Acupuncture Treatment for Alcoholism & Substance Use Disorders

Is acupuncture treatment for alcoholism and other substance use disorders effective? To answer this, a systematic review was made. It  looked at the effects of acupuncture treatment for alcoholism and other substance disorders.1

The researchers examined 41 randomized trial studies. There were 5,227 subjects. Random effects meta-analyses were done.

No differences were found between those who received acupuncture and comparison groups. Those groups were sham acupuncture, treatment as usual, active interventions, and passive controls.

The researchers made their conclusion. ‘Available evidence suggests no consistent differences between acupuncture and comparators for substance use.’2

Background: Acupuncture Treatment for Alcoholism

Acupuncture has been used in China for thousands of years. It is now popular in the West.

Acupuncture is based on a belief that a life energy (Ch’i) travels through pathways (meridians) in the body. Medical problems result from an imbalance of Ch’i. Acupuncture involves inserting needles into the meridians to remove blockages of Ch’i.

acupuncture treatment for alcoholism

Auricular Acupuncture

Alcoholism treatment in the West typically involves inserting three to five needles in the outer ear. This is called auricular acupuncture.

Acupuncture is widely offered. Yet medical research has found no evidence that it is useful in treating alcoholism or any other addiction.

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is a government agency. It reports that acupuncture may help ease some pains as a placebo. That is, it may act as a ‘sugar pill.’

It also reports that ‘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.’3 Those serious events include death.

The wide availability of acupuncture appears to be based on market demand. That is, ‘give customers what they want.’ For more about this problem, visit Alcohol/Drug Retreats & Rehabs: Often More about Money than Helping People.


  1. Grant, S., et al.  Kandrack R, Motala A, Shanman R, Booth M, Miles J, Sorbero M, Hempel S. Acupuncture for substance use disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016, ePub(ePub). ePub. DOI  10.1016/j. drugalcdep.2016.02.034.
  2. Ibid.
  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture: What You Need to Know.