Acupuncture and relaxation response for craving and anxiety reduction among military veterans in recovery from substance use disorder


  • Bei-Hung Chang ScD,

    Corresponding author
    1. VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    • Address correspondence to Dr. Chang, 150 S. Huntington Ave. (152H), Boston, MA 02130. E-mail:

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  • Elizabeth Sommers PhD, MPH, LicAc

    1. Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
    2. Pathways to Wellness/AIDS Care Project, Boston, Massachusetts
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Background and Objectives

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a major health issue, especially among military veterans. We previously reported the effects of auricular acupuncture and the relaxation response (RR) on reducing craving and anxiety following 10-week interventions among veterans who were in recovery from SUDs. Our current analysis examines effects following each intervention session and RR daily practice.


We conducted a three-arm randomized controlled trial on residents of a homeless veteran rehabilitation program. Sixty-Seven enroled participants were randomly assigned to acupuncture (n = 23), RR (n = 23), or usual care (n = 21). Participants in the two intervention groups rated their degree of craving for substance on a scale of 1–10 and anxiety levels on a scale of 1–4 (total score 20–80) before and after each intervention session. Mixed effects regression models were used for analysis.


Craving and anxiety levels decreased significantly following one session of acupuncture (−1.04, p = .0001; −8.83, p < .0001) or RR intervention (−.43, p = .02; −4.64, p = .03). The level of craving continued to drop with additional intervention sessions (regression coefficient b = −.10, p = .01, and b = −.10, p = .02 for acupuncture and RR groups, respectively). Number of daily practice days of RR-eliciting techniques is also associated with reduction in craving ratings (b = −.02, p = .008).


Findings demonstrate the value of attending regular acupuncture and RR-eliciting intervention sessions, as well as the daily practice of RR-eliciting techniques.

Scientific Significance

Substance addiction is a complex disease and effective treatment remains a challenge. Our study findings add to the scientific evidence of these two non-pharmaceutical approaches for SUD. (Am J Addict 2014;23:129–136)