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What is Acupuncture?


By: Eric Gallagher

Broad Definition:

          Broadly speaking, acupuncture is an ancient procedure of inserting thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body to influence certain physiological functionings of the body. There are 5 main theories as to the effects of acupuncture on the body and why it is helpful:

Augmentation of Immunity Theory:

            This theory states that Acupuncture raises levels of triglycerides, specific hormones, prostaglandins, white blood counts, gamma globulins, opsonins, and overall anti-body levels.

Endorphin Theory:

            This theory states that Acupuncture stimulates the secretions of endorphins in the body, specifically Enkaphalins. Enkaphalins are pentapeptides that have opiate qualities and are found in the brain, spinal cord, and other body parts.

Neurotransmitter Theory:

This theory holds that neurotransmitter levels are altered by acupuncture.

Circulation Theory:

          This states that Acupuncture has the effect of constricting or dilating blood vessels. This may be caused by the body's release of Vasodilaters (such as Histamine), in response to Acupuncture.

Gate Control Theory:

According to this theory, the perception of pain is controlled by a part of the nervous system that regulates the impulse, which will later be interpreted as pain. This part of the nervous system is called the "Gate." If the gate is hit with too many impulses, it becomes overwhelmed, and it closes. This prevents some of the impulses from getting through. The first gates to close would be the ones that are the smallest. The nerve fibers that carry the impulses of pain are rather small nerve fibers called "C" fibers. These are the gates that close during Acupuncture.


The information contained on this web page was gathered from and article by Jeffrey Singer at


Acupuncture and Drug Addiction

Acupuncture has been claimed to be a successful treatment for people who have substance abuse problems including cocaine and heroin addictions, alcoholism, and nicotine addiction. It appears that using Acupuncture for this treatment most closely follows the endorphin theory outlined above. Acupuncture as a means to treat substance abuse involves insertion of needles at points in their ears. “These points replenish depleted energy in the internal organs and calm the nerves” ( As for the specific addictions and how acupuncture improves conditions, the specific placement points of needles are supposed to affect different parts of the body.  “In detoxification treatment, points in the ear correspond to specific organs, including the lungs, liver, kidneys and nervous system. One of the points is for relaxation. The treatment triggers the release of natural body chemicals, including endorphins, which help reduce cravings for drugs, ease withdrawal symptoms, and increase relaxation” (

Claims have been made that acupuncture provides a sense of well-being or a “high” that does not involve any drugs at all.

Most claims of success come from case studies where a group of addicts underwent acupuncture treatment and a control group of addicts did not. One specific study involved 8 weeks of treatment a claimed 93% success rate for those who underwent the acupuncture treatment ( At the following site you can view the results of a one-year acupuncture detoxification study in Portland, Oregon in which over 70% of participants successfully detoxified: One scientist even managed to complete a study in which he forced heroin addiction on a mouse and later kicked the addiction with the use of an electronic acupuncture that “resulted in a chemical change in the mouse's brain and blocked the desire for the drug” (

            The Internet is valued because of its accessibility to information of any kind. Problems arise, however, when there is no requirement of truth to anything that is posted on the web. It can be very difficult to distinguish a source as legitimate. Many sites are set up mainly to make money by selling products. Some of these sites will make false claims in hopes of fooling consumers.

Is Acupuncture Really Effective?

            I have completed further research of published scholarly journal articles that tested the real effectiveness of acupuncture in treating drug addiction:

            Alex Brumbaugh (1993) studied the effects of acupuncture in treating patients at over 250 clinics and indicated that it offers support “during acute and post-acute withdrawal through relief of classic symptoms” (Brumbaugh, 1993, p. 3). He found that acupuncture could also be extremely effective outside of the clinic setting. “Also promising is the use of acupuncture in homeless shelters, where alcohol and drug treatment is often resisted due to the unmanageability of withdrawal symptoms in such a setting, and where shelter client safety has become an increasing concern” (Brumbaugh, 1993, p. 6). Another article by Brumbaugh (1998) discusses how acupuncture greatly improves the stabilization stage of recovery from chemical dependency. The acupuncture treatments were successfully shown to help patients establish not using drugs as a way of life. They increased retention in the program and therefore increased the overall success of the whole rehabilitation process.

            Studies have also been done on the effects of acupuncture as a treatment for the legal, yet highly addictive cigarette. A particular study showed that, while acupuncture did not often induce subjects to quit smoking completely (as many sites’ advertisements and “testimonials” claim), the treatments did help reduce the amount of cigarettes smoked over an extended period of time (He, D., Medbo, J.I., Hostmark, A.T., 2001).

            I did find, however, that not all studies had produced successful results. One particular study on the effects of acupuncture in treating alcoholics found no difference between the group of subjects who received the treatment and the group of those who had not (Sapir-Weise, R., Berglund, M., Frank, A., Kristenson, H., 1999).

            Most of the journals I researched found that acupuncture was effective, yet they also agreed that acupuncture is more effective as a supplemental treatment for drug addiction. There were no studies claiming that acupuncture could serve solely as a method of treating drug addiction. With this in mind, the hype and advertisement on the Internet concerning acupuncture is true for the most part. The only possibly misleading aspect is that too much credit is given to the technique of acupuncture alone when it is truly only successful as a supplemental form of treatment.

            I found the research on acupuncture to be very intriguing. Although the treatment was not always effective or extremely effective, it presents itself mostly as an experience that leaves the patient with a cleansed feeling and well-being. I did not find any studies claiming harmful side effects or adverse reactions to acupuncture, and so I would recommend the procedure to anyone who is willing to try. I would advise everyone, though, not to go into the technique with any expectations, but to simply give it a shot. I even think that acupuncture is something I would like to try at some point in my life, although hopefully not as a treatment for a drug addiction.








Brumbaugh, A. (1998). Acupuncture for Withdrawal Management and Stabilization:

Successful Conceptual Foundations for Program Retention and Positive Outcomes in Chemical Dependency Treatment. (Retrieved online, journal name not provided). Retrieved September 23, 2003 from

Brumbaugh, A. (1993). Acupuncture: New Perspectives in Chemical Dependency

Treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 10.

He, D., et al. (2001). Effect of Acupuncture on Smoking Cessation or Reduction.

Preventative Medicine, 33, 364-372.

Sapir-Weise, R., et al. (1999). Acupuncture in alcoholism treatment. Alcohol and

Alcoholism, 34, 629-635.


By: Eric Gallagher




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