, 38(4), 369-375.
Vincent, C. and Lewith, G. Placebo controls for acupuncture studies. J Royal Soc Med, 1995, 88, 199–202
Wen, H. Acupuncture and electrical stimulation (AES) outpatient detoxification. Mod Med Asia, 1979, 15, 39–43.
Worner, T., et al. Acupuncture fails to improve treatment outcome in alcoholics. Drug Alco Depend, 1992, 30(2), 169-173.
1. Smith, M. The Use of Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment Programs. Huffpost Healthy Living. 07/16/2012
2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture.
3. Ernst, E. Acupuncture. J Int Med, 2006, 259(2), 125-137
Disclaimer: This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about acupuncture for alcoholism or any other matter.