February 4, 2016

The Angry Liver–Acupuncture & Addiction


Addiction programs with acupuncture have shown many overall improvements among patients. Some of these include increased feelings of hopefulness in patients during withdrawal and detox. Acupuncture treatment offers the client support during acute and post-acute withdrawal through relief of classic symptoms (2). This is significant. The discomfort, anxiety and fear of withdrawal causes many to leave treatment prematurely. Many also postpone treatment as they anticipate distress in the withdrawal and detox process.

Chinese medicine frames addiction in terms of imbalances that prevent the body from self-regulating to a healthful state. Brian Bender, LAc of the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, says that use of acupuncture points on the body restores this self-regulating balance. His colleague, Donna Keefe LAc, says that in many cases the imbalance of addiction is in the liver. This is referred to in the traditional system as “liver qi stagnation with fire”. While Chinese medicine and western medicine dramatically differ in their views of bodily systems and organs, it is interesting that both see the liver’s involvement in addiction. In the West, we are attuned to the damage substances do to the liver such as cirrhosis. In Chinese medicine, however, liver problems are viewed as the root cause of the condition.

The liver in addiction can be rather poetically conceptualized in Chinese medicine as an angry liver or one in which there is stagnant fire.

Addiction is more than a physiological illness. Emotional ties to the substances develop, leaving one dependent upon the self-medicating effects of use. Acupuncture’s overall calming effect upon the central nervous system reduces the agitated ‘fight or flight’ mode that substance abusers typically live in. Reacting to their emotional and neurological distress signals, substance use for self-medication can become a dysfunctional coping strategy for self-soothing. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the production of the body’s natural opiates which induce calm, quieting the fight or flight response and engender an overall sense of well-being (3).

Another important benefit of acupuncture in addiction treatment is reduced reliance upon pharmaceuticals to manage biological withdrawal and to reduce emotional symptoms of withdrawal. After successful withdrawal, acupuncture can help navigate the emotional up’s and down’s of early recovery stabilization and continue to reduce episodic cravings. Such benefits of acupuncture have been documented in the treatment of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addictions and are significant (4, 5, 6).

Louisville acupuncture

Works Cited

(1) Karst, Passie, Friedrich, Wiese, Schneider. Acupuncture in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal symptoms: a randomized, placebo-controlled inpatient study. Addiction Biology, 7: 4, October 2002, 415–419.

(2) Brumbaugh. Acupuncture: New perspective in chemical dependency treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 10:1, January–February 1993, 35–43.

(3) Yang, Lee; Sohn. A Possible Mechanism Underlying the Effectiveness of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Drug Addiction. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.,2008; 5(3):257-266.

(4) Cui, Wu, Luo. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Drug Addiction. Neurochemical Research, 33: 10, October 2008, 2013-2022.

(5) Avants,  Margolin, Chang, Kosten, Birch. Acupuncture for the treatment of cocaine addiction. Investigation of a needle puncture control. J Subst Abuse Treat, 12:3, May–June 1995, 195–205.

(6) Milton, Bulock, Patriia, Culliton, Olander. Controlled trial of acupuncture for severe recidivist alchoholism. The Lancet, 333:8652, 1435-1439. June 24 1989.

Other References

Hight. New Uses for an Ancient Technique: Acupuncture has proven extraordinarily effective in helping addicts survive detox. Now practitioners are turning their sights to AIDS and infertility – with promising results. Yoga Journal, Feb 1990, Issue 90, 12.

Hollifield, Sinclair-Lian, Warner, Hammerschlag. 2007. Acupuncture for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled pilot trial. Journal of Nervous and MentalDisease. Jun;195(6):504-13

Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of substance use disorders—a review of the evidence. Drug and Alcohol Review (May 2009), 28, 292–300

Montazeri, Farahnakian, Saghaei. The effect of acupuncture on the acute withdrawal symptoms from rapid opiate detoxification. Acta Anaesthesiol Sin. 2002 Dec;40(4):173-7.

Li, Kang, Wu, He. The effect of electroacupuncture on the weakening of CPP of morphine dependence rats and the mechanism therein involved. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban.2004 Nov;35(6):824-7.

Liu, Zhou, Ruan, Li, Lee, Weng, Hu, Yang. Activation of the hypothalamus characterizes the response to acupuncture stimulation in heroin addicts. Neurosci Lett. 2007 Jun 29;421(3):203-8.

Shwartz, Saitz, Mulvey, Brannigan. The Value of Acupuncture Detoxification Programs in a Substance Abuse Treatment System. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. December 1999 (Vol. 17, Issue 4, Pages 305-312).

Tan, Craine, Tsao, et al. Efficacy of selected complementary and alternative medicine interventions for chronic pain. Journal Of Rehabilitation Research & Development [serial online]. March 2007;44(2):195-222. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA.




Substance Abuse