Holistic Treatment Options

Introduction to Project Recovery Acupuncture Program

What is Acupuncture?

              Acupuncture is a therapy which was developed in China over 5,000 years ago and has been used to treat a variety of illnesses. It is used worldwide. Acupuncture works by stimulating designated points on the body by inserting very fine acupuncture needles. These points correspond with the functions of internal organs and other bodily processes according to Chinese medical theory. The Chinese have maintained for centuries that the human body is made up of spirit, body, and mind. The whole person must be considered when treatment is given.

How does Acupuncture work for detoxification and treatment?

              Acupuncture reduces symptoms of withdrawal as well as aiding in long term recovery. Some substances that respond well to acupuncture include alcohol, heroin, crack, methadone, methamphetamine and nicotine. Acupuncture does not cure alcoholism or drug addiction . It alleviates withdrawal symptoms so that mental and physical stability are achieved as soon as possible, allowing involvement in counseling, twelve-step programs, and other support systems which are necessary for maintaining sobriety.

              Specifically, acupuncture:

•  Improves sleep, reduces insomnia, stops drug dreams and nightmares.

•  Lessens depression, anxiety and insomnia.

•  Reduces or eliminates withdrawal symptoms such as drug craving, body aches, headache, nausea, sweating, muscle cramping, etc.

•  Is useful in stress reduction and relapse prevention.

In the state of Colorado, only a licensed acupuncturist or trained physician may perform acupuncture. Five new, sterilized, disposable, solid (that is no hollow core) needles are inserted into specific points in each ear. Each point stimulates an internal body organ or function. The central nervous system, kidney, liver and lungs that in turn, assist in reducing cravings for alcohol or other drugs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

              Acupuncture is a treatment modality that was developed and used in China 5,000 years ago. Acupuncture is increasing in popularity and is being used worldwide to treat a variety of illnesses. The Chinese medicine understanding of human beings sees no separation between the mind, body and spirit; they are perceived as a whole. The concept of qi (pronounced “chi”) is very important in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Qi is considered to be the life force, the energy that powers the body, mind, and spirit. Qi circulates in the body along fourteen major pathways, or meridians, each of which has a connection to the organs. There are specific points along these meridians where the boy's energy can be contacted through the insertion of acupuncture needles. Each point has its own function and effect on the qi.

              Acupuncture's goal is to help the patient achieve balance. Symptoms are seen as the body-mind trying to get some attention and help. Illness is perceived as a loss of harmony or balance in the body, and may come from a hyper or hypo functioning of the organ(s). Symptoms may appear on the mental, emotional or physical levels (i.e., inability to concentrate, rage, headaches). Acupuncture is used to redirect the qi and restore function.

              The points used in the ear treatment for the addicted person are the liver, kidney, lung, Shen Men, and sympathetic.   The first three are the organs of detoxification at the physical level. Spiritually these points relate to the sense of hope/despair (liver), will power/hiding (kidney), and emptiness/inspiration (lung). Emotionally these three organs refer to anger/determination, fear/courage (kidney), and self-esteem/self loathing (lung). Shen Men means “Spirit Gate.” It is used to calm the patient. Sympathetic refers to the autonomic nervous system. This point balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, allowing the body/mind to come into a state of equilibrium. This treatment also functions to strengthen the adrenal glands, which are commonly in a state of depletion due to stress and substance abuse. Treating this combination of points provides a comprehensive and effective medical approach. Because people need to heal from addiction on many levels (physiological, psychological, spiritual) we believe that Chinese Medicine can play an extremely useful role in assisting a person in their process of recovery, along with traditional group therapy.

Acupuncture and the Treatment of Addictions


              In 1974, at the Lincoln Hospital, South Bronx, New York City, Dr. Michael Smith opened a substance abuse treatment program. This clinic has documented the beneficial effects of acupuncture for recovering clients. Currently there are more than 100 clinics in New York City and 1000 clinics worldwide that include acupuncture and the Lincoln Hospital Model of treatment.

