Although the practice of acupuncture is ancient, originating in China a few hundred years before the Common Era, it was only in the 1970’s when it was first used to treat withdrawal symptoms of drug addiction. The Hong Kong neurosurgeon Dr. Wen had discovered the benefits of acupuncture for addiction treatment when he used it to treat a patient with postoperative pain who also happened to be addicted to heroin and was suffering withdrawal symptoms at the time. While acupuncture dealt with the chronic pain symptoms, it also seemed to eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal. Upon making the connection, Wen went on to use acupuncture effectively for drug addiction treatment.

News of Dr. Wen’s success reached doctors in New York who went on to adopt the approach in the mid-70s for methadone programs. In the following decades, the practice has been refined and adapted for specific use in programs offered by addiction treatment centers with continuing efficacy. In the late 1970s, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association or NADA was founded by which time the protocols of the approach had been refined into five ear points as the main treatment areas for addiction.

How Acupuncture Works to Treat Drug Addiction

Although it is not completely understood how acupuncture works in treating drug and alcohol addiction although it is believed that it affects the dopaminergic system in the brain which is behind the creation of feelings of pleasure and euphoria. In general, people addicted to drugs will use to induce pleasant sensations and also to prevent them experiencing withdrawal. Acupuncture works by increasing both the positive and negative reinforcement of substance addiction to eliminate the need to use.

How acupuncture reinforces positive and negative properties of drugs is as follows:

  • The treatment reduces the amount of dopamine released when drugs are used which effectively diminishes their effect
  • Acupuncture also reinforces the soothing effect of drugs against withdrawal symptoms by inhibiting gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA neurons on the brain to conversely increase the release of dopamine.

Acupuncture to five points in the ear is used in addiction treatment and each targets a specific area:

Shen Men point: Also referred to as ‘heaven’s gate’ or because stimulation produces feelings of euphoria, the Shen Men point is located towards the top area of the ear, which in medical terminology is known as the ‘apex of the triangular fossa’. This acupuncture point is known for its healing properties in treating physical pain or conditions relating to the central nervous system.

Sympathetic Autonomic point: This is the point in the ear that affects certain areas of brain activity, hormone levels and also a person’s feelings of determination or as it’s more commonly known -willpower. Treatment to this area allows patients to find more clarity in their thought processes and restores a sense of optimism for the future, which is vital to a recovering addict.

Kidney point: There is a school of thought amongst acupuncture practitioners that the kidney point is the center of yin and yang in the body. Stimulating this area of the ear restores balance to the bodies systems such as the nervous, digestive and immune systems so that they function more effectively in the overall addiction healing process.

Liver point: Sustained or heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol can cause significant damage to the liver. However, it is the one major organ that is capable of regenerating in the right conditions and acupuncture can assist in healing the liver when applied to the part of the ear that deals with repairing cells and eliminating toxins.

Lung point: Stimulation to this area of the ear improves circulation and serves to oxygenate the body and lift feelings of grief, anxiety or depression.

Acupuncture Is Safe and Effective In Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment centers offering acupuncture for addiction treatment, like Ranch Creek Recovery, do so as part of a wider rehabilitation program and it provides tremendous benefits for successful recovery, even after years of substance abuse. When combined with other treatments and therapies such as support groups and counseling, the benefits of acupuncture are enormous for patients and include:

  • Eliminate cravings
  • Increases patient engagement in rehab
  • Eases unpleasant withdrawal symptoms in detox
  • Eases physical pain
  • Helps the person regulate emotions
  • Decreases anxiety and stress
  • Helps to regulate sleep
  • Significantly diminishes effects should a relapse occur