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Substance Abuse: Acupuncture, What Works and What Does Not

Acupuncture, particularly when applied to the external ear, has proven valuable in managing substance abuse problems and reducing the need for prescription narcotic pain medications. In the treatment of opium and heroin addiction, acupuncture studies by Wen as early as 1973 have shown a success rate as high as 100 percent in relieving the symptoms of withdrawal.

Acupuncture has helped patients withdraw not only from opiates but also from alcohol and other addictive drugs.

Consider the following carefully conducted studies.

  • In a 1985 study by Clavel of cigarette addiction, acupuncture was compared to the use of nicotine gum. Using a newly discovered acupoint (tien mi), as well as traditional points (primarily in the ear), acupuncturists helped 8 percent of patients to stop smoking for more than a year, while use of nicotine gum helped 12 percent to stop smoking.


  • For a 1987 controlled study on hard-core alcoholics in Minnesota, funded by the NIH, a group that received acupuncture had half as many drinking episodes and admissions to detox centers as did a control group, which received sham acupuncture. "Sham" or placebo acupuncture involves placing needles in areas that are not actual acupuncture points or applying pressure at points without the actual insertion of a needle.


  • During a 1993 study by Dr. Arthur Margolin and colleagues of cocaine addiction, addicts were given acupuncture treatment, or conventional pharmacotherapy (consisting of either amantidine or desipramine), or placebo therapy. Of those receiving acupuncture, 44 percent were abstinent from cocaine by the end of the eight-week trial, compared to 15 percent taking amantidine, 26 percent taking desipramine, and 13 percent on placebo therapy.


  • From a 1994 study by Dr. Douglas S. Lipton of crack cocaine addicts, acupuncture was as effective as conventional drug therapy.

For the treatment of substance abuse, the best clinical evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture is for narcotic addiction, then alcohol. Acupuncture is clearly useful as an adjuvant therapy in the treatment of substance abuse and drug dependency, and appears to be effective as a primary therapy.





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Copyright © 2000 by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier, Inc.

Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, New York.


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