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First developed thousands of years ago, the traditional Chinese medicine technique acupuncture is still employed around the world today to help people suffering from various ailments like back pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and post-operative nausea. One specific type of acupuncture is even being used to treat what many consider among our nation’s biggest health problems: addiction.
So what exactly is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine treatment option that relies on stimulating various points on the body, most often with needles, to relieve pain or treat other physical, mental and emotional conditions.
What does acupuncture have to do with addiction?
As early as the 1970s, select addiction treatment and recovery centers have offered patients treatment plans that include a form of acupuncture suggested to help with stress and anxiety, trauma and addiction. Referred to as auricular acupuncture or acudetox, this specific technique involves inserting needles into a patient’s ear, which some claim can help ease the symptoms of withdrawal.
The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, one of the main proponents of this approach, states, “people who undergo this type of treatment, as an adjunct within a comprehensive treatment program that offers other therapeutic elements including counseling, education, family involvement, mutual support group involvement, and supportive medical health care [experience benefits that include] a more optimistic and cooperative attitude toward the process of recovery, as well as reductions in cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbance and need for pharmaceuticals.”
Is auricular acupuncture a sufficient treatment for addiction?
Although millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, there is very little research that supports the effectiveness of auricular acupuncture for the treatment of addiction. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the research available that affirms the effectiveness of auricular acupuncture has not been of a high enough quality to be considered conclusive. However, if used as a supplement to evidence-based therapies, including medication and psychosocial treatments, the practice may be beneficial to some. That said, auricular acupuncture should not be promoted or used in place of treatments that have been proven effective for people with addiction.
What constitutes effective addiction treatment?
Evidence supports the effectiveness of specific professional counseling and therapy techniques as well as a number of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to treat certain forms of addiction. The use of acupuncture or other alternative interventions in addition to effective addiction treatment may help support recovery – but these techniques should not replace research-based approaches.
To learn more, you may find additional commentary from one of our experts about treating addiction with acupuncture in a recent International Business Times UK article.
Catherine Tayloe Ross is a media specialist at Center on Addiction