If you are dealing with chronic pain, opioids may be the only way for you to fulfill simple daily tasks without excruciating pain. Unfortunately, heavy doses of opioids cause unpleasant side effects like chronic constipation, insomnia, and depression that can significantly diminish quality of life. As if this alone isn’t enough, often times it is necessary to take additional prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs to treat these side effects. Maybe you have even seen the commercials on television promoting prescription drugs that treat side effects like opioid induced constipation! The issue here is that western medical prescription treatments for pain now come with a myriad of secondary drugs necessary to treat the side effects of the primary drug. There is another way. Acupuncture is excellent at reducing these side effects.

Chronic Constipation

Acupuncture is particularly effective for opioid induced constipation (OIC). By placing small needles in specific points on the abdomen acupuncture helps regulate digestion. A technique known as “electro acupuncture” uses a machine that sends a small pulse of electric current through inserted acupuncture needles. When electro acupuncture is applied to abdominal points, the rhythmic pulsing mimics the body’s natural peristalsis—or the natural involuntary movement of content through the intestines. This treatment lasts from 20-45 minutes and will usually result in a significant bowel movement within about 6-12 hours. This can be a huge relief after many days or even weeks without a satisfactory stool.


Long term use of opioids can contribute to poor sleep. Here’s how acupuncture can help you sleep better. In Chinese Medicine opioid-related-insomnia is often due to “yin deficiency heat”. Yin is like the water in a pot heating on the stove. Yin deficiency happens when the heat causes the water—or yin— to evaporate until there is hardly any water left in the pot. The result is too much heat and not enough yin. This relative excess of heat is what hinders the body’s ability to enter a restful state and sleep well. Acupuncture points which are indicated to clear excess heat and build yin can help to treat insomnia.


Opioids can make it difficult to have a productive, clear-minded day. You may feel like you are lost in a brain fog with very little energy or motivation to accomplish daily tasks like caring for yourself or your family. In Chinese medicine, depression is closely related to stagnation of the Liver channel. By using acupuncture points that move liver qi stagnation and lift the spirit, acupuncture is very effective at treating depression. After an acupuncture session, you may feel a sense of lightness and lucidity that improves your mood and outlook. This is invaluable to your emotional well-being.

Maybe you do not have much choice about taking pain drugs because you have a severe condition that requires opioids. But if you would rather not take a handful of secondary drugs to treat the side effects from the opioid, acupuncture is a worthy investment. Many insurance plans will even cover treatment. Acupuncture is very effective at reducing undesirable side effects of long term opioid use including chronic constipation, insomnia, and depression.