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Using Acupuncture for Medication Withdrawal and Addiction Recovery

Medically Reviewed Fact Checked
Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Acupuncture for medication withdrawal is one component of our approach to recovery at Alternative to  Meds. The stats on mental illness including drug-related problems continue to spiral out of control, despite the mainstream approach to treatment of these conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, or NAMI, upwards of one in five adults are experiencing a mental health condition, and one in every twenty is diagnosed with a serious mental health condition. Acupuncture for Substance Use DisorderThe rate rises to one in six among minors, indicating the impact of these conditions is a widespread phenomenon that is not likely to lessen in the coming years.1 Fortunately, mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and even substance use disorder (SUD), are treatable, and people can remain fully functioning individuals with the proper treatment.

While treatment methods like psychotherapy and pharmaceutical medications are certainly an important component of treating substance use disorder, including co-occurring mental health conditions, it is essential to treat the whole person and not just the symptoms. In addition, a growing number of people wish to avoid the use of pharmaceutical medications as they experience side effects and long-term consequences that often prove to make their condition worse.

In this case, adjunctive mental health treatments may provide a more holistic way to address mental health concerns. Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years, and is one of many holistic therapies the professionals at Alternative to Meds Center may utilize as part of a personalized treatment plan.

At Alternative Meds Center, we offer acupuncture services in Sedona, AZ, because it is effective in addressing symptoms of both body and mind. No one should suffer alone with symptoms caused by mental illness, medication withdrawals, and substance use disorder. Acupuncture releases stress, and improves mood and well-being.  In these ways, acupuncture complements other holistic therapies, to promote healing and recovery from addiction. There are more benefits, discussed in more detail below.

The Science Behind Acupuncture for Medication Withdrawal

Here at Alternative to Meds Center, we use only research-backed methods proven to aid in healing from the effects of substance use and prescription medication withdrawals. While acupuncture is an ancient traditional treatment that has been in practice for 5,000 years, until recently, most of the evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture was anecdotal. In the last 20 years, however, physiologic mechanisms for many of acupuncture’s effects have been revealed by research.

Although acupuncture is thousands of years old, it is still not well understood from a Western scientific standpoint. However, as mentioned, the traditional Chinese acupuncture points reside in places where nerves, nerve-muscle junctures, and tendon-muscle junctures are prominent. Stimulating these areas appears to benefit the nervous system, connective tissue, and other tissues. 

For example, the impact on the nervous system has been documented across numerous studies, with brain imaging showing responses in the regions responsible for the limbic system (emotional and behavioral responses), sensorimotor response, cognitive processing, and the affective system (judgment, consciousness, and other processing).2 Studies have also demonstrated improvements in connective tissue, potentially via the peripheral sensory nervous system, after acupuncture therapy. Finally, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins and cause responses in areas of the brain that regulate serotonin; both these neurotransmitters are associated with pain relief and positive mood.3

As a result, many western practitioners see acupuncture points as areas that can be stimulated to energize nerves, connective tissue, and muscles. This energetic stimulation appears to be what enhances the body’s production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. We can utilize acupuncture to address symptoms that emerge from several conditions and diseases, including fibromyalgia, headaches, migraines, back pain, anxiety, depression, chronic pain,and especially withdrawal and addiction symptoms stemming from the use of, prescription medications, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.

Acupuncture for Medication Withdrawal and Substance Use Disorder

Alternative to Meds Center takes pride in incorporating acupuncture into our holistic SUD treatment program as an approved adjunctive addiction therapy. The World Health Organization maintains a list of medical and mental health conditions suitable for acupuncture treatment, and addiction (or substance use disorder) is among them. In large part, this is because, since the 1970s, there have been numerous studies performed on the efficacy of acupuncture in treating pharmaceutical drug dependence and withdrawal. Nearly all revealed significant improvements in relapse rates, program adherence, and withdrawal symptoms.

