Over the past several years, the use of acupuncture and auricular therapy to treat drug and alcohol addiction has become more widespread. The effectiveness of these techniques has been studied and validated, but additional research is needed. In the medical and scientific communities, there is a growing acceptance of these forms of treatment and the willingness of both the courts and managed care organizations to administer it through licensed practitioners.

Modern research suggests that effective acupuncture treatment results in myriad changes in vital body proteins that have the potential to reduce physical symptoms. These include indications that acupuncture mobilizes the opioid peptides (i.e. enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins) or enhances levels of other peptides such as substance P and cholecystokinin (CCK) among many others. It has also been suggested that acupuncture may bring about changes in certain hormones including cortical and ACTH for the reduction of the patient’s stress levels.

According to scientific studies, addiction, withdrawal, and recovery are interrelated to brain chemicals, such as the opioid peptides, and to stress-regulating hormones in the body. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed electrical devices used in auriculotherapy and the acupuncture needle to be medical devices. There is a growing body of research that validates the effectiveness of these techniques.

Acupuncture has been around for several millennia. Traditional Chinese healers seek to repair the balance between two opposing life forces in the human body that travel through meridians. This energy is known as Chi. Acupuncture modulates the overabundance or deficiency of CHI along meridians and this ancient practice stimulates certain points on the skin. It is performed with ultra fine needles that are manipulated manually or electrically.


As stated above, acupuncture has been used by ancient healers for thousands of years. Recently, Hsiang Lai Wen of Hong Kong successfully applied electrical stimulation to one point in the ear to alleviate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Inspired by this work, the American doctor Michael Smith first used the Wen protocol as part of a methadone program at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, New York. Over a period of several years, Smith and his colleagues refined the detox protocol into five ear points that are needled without electrical stimulation. To promote his ground-breaking work, Smith founded the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). For the past 25 years, the medical doctor has championed the use of acupuncture detox in a wide variety of clinical settings, which include county jails, maximum security prisons, outpatient drug treatment programs and homeless shelters.


The use of acupuncture to relieve the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal is especially attractive because it does not involve long-term use of medications. Additional studies for acupuncture or auricular therapy need to be conducted, especially in the field of stimulant withdrawal. All published reports to date suggest that all forms of acupuncture have the potential to be highly effective when combined with additional techniques, such as amino acid therapy (both oral and intravenous), psychotherapy, counseling, education, outreach to the family and reputable self-help groups. Addiction is a complex disease that is subject to relapse. People in recovery need more tools like acupuncture and auriculotherapy to improve their quality of life and guard against a return to the addictive behavior.


American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM)
433 Front St.
Catasauqua PA 18032
(610) 266-1433

American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA)
5820 Wilshire Blvd suite 500
Los Angeles CA 90036
(213) 937-5514

Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
1010 Wayne Ave.
Suite 1270
Silver Spring Md. 20910
(301) 608-9680

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