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Acupuncture for Alcoholism: Definition, Procedure, and Effectiveness

Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 05/17/2023

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body, known as acupoints. It has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions, and in recent years, it has been explored as a complementary treatment for alcoholism.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is based on the theory that energy, or “qi”, flows through the body along specific pathways known as meridians. According to traditional Chinese medicine, imbalances or blockages in the flow of this energy can lead to illness. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture aims to restore balance and promote the body’s natural healing abilities.

In the context of alcoholism, acupuncture is thought to help by reducing cravings, easing withdrawal symptoms, and promoting relaxation and stress reduction.

How Often is Acupuncture Used for Alcoholism?

The frequency and duration of acupuncture treatments can vary based on individual needs and the severity of the alcoholism. Some people may benefit from daily or weekly treatments, especially in the early stages of recovery. Over time, treatments may be reduced to biweekly or monthly sessions.

How Does Acupuncture Work for Alcoholism?

The acupuncture procedure involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific acupoints. The acupuncturist may gently twirl or manipulate the needles after insertion and they are typically left in place for about 20-30 minutes.

When treating alcoholism, acupuncturists often use a protocol known as the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol, which involves inserting needles into five specific points in the ear. This protocol is thought to promote relaxation and reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The acupoints used in the NADA protocol are found below.

  • Sympathetic Point
  • Shenmen Point
  • Kidney Point
  • Liver Point
  • Lung Point

1. Sympathetic Point

This point is located on the inside of the wrist, just above the crease. It is part of the “sympathetic” nervous system, which controls our body’s fight-or-flight response. Stimulating this point through acupuncture is believed to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, inducing a state of relaxation and calm. This can be particularly beneficial for those in recovery from alcohol addiction, helping to manage symptoms of anxiety and stress that may contribute to cravings.

2. Shenmen Point

This point is located on the upper half of the ear, in a triangular fossa. The word “Shenmen” translates to “Spirit Gate,” and it’s thought to be a powerful point to reduce anxiety and nervousness. By calming the spirit or mind, this point can help individuals in recovery manage the emotional and psychological aspects of addiction.

3. Kidney Point

Situated in the lower part of the ear’s concha, stimulation of this point is associated with willpower and resolution. In traditional Chinese medicine, the kidneys are believed to store the body’s essential energy, known as “Qi,” and are associated with fear and willpower. Activating this point can help to bolster resolve and support individuals in their recovery journey.

4. Liver Point

This point is located in the middle of the concha of the ear. The liver is the organ responsible for detoxification in the body, and its function can be severely compromised in alcoholism. Stimulating this point is believed to help improve liver function and assist the body in clearing out toxins. Additionally, in traditional Chinese medicine, the liver is associated with the smooth flow of emotions and Qi, helping to reduce frustration and anger, which can be common in those recovering from alcohol addiction.

5. Lung Point

Found in the upper concha, this point is associated with breathing and letting go of addictive patterns. In traditional Chinese medicine, the lungs are associated with grief and letting go. By stimulating this point, it can promote better breathing, which aids relaxation and stress management. Furthermore, it’s believed to help individuals release the hold of addictive patterns, supporting the process of change and recovery.

By using these five points in combination, the NADA protocol aims to address the physical and emotional challenges that come with alcohol recovery, promoting relaxation, detoxification, emotional balance, and the strength to let go of addictive behaviors.

What are the Benefits of Acupuncture for Alcoholism?

Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine practice, has been gaining traction as a supportive treatment in the field of addiction recovery, including alcoholism. It is believed to offer multiple benefits that can aid those on the path to sobriety. These potential benefits include reduced cravings for alcohol, eased withdrawal symptoms, stress reduction, and improved sleep quality. The key lies in the stimulation of specific acupoints that influence various bodily functions and emotional states. Through the release of endorphins, calming the nervous system, improving liver function, and promoting better sleep, acupuncture can provide a holistic approach to managing the complex challenges associated with recovery from alcohol addiction. As with any treatment, it’s crucial to remember that acupuncture is most effective when used in conjunction with other forms of therapy and under the guidance of healthcare professionals.

Reduced Cravings

Acupuncture, particularly the NADA protocol, is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural “feel-good” hormones. This can help to dampen cravings for alcohol and provide a natural sense of well-being, making the journey to sobriety more manageable. By decreasing the intensity of cravings, acupuncture can help individuals in recovery resist the urge to drink, thus facilitating sustained abstinence.

Eased Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal can be a challenging process with various physical and psychological symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. Acupuncture is thought to balance the body’s energy or Qi, helping to alleviate these symptoms. By targeting specific acupoints associated with these symptoms, such as the Shenmen point for anxiety and nervousness, acupuncture can provide a non-pharmacological approach to managing withdrawal symptoms.

Stress Reduction

Stress can be a significant trigger for relapse in individuals recovering from alcohol addiction. Acupuncture is known for its stress-relieving effects, which are attributed to its ability to balance the body’s energy and stimulate the release of endorphins. This creates a calming effect, which can help individuals better cope with the stresses and challenges that come with recovery. The Sympathetic point, in particular, is used to induce relaxation and calm the nervous system.

Improved Sleep

Sleep disturbances are common among individuals recovering from alcoholism. Poor sleep can exacerbate stress and cravings, making recovery more difficult. Acupuncture, particularly at the Shenmen point, is believed to help improve sleep quality by promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Moreover, acupuncture is thought to influence the production of neurotransmitters that regulate sleep, such as melatonin, thereby helping to regulate sleep patterns and enhance overall sleep quality.

These potential benefits of acupuncture can work in synergy to support individuals on their path to recovery from alcoholism. It’s important to note that while acupuncture can be a beneficial adjunct treatment, it should be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment such as counseling, therapy, and medical supervision.

How Effective is Acupuncture for Alcoholism?

The effectiveness of acupuncture for alcoholism is still being researched, and the results to date are mixed. Some studies have found that acupuncture can be a beneficial adjunctive treatment, helping to reduce cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. However, other studies have found no significant benefit.

It’s also important to note that while acupuncture may be a helpful part of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcoholism, it is not typically sufficient as a stand-alone treatment. Most experts recommend using acupuncture in conjunction with other treatment modalities, such as counseling, support groups, and medication when appropriate.

In summary, acupuncture can be a useful complementary treatment for alcoholism, potentially helping to reduce cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms, and promote

relaxation and stress reduction. However, more research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness and how best to incorporate it into treatment plans for alcoholism.

How Much Does Acupuncture for Alcoholism Cost?

The cost of acupuncture can vary widely, depending on factors such as the practitioner’s experience and the location of the clinic. Generally, an acupuncture session can cost anywhere from $50 to $100, though some practitioners may offer a sliding scale or reduced rates for individuals in recovery. Some health insurance plans may also cover acupuncture, so it’s worth checking with your insurance provider.

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects to Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed by a qualified practitioner. The most common side effects are minor and can include soreness, light bleeding, or bruising at the needle sites. More serious risks, such as infection or injury to organs, are extremely rare.

However, it’s important to ensure that acupuncture is performed by a qualified and certified practitioner to minimize risks. It’s also important to communicate openly with your acupuncturist about your health history and any concerns you may have.

What Other Treatments Are Available for Alcoholism?

Several treatment modalities are available for alcoholism. Below we list the most common alcoholism treatment options.


  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • National Acupuncture Detoxification Association
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
  • American Psychological Association