Acupuncture for substance use disorder is thought to be effective due to the response the brain and body have when stimulating acupuncture points. The stimulation triggers the release and production of endorphins, also known as enkephalins. Endorphins or enkephalins are natural chemicals with pain-relieving effects like opiates. This release appears to mitigate the negative dopamine outflow that occurs during withdrawal. Instead of the loss of neurotransmitters causing stress, dysphoria, and discomfort, endorphins released by acupuncture appear to interact with opioid and other chemical receptors to create a chain reaction that triggers dopamine release. This is one of many theories that exist about the actions of acupuncture, but it may explain the anti-inflammatory effects, analgesic effects, sedating effects, and regenerating effects of acupuncture that have been extensively used in our SUD recovery program with great success.4,8,9

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The Benefits of Acupuncture for Medication Withdrawal, SUD, and Mental Wellness

Acupuncture for medication withdrawal is extremely helpful and can complement nearly any process of recovery, including eliminating many of the mental and physical symptoms that often occur alongside SUD. At Alternative to Meds Center, acupuncture is one of the holistic treatments used to address multiple physical, mental, and emotional components of the whole person to better treat substance use disorder.

For example, individuals who receive acupuncture treatment often report relief from withdrawal symptoms and a decrease in drug cravings. This treatment is also particularly effective in alleviating physical pain, which is an issue people often attempt to address with substance use or the use of pharmaceutical drugs with high addictive potential. The typical program includes auricular acupuncture (ear acupuncture), while full-body treatments are optional. Residents often report relief from symptoms such as pain, depression, and anxiety following an acupuncture session.

Important Part of Healing at Alternative to Meds Center

While it is of the utmost importance that Alternative to Meds Center offers only research-backed therapies that have been scientifically proven to benefit people with a substance use disorder, the science alone is not what inspires us to continue to provide acupuncture. We’ve witnessed the positive effects of acupuncture treatment over decades of work and hundreds of patients. Simply by sitting or lying quietly for 45 minutes to an hour while a trained practitioner administers acupuncture, in our experience, patients can reap many following benefits,

Benefits of acupuncture for medication withdrawal include:
  • Reduced cravings for drugs and alcohol
  • Reduced withdrawal symptoms
  • Reduction in the need for psychiatric medications
  • Improvements in the ability to regulate emotions
  • Reduced anxiety and stress response
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Boost in well-being

Acupuncture and Neuroplasticity

This is all possible because acupuncture helps to improve the body’s release/reuptake of dopamine, which exerts an influence over each of the above mechanisms. After weeks, months, or even years of artificially modulating the brain and body’s reward system with psychiatric medications, alcohol, or drugs, the brain struggles to produce dopamine and attain pleasure, comfort, and other positive sensations on its own. By helping to restore healthy dopamine function, acupuncture can contribute to successful recovery.

Of course, acupuncture is not the only adjunctive therapy considered during the formulation of an individual’s treatment plan. Spa services like detoxifying foot baths and massage therapy, detox treatments like nebulized glutathione therapy, neurotoxin removal, colon hydrotherapy, IV therapy, and orthomolecular medicine, and holistic therapies like art therapy, Qigong, equine therapy, and more join psychotherapy and medication therapy to form a comprehensive treatment schedule.

When patients arrive at Alternative to Meds Center, we will work diligently to create a personalized plan that incorporates only the most beneficial mental health and addiction treatments for each person, potentially including acupuncture therapy. This provides an approach to treatment unparalleled in the field and gives each person their best chance for long-term recovery.

Acupuncture for Medication Withdrawal FAQs

Acupuncture is a potential component of SUD treatment and detoxification at Alternative to Meds Center, but many people are unsure about certain aspects of the process. It’s normal to have questions about acupuncture, and here are answers to some of the most common.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

This is arguably the most common question we receive about acupuncture. Acupuncture is meant to promote physical and mental healing, yet the idea of inserting needles into the body seems counterintuitive to that goal. While acupuncture can cause some pain, stinging, or aching when the needle is inserted, this is usually mild. If you are ever uncomfortable or in a great deal of pain, let the practitioner know immediately.

Acupuncture was created to improve feelings of relaxation and decrease stress and anxiety, and an acupuncture session should reflect that intent. Most patients are able to relax and reflect while the acupuncture session is underway, and the overall effect should be calming, not painful.

Can Acupuncture Cure My Substance Use Disorder?

While acupuncture is a vital component of substance use disorder recovery for many people, it is not in itself a cure for SUD. Instead, it is one of many therapies proven to aid in recovery. Together with other holistic therapies, psychotherapy, detoxification, and safe medication tapering as part of a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan at Alternative to Meds Center, acupuncture can help improve your treatment outcome.

What Kind of Acupuncture Is Used During SUD Treatment?

