Medicaid covers acupuncture for the treatment of pain in California, and many are asking whether there are benefits to expanding that coverage to include treatment for addiction and other mental health disorders. There are many benefits to engaging with a range of alternative and holistic treatments in combination with traditional therapies (e.g., talk therapy in a one-on-one setting, support groups, etc.), but there is not much in the way of scientific evidence to support acupuncture’s use.
Why do more than 2,000 drug and alcohol rehabs incorporate acupuncture into their treatment plans? Should California expand its state Medicaid coverage to provide for acupuncture and other holistic treatment options for people in recovery from addiction?
As of this writing, it is possible for a client of a drug rehab program to receive acupuncture as part of an inpatient treatment program under the coverage of Medicaid in California but only because it is provided as a “package deal.” When clients leave their inpatient treatment program, they cannot connect with an acupuncturist and continue to have the treatment covered by Medicaid. In fact, even when they receive acupuncture treatment through a program covered by Medicaid, the treatments are often sporadic, performed in a group setting, and focused solely on points in the ear thought to be connected to addiction behaviors, a practice called micro-acupuncture.
Is the practice helpful in this setting and context? Should it be continued outside the bounds of these programs?
Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture has been in use in Eastern cultures for more than 2,000 years. There are accredited universities and colleges around the world that license professionals in the science of providing acupuncture to clients safely and effectively in the treatment of a range of issues.
There are many who tout its benefits and seek out acupuncture as a part of a complete treatment program that addresses all the issues impacting a person’s manifestation of symptoms. In one study performed over 35 years in Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, New York, an average of about 100 acupuncture treatments were performed on patients in recovery from addiction every day as part of a comprehensive treatment program. The study is credited with helping to ground the practice of acupuncture in Western medicine and add it to the repertoire of a number of different mental health and addiction treatment programs.
But does it work? This is a straightforward question that does not have a straightforward answer. Some studies have found that the groups of clients who incorporate acupuncture into their treatment program have higher rates of sobriety at check-in points when compared to groups that do not use the treatment. Other studies have found no difference between the control group and the group undergoing acupuncture sessions during addiction treatment at least in terms of length of uninterrupted sobriety.
Many people who undergo acupuncture during treatment report a strong emotional response, feeling more open and able to access their emotions after a session. This can be especially helpful for people who are not interested in taking an active role in their recovery or otherwise feel that they cannot access their emotions and experience in talk therapy. It can also be helpful in assisting people with feeling calm and relaxing enough to get more out of other treatments.
Comprehensive Care and Treatment
Ultimately, because there is no surefire way to knock out addiction with a single treatment, the most effective approach to recovery is to incorporate a number of different types of therapies and treatments into a full treatment schedule. In this way, each person can find the type of intervention that resonates most with them, helps them to relax and focus on the work that needs to be done, and gives them the inspiration they need to keep going in treatment and recovery.
Have you tried acupuncture? Did you go for multiple sessions? How do you feel it impacted your ability to stay sober while in treatment and/or after treatment? What types of treatment work best for you in recovery?