Due to the complexity of alcohol addiction, which can have an impact on many parts of an individual’s life, it can be helpful to have an equally complex treatment plan.

These can involve a range of therapies and activities designed to facilitate and aid their recovery.

In this blog, we will talk about acupuncture, an alternative therapy which has been shown to be a highly effective treatment in supporting those suffering from addiction.

What is Acupuncture?

A person with clasped hands, thinking

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine said to assist with physical and psychological health, which has been used to deal with a multitude of issues from nausea to dental pain to depression and anxiety.

Acupuncture treatment usually involves the insertion of very fine, sterilised needles, which are a few centimetres long, into the skin at certain ‘pressure points’ before sitting quietly and still in a meditative state for twenty to forty minutes.

The desired effects are usually the alleviation of pain, the relaxation of the body and the promotion of a general feeling of well-being.

Traditional Chinese medicine dictates that the body has twelve meridians, which are pathways along which life energy, called ‘qi’, flows. Acupuncture is designed to target these meridians, regulating and balancing the flow of ‘qi’ in the body.

While this may sound suspect from a modern Western perspective, acupuncture has not only been practised for thousands of years, but is today recognised by the World Health Organisation and the National Institute of Health. [1] [2]

How does Acupuncture Work?


The main effects of acupuncture are found in the body’s nervous system, which transmits messages between the brain and body, coordinating sensations and actions. The insertion of needles stimulates blood flow and prompts the release of endorphins, which are hormones which can alleviate pain.

For someone dealing with addiction, an increased level of endorphins can minimise cravings and reduce withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, acupuncture has effects on the body’s levels of serotonin and dopamine, ‘happy’ chemicals which contribute to the brain processes associated with addiction.

It is important to understand that research on the full extent of the effects of acupuncture is ongoing, with many claims under close scrutiny in the broader scientific community.

What are the Benefits of Acupuncture for Addiction?

Older woman smiling

Seeking acupuncture for addiction can bring an abundance of benefits for an individual, but some of the most significant include:

  • A decrease in levels of stress and anxiety, promoting a greater sense of calm and reducing the severity of panic attacks.
  • Less severe withdrawal symptoms which are easier to manage.
  • A reduction in both the acuteness and frequency of cravings, reducing the risk of a relapse.
  • An improvement to sleep quality and regularity, leading to individuals feeling more energised, well-rested and refreshed.
  • A decreased chance of requiring prescribed medication during a detox.
  • Lower levels of depression, anger and hostility, and a decrease in the intensity of mood swings.
  • Greater feelings of empowerment and control, promoting general wellbeing and confidence and therefore enabling positive changes.

Who are the NADA?

The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) is an organisation which “trains people in the NADA protocol, an ear acupressure and acupuncture intervention for trauma, substance misuse, abuse, dependence and related behavioural and mental health conditions”. [3]

Their practice, which is founded on the research of Chinese neurosurgeon, H.L. Wen, was developed in the 1970s when acupuncture was first used as a form of addiction treatment at the Lincoln memorial hospital in New York.

At this hospital, acupuncture was found to be such an effective treatment for patients experiencing opiate addiction that in some cases it was prescribed over the medication methadone, a man-made opiate which can reduce cravings.

What is the NADA Protocol?

The NADA protocol is a practice which involves inserting five very small, sterilised, disposable needles into specific points in the ear before resting in a still, quiet, and sometimes even darkened space for 20-40 minutes, allowing a slowing of the heart rate and a drop in blood pressure

The five key meridians supposed to be targeted by this practice are:

  • The Sympathetic Meridian: Supposed to relax the body and soothe the nervous system
  • The Shen Men (or “Divine Point”): Supposed to promote sensations of calm and reduce pain, insomnia and cravings
  • The Kidney Meridian: Supposed to promote healing and soothe fear
  • The Liver Meridian: Supposed to help the body to detoxify and ease feelings of anger or depression
  • The Lung Meridian: Supposed to help the body to detoxify and create a calming emotional release

Can Other forms of Acupuncture be used to Treat Addiction?

A man sweating

Whilst a large share of the research on acupuncture in relation to addiction has focussed on the use of auricular acupuncture (acupuncture of the ear), other forms have also proven to be beneficial for those recovering from addiction.

Body acupuncture, when the needles are inserted into other pressure points across the body, can yield similar benefits to auricular acupuncture, and can also be helpful in easing specific pain or discomfort which might be a trigger for addiction or caused by withdrawal.

Another form of acupuncture which can be beneficial for patients recovering from addiction is electroacupuncture, which makes use of small electrical currents in the place of needles.

This form is believed to increase levels of endorphins and can be a good option for patients who are uncomfortable about the use of needles.

How Does Acupuncture Help Addiction?

Not only can acupuncture support addiction recovery during the detox and healing stage, but it can help an individual to develop the skills and strength to maintain a life of sobriety after addiction.