While both auricular (ear) and full-body acupuncture can be used during treatment for substance use disorder, auricular acupuncture is the most common. A group known as the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, or NADA, has advocated for a treatment protocol specifically to address substance use disorder and its symptoms. This methodology focuses on a set of acupuncture points in the ear that can modulate how the kidneys and liver detoxify the blood, address anxiety, and overall modify the way the brain and body release and process serotonin and dopamine. These factors are meant to address withdrawal, cravings, and even reduce the effects substances can have after a relapse.

It should be noted that while you are more likely to experience auricular acupuncture, full-body acupuncture may also be a component of your treatment plan while at Alternative to Meds Center.

Are Medications Used in Conjunction With Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is often used to help detoxify the body after prolonged medication, drug, or alcohol use. Medications are not a typical component of acupuncture therapy. In some instances, a topical ointment may be used before or after acupuncture therapy, but pain relievers and other medications are not necessary.

Do All Treatment Centers Offer Acupuncture?

Unfortunately, not all substance use disorder treatment centers offer the benefits of acupuncture to their patients. Since the origin of the scientifically-proven benefits of acupuncture are still under review, it is a practice much more common at holistic treatment centers like Alternative to Meds Center. This type of treatment center focuses on healing the whole person as opposed to singular symptoms of mental health disorders and substance use disorders, and the result is a diverse array of therapies that come together to form a personalized treatment program to address individual needs.

Acupuncture as a Component of Holistic Healing

Acupuncture as a Component of Holistic Healing

Imagine a center that uses several healing modalities working together to heal you. If you are looking for relief from physical pain, anxiety, depression, drug, alcohol, or nicotine addiction, acupuncture may be an extremely beneficial therapy when used in conjunction with finding and treating the underlying causes of your symptoms. Acupuncture is one of many natural methods used at Alternative to Meds Center to bring a person’s symptoms and neurochemistry into balance.

At Alternative to Meds Center, we firmly believe in the value of acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy for prescription medication cessation and recovery from substance use disorder. When you arrive at our Sedona, AZ center, we will assess your needs and determine whether acupuncture may help you begin recovery from SUD. Our team of holistic detoxification and SUD treatment experts have the certifications and experience needed to provide true, lasting relief using acupuncture and a host of other proven treatments and therapies.

To learn more about acupuncture and how it can benefit your physical and mental wellness as a component of our inpatient SUD treatment program, contact us today.


1. Mental health by the numbers. (2022, June). NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. [cited 2023 June 21]

2. Huang, W., Pach, D., Napadow, V., Park, K., Long, X., Neumann, J., Maeda, Y., Nierhaus, T., Liang, F., & Witt, C. M. (2012). Characterizing acupuncture stimuli using brain imaging with FMRI–a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature. PloS one, 7(4), e32960.  [cited 2023 June 21]

3. Chang, S., Kwon, O. S., Bang, S. K., Kim, D. H., Baek, M. W., Ryu, Y., … & Kim, H. Y. (2019). Peripheral sensory nerve tissue but not connective tissue is involved in the action of acupuncture. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 13, 110.  [cited 2023 June 21]

4. Lin, J. G., Chan, Y. Y., & Chen, Y. H. (2012). Acupuncture for the treatment of opiate addiction. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2012, 739045. [cited 2023 June 21]

5. Kim YD, Heo I, Shin BC, Crawford C, Kang HW, Lim JH. Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials and prospective clinical trials. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:615857. doi: 10.1155/2013/615857. Epub 2013 Feb 6. PMID: 23476697; PMCID: PMC3580897.[cited 2023 June 21]

6. Yang XY, Yang NB, Huang FF, Ren S, Li ZJ. Effectiveness of acupuncture on anxiety disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2021 Jan 30;20(1):9. doi: 10.1186/s12991-021-00327-5. PMID: 33516258; PMCID: PMC7847562.[cited 2023 June 21]

7. Van Hal M, Dydyk AM, Green MS. Acupuncture. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:

8. Kaptchuk TJ. Acupuncture: theory, efficacy, and practice. Ann Intern Med. 2002 Mar 5;136(5):374-83. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-136-5-200203050-00010. PMID: 11874310.[cited 2023 June 21]

9. Smith MO, Khan I. An acupuncture programme for the treatment of drug-addicted persons. Bull Narc. 1988;40(1):35-41. PMID: 3219455.[cited 2023 June 21]

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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