Learn / Treating Addiction With Acupuncture

Treating Addiction With Acupuncture

Kayla Gill
 September 8th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Hannah Friedman

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing modality. And in recent decades, it’s also grown popular in the U.S. Millenia of use show that it can safely treat a wide variety of conditions.

Many rehabs offer acupuncture as part of a holistic approach to recovery. It isn’t meant to replace traditional options like talk therapy and medication, but it can still be an effective and important part of treatment. 

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).1 In most sessions, the practitioner inserts a number of small needles into your skin. Each needle is carefully placed to achieve a particular goal. Some practitioners also offer these alternative types of acupuncture:2

  • Electrical stimulation, also known as “electroacupuncture,” moves electrical pulses through the needles. One study found that this slowed down heart rate, increased relaxation and tranquility, and decreased tension and distress.
  • Laser acupuncture uses light instead of needles. This option may be best for people who don’t like needles, and it’s proven just as effective as traditional acupuncture.
  • During warm-needling, or heat acupuncture,3 the practitioner inserts warm needles into the body.

Acupuncturists are licensed professionals with extensive training. If you get acupuncture in rehab, you may have regular sessions throughout your time there. The clinician will likely create a long-term plan of care, and track your progress after each treatment. 

What Happens During an Acupuncture Session?

In your first acupuncture session,4 the practitioner will take your health history. You’ll describe any current symptoms, and they’ll perform a physical exam. During the session itself, your provider will use needles to stimulate acupuncture points. There are about 350 of these points located on 14 meridians on the body, each with a different purpose. The clinician will plan needle placement around your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. 

Next, you’ll lie down in a calm and quiet treatment room. The acupuncturist will insert needles into various parts of your body. These needles are much smaller than the ones used in most medical procedures. While you may feel some discomfort when they’re first put in place, the process is rarely painful.

In most acupuncture sessions, the provider will then leave you alone for 10-20 minutes. You can use this time to relax, meditate, or process any emotions that come up. Then the acupuncturist will return and remove the needles. They may ask you about your experience, or even perform another physical exam.

Because this is a holistic treatment, it can help you heal every aspect of yourself. This includes physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns. Acupuncturists aim to achieve this by improving the flow of qi, or vital energy.

What is Qi, and Why is it Important?

Acupuncture is based in the belief that the flow of vital energy through the body can impact your health. Acupuncturists refer to this vital energy as qi.4

Qi moves through the body via meridians, or distinct energetic channels. If the meridians get blocked, the flow of qi is interrupted. Acupuncture uses needles to break up these blockages. This helps qi flow freely again, and reach a state of equilibrium. Once your qi is in balance, you can reestablish physical and spiritual wellness. 

Side Effects and Limitations

Most people find that acupuncture doesn’t hurt.4 Some clients experience numbness or a small amount of pain or tingling. This is actually called “de-qi,” and may be a sign of successful treatment. If you’re a candidate for acupuncture, there is a very low risk of serious side effects. 

However, this treatment isn’t safe for everyone. You should avoid acupuncture4 if you have any of the following conditions: 

  • an active infection, especially involving the skin
  • cancer
  • a decreased white blood cell count
  • psychosis or delusions

Make sure you talk to your provider about any concerns before your first session. You can also consult with your doctor to make sure this treatment is safe for you.

Explore Acupuncture Treatment Centers

How Effective Is Acupuncture?

Experts have been using acupuncture to treat various health concerns for centuries. Despite this, Western scientists call for more scientific data on the subject. This is partly because the research that’s currently available shows promising results. 

Physical Health

Studies show that acupuncture is effective at treating many conditions,4 including the following:

  • back pain
  • knee pain
  • headaches
  • muscle pain
  • hot flashes
  • nausea and vomiting

It not only helps with ongoing issues; acupuncture can also treat acute pain.5 Research even suggests that for some clients, it can replace opioid use. This may be especially helpful for clients healing from addictions related to chronic pain.   

Mental Health

If you’re in addiction recovery acupuncture might be a viable alternative to prescription drugs.6 Data suggests this therapy can treat many diagnoses, like anxiety and depression. 

Acupuncture is especially good at alleviating depressive symptoms7 for clients who engage in ongoing treatment. This might even mean that you continue to get acupuncture after you leave rehab. 

Acupuncture for Addiction

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized acupuncture as a legitimate treatment for substance abuse8 in 1996. Today, over 700 rehab facilities offer acupuncture as part of addiction treatment.

One of those centers is The Hope House Scottsdale. “Addiction disconnects mind from body, so we work on reconnecting the two,” explains Brenna Gonzalez, clinical director. Her team uses acupuncture to help clients strengthen the connection between mind and body. This treatment can have a powerful impact on people in every stage of addiction recovery.

Detox and Withdrawal

Acupuncture can help reduce the severity of some withdrawal symptoms.6 It is especially helpful for emotional symptoms, like anxiety. More research is needed to determine whether acupuncture can help with the physical symptoms of detox.9 But because this treatment has few negative side effects, it may be worth trying in any stage of recovery.

Accessible Treatment

Auricular acupuncture, or “ear acupuncture,”10 uses needles to stimulate parts of the ear. This localized treatment lets clients stand and walk around during the session. It may be a good option if you can’t comfortably sit still for long periods. Research suggests that this type of acupuncture can effectively treat several types of addiction.8

Acupuncture Can Reduce Cravings and Prevent Relapse

Acupuncture may help the body find homeostasis6—a healthy state of biochemical balance. Experts believe that acupuncture can affect the same neurotransmitters that regulate addictive behavior. Treatment may minimize cravings, helping you guard against relapse.

Is Acupuncture for You?

Acupuncture is a powerful treatment method. This therapy balances your energy, helping you gather strength for your ongoing recovery journey. If you’d like to take a holistic approach to healing, this therapy might be a good fit. 

Browse our list of rehab programs that offer acupuncture to learn more about their amenities, treatment philosophies, and other alternative therapies.

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