Alcohol and drug addiction pose serious medical, social, and economic problems in the United States. However, finding effective treatments for addiction is challenging. Many people relapse due to intense cravings and/or painful withdrawal symptoms. Electroacupuncture (acupuncture combined with electrical stimulation) is currently being studied as a possible treatment option, and preliminary evidence suggests that electroacupuncture can counteract addiction by affecting related chemicals (opiates) in the brain.
In a recent study funded through a research center program jointly sponsored by NCCAM and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), researchers examined the effects of electroacupuncture on alcohol intake by alcohol-preferring rats. After being trained to drink alcohol voluntarily and then subjected to alcohol deprivation, the rats received either electroacupuncture or sham electroacupuncture, and their alcohol intake was monitored after the intervention. Some rats were also pretreated with naltrexone (a drug that blocks the effects of opiates), so researchers could look for evidence that opiate mechanisms are involved in electroacupuncture's effects.
The results showed that electroacupuncture reduced the rats' alcohol intake. The researchers also found that injecting the rats with naltrexone blocked the effect of electroacupuncture on alcohol intake-an indication that this effect may be through the brain's opiate system. On the basis of their findings, the researchers recommend rigorous clinical trials to study the effects of electroacupuncture in alcohol-addicted people. They also recommend further investigation of how electroacupuncture affects the brain.
Overstreet DH, Cui C-L, Ma Y-Y, et al. Electroacupuncture reduces voluntary alcohol intake in alcohol-preferring rats via an opiate-sensitive mechanism. Neurochemical Research.; 33(10):2166–2170.2008