              The National Association of Criminal Justice Planners suggested a three-tiered program that tapers the number of treatments to the length of sobriety. Realizing that relapse may occur as a part of recovery, this tiered program allows clients to progress at their own rate. If the client is not successful in the second stage, they simply go back to the first stage, which provides more frequent acupuncture treatment. In this way, a patient is supported instead of being punished for a relapse.

Acupuncture is an excellent treatment modality because if treats the addiction problem despite a client's being in a state of denial regarding their problem. Acupuncture provides a non-confrontational approach during early recovery. It alleviates withdrawal symptoms and calms the patient, thus preparing the soil for further counseling and group therapy. This makes the initial days of detox much more manageable for both clients and the counseling staff.

In 1989, Flavia Lewis, Executive Director at The Council learned about the effectiveness of including acupuncture with traditional counseling. It took three years to gain approval for and acceptance of the plan, and Project Recovery opened on November 9, 1992. Currently, Project Recovery provides acupuncture at several sites throughout the community. Acupuncture was provided for 8 years at the Denver County Jail.

Regardless of the setting or the substance abused, acupuncture aids in patient detoxification. It does so by supporting the main organs of elimination, thus speeding the body's ability to rid itself of toxins. Treatment improves mental clarity and the ability to focus.   It also provides the patient with a sense of calmness and serenity. This creates a greater receptivity to the counseling process.

Treatment consists of the placement of 5 sterile needles just beneath the skin of both ears. The client then sits quietly for 45 minutes. Treatment is more effective when done in a large group . The treatment teaches patients to relax from the inside out.   From this quieter inner place the patient can then make more careful choices about their reactions to life situations.

Facts: Addiction and Acupuncture

Although acupuncture is not drug specific and works with all drugs, the following substances respond well to acupuncture:

•  Alcohol

•  Heroin

•  Nicotine

•  Methadone

•  Methamphetamine

•  Cocaine/Crack

The following withdrawal symptoms are eased with consistent treatment:

•  Depression

•  Insomnia

•  Anxiety

•  Negative effects of stress

•  Drug craving

•  Sweating

•  Muscle cramps

•  Body aches

•  Nausea

•  Headaches

Acupuncture helps stabilize physically and emotionally increasing the ability to focus. Acupuncture stimulates your own body to heal itself—be rebuilding your physical and emotional self.


              Research has shown that more time spent in treatment is in a client's best interests. This time allows for thinking and change to occur, and practice with new behaviors so that strength develops and healthy coping skills develop. It is recommended that if a client does relapse, they continue treatment and come in more frequently for acupuncture than they had been prior to the relapse. It is required that they schedule a one-on-one counseling session as well. Receiving more acupuncture treatment—along with the other benefits—allows a client to experience more contemplation time. Relapse does not mean failure. It presents an opportunity for one to recognize the seriousness of his/her addiction and to recommit to recovery.

              It has been proven that the more treatments a client receives, the higher his or her chance is of completing the program with greater success. Lower re-arrest rates have been indicated, both during and after successful completion of treatment. It is especially important to receive as many acupuncture treatments as possible in the first few weeks of therapy. As cravings and anxiety decrease, acupuncture time can also be reduced.


Acupuncture is an effective treatment for any substance use.

  • Helps: headaches, body aches, sweats, sleep disturbances, tremors, anxiety, depression, mental clarity, decreases anger, reduces cravings for alcohol and other drugs.
  • Acupuncture helps stabilize you physically and emotionally and increases your ability to focus.
  • Will help you stay clean and sober.
  • Relaxes you from the inside. So sit quietly during treatment.
  • These treatments stimulate your body to heal itself. The treatments are not to sedate you but rather treatments that rebuild your physical and emotional self.
  • Come for treatment as often as you can. It works best when treatments are frequent and ongoing. These treatments will have a cumulative effect. If you are still using or relapse keep coming to treatment! The acupuncture will help you stop.
  • Avoid coffee, sugar, cigarettes, heavy meals, or being overly hungry a minimum of one hour before treatment.
  • Use the herbal tea formula as often as you like. It will help you relax throughout the day and may help normalize your sleep. The tea is safe, non-narcotic, and non-addictive.