When people decide to give up smoking, some are able to do it without too much difficulty, while others find it extremely difficult, and sometimes almost impossible. In general, the people who find it most difficult are those who began smoking in their teens and have smoked continuously since[1].

Through extensive clinical use, acupuncture has proved to be an effective treatment that has helped many people to overcome their tobacco addiction, and indeed has helped many people in their withdrawal from other addictive substances. Because of its proven effectiveness, acupuncture is widely used in drug detox clinics around the world[1].

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs known. When you combine this chemical with the flavour of tobacco smoke and the oral satisfaction of a cigarette, you get an addiction that is very difficult to break. However, acupuncture treatment tends to transform the taste of tobacco into a bad experience, which may make smoking cessation less difficult. Also, acupuncture treatment alleviates nervousness, agitation, and other signs of mental distress. This calming effect may also make the smoking cessation experience less stressful.

Cessation strategies to help you stop smoking

When using acupuncture treatment to help you give up smoking, you could either choose to stop smoking suddenly, at the start of treatment, or to gradually withdraw from smoking.

Stop suddenly: With this approach, the critical time is in the first week or two. You should not regard it as a failure if you take one cigarette. This is still a great reduction compared to before the start of your cessation campaign. Rather regard yourself as withdrawing gradually.

Gradual withdrawal: This approach is easier on the body. Acupuncture treatment changes the taste of cigarettes, which would usually help you to give up. You should:

  • Gradually increase the time between cigarettes, and
  • reduce the amount of each one smoked.
  • Use a card to log cigarettes, and the amount of each cigarette smoked.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the usual triggers to smoke are still present.

How does the acupuncture treatment work?

From the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) point of view, your tobacco withdrawal symptoms are being produced by the impeding of your Liver's functioning[2]. Because you are addicted to tobacco, your Liver has become used to the stimulation of the tobacco that is usually in your circulation, and this has substituted a part of your Liver's own energy, so that your Liver now has less energy (in simple terms).

In the interval between you smoking each cigarette, the level of tobacco in your circulation falls, and this means that your Liver does not then have enough energy to function properly. This produces various symptoms, which might include feelings of agitation, of anxiety, of depression; difficulty in falling asleep; and also the craving for tobacco, which is your body's way of telling you that it needs this particular substance to function properly.

Ordinarily, these symptoms would be eased when you smoke a cigarette. This boosts the amount of tobacco that is circulating in your blood, and thus provides the stimulation that your Liver has become used to having in order to function properly, and because your Liver can then function properly, all the above symptoms are eased—that is, until the tobacco in your circulation starts to diminish again.

Acupuncture treatment works by stimulating the functioning of your Liver (that is, by increasing its energy back to a more normal level), and this then eases your tobacco withdrawal symptoms, since your Liver can then function properly without the need for tobacco. When this happens, you will be able to feel well, but will have achieved this without having to smoke. Between treatments, this boosting of your Liver's energy will initially wear off, as your Liver returns to that state that it has become accustomed to over many years. But as the treatments progresses (over a number of sessions), your Liver functioning will gradually become better regulated over longer periods of time, so that you will tend to feel well without having to smoke to produce this feeling.

(With smoking, as with all other addictions, you feel unwell when the drug starts to wear off, so you 'self-medicate'—i.e. you smoke a cigarette—in order to feel well again. And your addiction consists of a continuous cycle of self-medicating, then the drug wearing off, which produces the withdrawal symptoms, so you self-medicate again to remove these symptoms, i.e. to feel well.)

Another effect that acupuncture treatment has, is that it tends to change your experience of smoking. Some people find that the taste of the smoke becomes unpleasant; others find that the smell of the smoke makes them feel nauseous; and others find that smoking makes them become unpleasantly warm[1]. This change also helps you to stop smoking, by putting you off the experience of smoking.

What form does the acupuncture treatment take?

As an acupuncturist, there are various methods that I can use to treat your addiction. I tend to use a combination of body acupuncture[3], and the use of press-seeds on certain acupoints on your ears[4]. During the treatment, I would needle certain acupoints on your body. These would usually be selected to ease your withdrawal symptoms (by simulating your Liver's functioning), to calm your mind, and to treat the effects that smoking would have had on your Lungs over the years. Of course, if there are any other underlying problems, I would also treat those as well. I would then usually place special seeds on certain acupoints on your ears[4]. These are held in place by small plasters and they would remain in place for a few days. They would continue the effects of the treatment over the following few days, and would help to ease any tobacco cravings that you might have. Each time you experience a craving, you would be able to press the seeds, which would usually help to ease the craving.

How many acupuncture treatments will I need?

This will vary from person to person. Generally though, if you are going to instantly withdraw from smoking at the start of the treatments, I would recommend two treatments per week for the first two weeks, to help you get through the most difficult patch. You might then change to weekly treatments, and gradually increase the interval between treatments as you find the cravings subsiding and your health improving.

If you are going to gradually withdraw from smoking, I would suggest starting with weekly treatments, and then gradually increasing the interval between treatments when you feel comfortable doing this.

As to the overall number of treatments that it might take, this really will vary from person to person. Some people respond to the treatments much better than others. The only way to discover this in your own case is for you to receive a few treatments. It should then be possible for me to gauge how many you might need in total.

What are the benefits of acupuncture treatment?

The treatments would not only treat your withdrawal symptoms, making it easier for you to stop smoking, but would also usually improve your general health. Of course, once you have stopped smoking, your health would tend to improve as a result, but if you are undergoing acupuncture treatment while you are stopping, the improvement in your health would normally be more pronounced.

Also, an added bonus is the financial benefits that you will have once you have finally managed to stop smoking.

Note: in this article I have translated the TCM terminology and concepts into language and concepts that the general Western reader will be able to more easily understand. Because of this, some of the explanations given may not seem to correspond to Western medical current thinking on these matters (to readers who are trained in such things). This sort of conflict is inevitable when attempting to cross the gulf between two such different systems. To such readers, I would urge them to keep an open mind until they have tried treatment for themselves and experienced firsthand the powerful healing effects of acupuncture, even though contemporary physiology currently has no explanation for it.



1. ACUPUNCTURE ASSISTANCE FOR WITHDRAWAL FROM TOBACCO SMOKING by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon.

2. Given, Steve, Understanding addiction according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Journal of Chinese Medicine number 54, May 1997.

3. Jinsheng, Hu, Commonly-Used Acupuncture Methods for Abstinence from Smoking, Journal of Chinese Medicine number 37, September 1991.

4. Tian, Zhen-ming, Treating Smoking Addiction with the Ear Point Seed Pressing Method, Journal of Chinese Medicine number 52, September 1996.