Acupuncture for substance use disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016 Jun 1;163:1-15. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.02.034. Epub 2016 Mar 3.


Background: This systematic review aims to estimate the effects of acupuncture for adults with substance use disorders (SUDs).

Methods: We searched 7 electronic databases and bibliographies of previous studies to identify eligible randomized trials. Two independent reviewers screened citations, extracted data, and assessed risks of bias. We performed random effects meta-analyses. We assessed quality of evidence using the GRADE approach.

Results: We included 41 studies with 5,227 participants. No significant differences were observed between acupuncture and comparators (passive controls, sham acupuncture, treatment as usual, and active interventions) at post-intervention for relapse (SMD -0.12; 95%CI -0.46 to 0.22; 10 RCTs), frequency of substance use (SMD -0.27; -2.67 to 2.13; 2 RCTs), quantity of substance use (SMD 0.01; -0.40 to 0.43; 3 RCTs), and treatment dropout (OR 0.82; 0.63 to 1.09; 22 RCTs). We identified a significant difference in favor of acupuncture versus comparators for withdrawal/craving at post-intervention (SMD -0.57, -0.93 to -0.20; 20 RCTs), but we identified evidence of publication bias. We also identified a significant difference in favor of acupuncture versus comparators for anxiety at post-intervention (SMD -0.74, -1.15 to -0.33; 6 RCTs). Results for withdrawal/craving and anxiety symptoms were not significant at longer follow-up. Safety data (12 RCTs) suggests little risk of serious adverse events, though participants may experience slight bleeding or pain at needle insertion sites.

Conclusions: Available evidence suggests no consistent differences between acupuncture and comparators for substance use. Results in favor of acupuncture for withdrawal/craving and anxiety symptoms are limited by low quality bodies of evidence.

Keywords: Accupuncture; Meta-analysis; PROSPERO number for protocol: CRD42015016040; Substance use disorder; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods*
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety / therapy
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / methods
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / psychology
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*