Ear Acupuncture for Alcohol Withdrawal in Comparison With Aromatherapy: A Randomized-Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Background

There is increasing clinical acceptance of acupuncture as a treatment of substance-related disorders. Little is known about acupuncture as a treatment for the withdrawal syndrome in inpatient settings. We compared auricular needle acupuncture with aromatherapy in reducing the duration and severity of symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Methods

Inpatients undergoing alcohol withdrawal were randomly allocated to needle acupuncture (n = 55) and aromatherapy (n = 54). Both therapies were applied daily during the first 5 consecutive treatment days. The rating scale for the assessment of the alcohol-withdrawal syndrome (AWS scale) served as the main dependent variable and was applied daily during the first 5 days of the withdrawal. Further measures included a subjective visual analog scale of craving and the Self Assessment Manikin (SAM).

Results

Thirty-six of the 55 patients who received acupuncture, and 38 of the 54 patients who received aromatherapy, finished the study regularly. The groups differed in their initial self-reported arousal, which then served as a covariate in the further analyses. Neither the extent of craving nor of withdrawal symptoms differed between groups over the observation period. Self-rated arousal decreased in response to both treatments from days 1 to 2 (p<0.001) and within single days (p<0.001), and we found a significant interaction between pretreatment versus posttreatment and days (p<0.001). Interactions including between-subjects effects and intervention did not achieve the significance level.

Conclusion

The results do not support the assumption of a superiority of acupuncture over the control therapy in its specific effects on alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

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