Judy Bowen-Jones

Smoking & Substance Abuse

Smoking is one of the leading causes of illness and death in the UK. It increases your risk of developing serious health conditions.

Smoking causes about 90% of lung cancers and many other cancers. Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke, leading to conditions such as chronic bronchitis and pneumonia, and aggravating symptoms of asthma, upper respiratory tract infections and colds. In men, smoking can cause impotence as it limits the blood supply to the penis. It can also affect the fertility of both men and women, making it difficult for you to have children.

Smoking during pregnancy, puts your unborn baby’s health at risk, as well as your own. Smoking in pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature (early) birth, low birth weight and stillbirth.

According to the NHS (2015), giving up smoking increases your chances of living a longer and healthier life – even if you have smoked for 40 years. You should start to notice the benefits soon after quitting. After only one month you will look better – healthier. Your skin will be clearer, brighter and more hydrated. You will smell better too. Within three to nine months your breathing will be easier, and you will no longer cough or wheeze. After one year your risk of heart attack and heart disease will have fallen to about half that of a smoker.

The NHS offers a range of services to help those wanting to quit smoking including one to one and group sessions with NHS non-smoking advisors, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or medication.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are becoming increasingly popular. E-cigarettes are electrical devices that mimic real cigarettes by producing a vapour that’s potentially less harmful than tobacco smoke. They may still contain nicotine. The long term effects of e-cigarette use are not known.

Acupuncture for SMOKING, DRUGS & ALCOHOL

A World Health Report of acupuncture studies lists Tobacco Dependence, Alcohol Dependence and Detoxification, and Opium, Cocaine and Heroin Dependence as conditions for which therapeutic benefit of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed (2003). Good quality research into the use of acupuncture for treating smoking, drugs and alcohol is limited though the results are encouraging. It is believed that acupuncture may help relieve symptoms of drug and nicotine withdrawal by:

  • Regulating release of dopamine in the body, reducing the over-stimulating effects of abused drugs, and modifying behaviour associated with addiction relating to desire and reward
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Altering the brain’s mood chemistry
  • Increasing the levels of endorphins
  • Calming anxiety behaviour following nicotine withdrawal

The rationale for the use of acupuncture in helping people quit smoking is largely based on evidence supporting the use of acupuncture for drug withdrawal and detoxification. Research studies for acupuncture and smoking vary in their methodology and are not easily comparable. Studies have shown that acupuncture can help reduce cigarette consumption and the desire to smoke. However it is suggested that for sustained abstinence, the psychosocial aspects of smoking must be addressed at the same time.

In clinical practice, acupuncture is used extensively worldwide as an integral part of conventional substance abuse therapy programmes to help treat people with addiction problems. The NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) Protocol, a form of ear acupuncture developed in New York in the 1970’s as an alternative to methadone to help treat drug addiction, is now used to help treat a wide range of conditions including: stress, anxiety & panic disorder, trauma, some psychiatric medications dependency, smoking cessation and for ameliorating side effects from drug treatment in cancer. The protocol is known to have a calming effect on the central nervous system.

The benefits of the NADA Protocol reported by patients and health care providers include improved retention in drug treatment programs, more optimistic attitudes towards detoxification and recovery, reductions in cravings and anxiety, better sleep and reduced need for medication.

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“Acupuncture can be helpful in treating withdrawal and detoxification from substance abuse as part of a bigger and longer term conventional medical treatment plan, which may include behavioural therapy, counselling and medication.

Acupuncture can help reduce cigarette consumption and the desire to smoke. But in my experience, acupuncture for smoking cessation only works in the medium to long term if you are willing to take responsibility and make some lifestyle changes for yourself. For example, if you always meet your work colleagues outside the back door for a cigarette at lunchtime, then it may be that you need to go out the front door at lunchtime and have lunch with some non-smokers. Acupuncture is not a ‘magic bullet’. You need to be motivated to quit.

Acupuncture can also help you feel less anxious and mentally stronger. So if you really want to stop smoking, you may find that having a few acupuncture sessions beforehand helps prepare you physically and mentally to face the challenge.”


Lin, J-G. Et al. (2012) Acupuncture for the treatment of opiate addiction. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 739045 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296192/

Ear Acupuncture: A Tool for Recovery (2011) medicine.yale.edu/psychiatry/newsandevents/cmhcacupuncture

World Health Organization. Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials (2003), 87pp. Full report http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/pdf/s4926e/s4926e.pdf

Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.