The endorphins released during acupuncture are the key to its success in treating addiction:

Firstly, the release of relaxation and pleasure which endorphins cause can help individuals experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, restlessness or nausea to effectively manage these symptoms.

This in turn means that individuals undergoing treatment will find it easier to stay calm and focussed on recovery and avoid relapse.

Secondly, it is believed that the pleasure or “buzz” that makes substances addictive is minimised by the release or endorphins, meaning that the individual is likely to find it easier to resist temptation and stay in recovery.

For maximum effectiveness, acupuncture should always be used as a supporting treatment when dealing with addiction and never as a sole treatment.

However, as a cheap and safe procedure which brings numerous benefits to many who try it, it is very much worth considering.

Which Treatments can be used Alongside Acupuncture?

Women talking 1-1

One of the main benefits of acupuncture is that, as it is a non-chemical treatment and an alternative therapy, it does not offer negative side effects or clash with any medications.

Acupuncture is most effective when combined with talking therapies such as counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

It can also be combined with other alternative therapies such as art therapy, mindfulness or yoga, and many people also choose to pursue it alongside completing the 12-step programme.

Where Will I be able to Find Acupuncture for Addiction?

As it is a holistic therapy, acupuncture is not offered at all treatment and rehabilitation centres. However, it is often offered as a part of a broader treatment plan by recovery centres with a focus on using alternative therapies to promote broader healing.

What Can I Expect at an Acupuncture Session?

An acupuncture session will usually be arranged after a consultation with a specialist to determine whether acupuncture is the right treatment choice for the patient’s medical needs. This is also a good chance for the patient to open up about any particular anxieties or reservations.

Acupuncture is most often effective as part of a course of treatment sessions, sometimes even in groups, and can last several weeks. However, one-off sessions are still available and beneficial.

The acupuncture practitioner may commence the appointment with an application of ointment or a massage, before inserting needles into the relevant points of the body, where they can be left for a period of time which is usually between 20 and 40 minutes.

During this period, the patient should feel calm and relaxed, and the room should be quiet and may even be darkened to create a soothing atmosphere.

Upon removal of the needles, which should be painless and result in minimal or no blood, the practitioner may choose to conclude the session with another application of ointment or massage.

Does Acupuncture Have to Use Needles?

It is important to emphasise that the needles used during an acupuncture session will always be very small, sterile, and single-use. Furthermore, the insertion of the needles should never be painful or cause you to bleed more than a few specks of blood.

Nonetheless, some individuals understandably feel uncomfortable about the use of needles for acupuncture.

Alternatives do exist and are used widely. Traditionally, Vaccaria seeds have been used, placed on the specific points which would be targeted during a usual acupuncture session and massaged for several minutes.

Modern practices have also included ceramic and metal beads as well as small magnets to stimulate points. As these implements can be properly sterilised and pose no risk of an allergic reaction, swelling, or irritation, they can be considered preferable.

If you believe you would rather experience needle-free acupuncture, check with your medical centre or practitioner if this is a possibility.

Is There Scientific Evidence for Acupuncture Aiding Addiction Recovery?

A nurse in a mask and scrubs

It is important to note that some studies have not found evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture for the support of addiction recovery and related issues, and yet more studies have concluded that further research is required.

However, many studies have found evidence of benefits, including:

  • A 2015 study found that “acupuncture can effectively improve the quality of life of patients with depression”. [4]
  • A 2015 study on opioid addiction at Peking University, Beijing, found “a marked reduction of the withdrawal syndrome as well as a reduced requirement for rescue opioids”. [5]
  • A 2016 study on the same topic at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that “the potential of acupuncture to allay opioid-associated depression and anxiety, and its possible use as an adjuvant treatment were evident”. [6]
  • A 2017 study specifically focussed on the NADA protocol found that individuals were “more likely to complete the [treatment centre’s] treatment program when participating in NADA treatment” as well as that “it helps to maintain abstinence from alcohol at 3 and 6 months follow up as well as tobacco at 6 month follow up”. [7]
  • A 2019 article in the Journal of Clinical Medicine claimed that “acupuncture showed clinically-relevant benefits in reducing the severity of depression”. [8]
  • A 2021 Study on Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) found that “acupuncture therapy aimed at reducing anxiety in patients with GAD has certain beneficial effects compared to controls”. [9]


In summary, then, acupuncture is a safe and affordable alternative therapy which can bring numerous benefits to those suffering from addiction.

It should be pursued as part of a broader treatment plan, and if used effectively can support a stable detox and recovery.

If you need more assistance, ring our helpline on 0800 111 4108.


[1] https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/978-92-4-001688-0

[2] https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture-what-you-need-to-know

[3] https://acudetox.com/about-nada/

[4] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254627216300218

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25989154/

[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27377488/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5485467/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6722678/

[9] https://annals-general-psychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12991-021-00327-5