Acupuncture’s Role In Fighting Drug Cravings

Acupuncture’s Role

Scientists struggle over the how and what kind of impact role does acupuncture really have? How does inserting needles into the body help overcome someone’s troubling desire for more opioids?

In a review of nine studies involving more than 1,000 participants, there were some answers. It said that “acupuncture could be more beneficial” of changing the craving for opioids, and also have an impact on insomnia and depression, compared to no treatment at all or sham acupuncture, according to an Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine report last month.

As a result, acupuncture also may be effective in treating opium use disorders, which involve the abuse or misuse of opioids, although researchers are uncertain precisely about those effects, the study says.

Today, opioids cause 70 percent of the “global burden of disease” attributable to drug use disorders, the study says. It adds: “The World Drug Report of 2017 has declared that an estimated 250 million people used drugs at least once in 2015, and 29.5 million of those drug users suffer from drug use disorder.”

Patients Seeking Options

Because of those opioid problems, the study notes, people are turning to using opioid substitution treatments, including other drugs, psychosocial treatment and acupuncture.  And because acupuncture doesn’t involve drugs and is generally safe, “an increasing number of patients prefer to receive complementary and alternative treatments such as acupuncture to treat diseases,” the study says.

“With the development of this technique, acupuncture has become more varied. At present, a growing number of countries have formulated regulations and policies for acupuncture,” the study adds.

In the study review, they examined various elements of acupuncture and also different impacts, such as: intensity of withdrawal syndrome, length of treatment, pain intensity, depression, insomnia, and other issues.

Chemical Reactions

The mechanism of acupuncture on opium use disorders is “probably related to opioid peptides,” according to the study. The three major peptides related to acupuncture are dynorphins, enkephalns and endorphins, the study says. For instance, acupuncture can increase dynorphins, which can suppress withdrawal related to heroin.

Both enkephalins and endorphins block pain. “Acupuncture releases the natural pain killers that are present in our bodies, according to  Together, these natural painkillers have a pain relieving potential up to 200 times more than morphine.”

When it comes to treating opium use disorders, “acupuncture could be effective in treating (opioid use disorder) but there was insufficient evidence to suggest better effect of acupuncture compared to medication.”

Acupuncture’s Impact Role

In a separate commentary last year, reflecting the growing popularity of acupuncture, Aurora Health wrote of acupuncture that the procedure “shows great promise as an effective to manage pain – helping break the addiction cycle and stop the opioid abuse epidemic.”

“At its core, acupuncture increases circulation, decreases inflammation and increases the release of hormones that help a person feel good, reduce stress and control pain,” says Aurora Health.

“In addition to these benefits, acupuncture also has a powerful effect on the addiction centers of the brain,” it adds.  “Acupuncture can be used to wean a patient off opioids, control urges and ease withdrawal symptoms. These attributes make acupuncture a powerful tool in the recovery process. The combination of benefits puts acupuncture on the front lines in the fight against this devastating epidemic.”


Chen, Z, Wang, Y, et al. Efficacy of Acupuncture for Treating Opioid Use Disorder in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. 2018. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Article ID 3724708. 15 pages.

Heather Henry Peterman, CAc. 2017. Aurora Health Care. Retrieved from: Acupuncture – A Solution for Opioid Addiction. 2017. Aurora Health Care.

Lindsey Sisson. Family Acupuncture-Wellness. How Acupuncture Eliminates Pain.  2018. Retrieved from:

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