Quitting smoking is a common reason people seek out an acupuncturist. It’s true, acupuncture can help (with addiction in general), and there are specific ways in which acupuncture supports the body through the quitting process.

In most of America, acupuncture seems like mystical tradition that is little understood, most likely because the majority of us did not grow up with Chinese medicine as our primary medical system. That mysticism makes the success of acupuncture treatments seem like a miracle. As a result, people usually walk into my office expecting a miracle, especially when it comes to quitting smoking. I’m going to help de-mystify why and how acupuncture works for addiction and cravings. It’s not a miracle cure by any means, and it requires engagement, preparation, and commitment on the part of the person relinquishing their habit.

The most important thing to know is that acupuncture cannot persuade you to stop smoking. If you are not ready to quit, acupuncture alone cannot guarantee you’ll never pick up another cigarette. You have to be ready to let go of the habit. Take a look at this stages of change model. It’s a great tool to assess your mindset for any transition in your life. Acupuncture is the most effective for those who are in the preparation stage, or the stage right before you take the plunge to quit. As part of your preparation, you are developing or seeking out new coping mechanisms so you are ready for the action stage of kicking the habit. Preparation is key to the success of the action stage; if you don’t have a proper support system, you won’t be able to continue the action without relapsing.

Stages of change flowchart

Stages of change flowchart

If you are not in the preparation stage, acupuncture can still be helpful. The very first stage, precontemplation, means that you haven’t even thought about quitting. You are in no way prepared to consider that as a possibility anytime soon. In the contemplation stage, you’ve thought about quitting, but you really haven’t formulated any concrete ideas as to how to go about it. When you start to come up with a plan you’ve crossed into the preparation stage. If you are in the pre-contemplation or contemplation stage, acupuncture can help shift you toward preparation and action.

The main way acupuncture assists you in stopping smoking is its effect on the nervous system and emotions. Smoking is a habit with several components that need to be addressed: the physiological addiction to nicotine, the stress or anxiety relief smoking provides, and the ritual act of smoking. Acupuncture shifts the nervous system from sympathetic fight-or-flight stress to parasympathetic rest-and-digest relaxation. Smoking – or any habit or addiction for that matter – provides the same outlet. Acupuncture treatments work in the moment to quell cravings, but they also work over the long term to bring down the level of stress and anxiety that usually triggers smoking. Addressing the long term picture is important, because bringing down that stress level overall will make you less likely to turn to smoking as a coping mechanism.

Acupuncture is not the only tool I use to help my patients quit smoking when they are ready, but it is a very powerful one. We make a comprehensive plan that involves developing several coping mechanisms: those for the moment of craving, and those that address the general anxiety and stress of day to day life.

Receiving regular acupuncture treatments is one of the best ways to prepare to quit smoking. The treatments shift your mental and emotional landscape such that you are more capable of handling stress and addressing the deeper issues attached to the habit.

If my patients are in the action stage of change (they’ve taken the plunge and stopped smoking), I offer brief ear needle sessions (in addition to their regular appointments) as they have cravings for the first few weeks. The ear needle treatments are very effective at switching the nervous system into a relaxed state and decreasing an acute craving. Full treatments shift the nervous system, while also helping to release the mental and emotional attachments around cigarettes. I customize each session to my patient’s individual needs. No one experiences addiction, craving, or stress in the exact same way, therefore treatment should be tailored to meet what that particular person needs at that time.

I hope this has helped shed some light on how acupuncture can be an effective tool for quitting smoking! It’s a fabulous support for an addiction that is one of the hardest to break!