Complementary medicine

Man using complementary medicine for heroin recovery

Using complementary therapies to help overcome the symptoms of heroin dependency or withdrawal, often in combination with other treatments.

People who want to try alternative approaches for relief from the symptoms of withdrawal and for relaxation and stress management during recovery.


  • Can help provide relief from the symptoms of detox.
  • Enables a holistic approach to treatment.


  • May have a limited effect upon your symptoms.
  • Little scientific evidence that they work.
Many community drug services, rehabs and counselling services will provide or encourage access to complementary therapies as part of a holistic care plan. Some complementary therapists have developed specialisms in working with people with dependency issues. However, it is important to check the credentials of any therapist you choose to see privately. Many complementary therapies have their own governing bodies that supervise the training and practice of therapists and can recommend qualified practitioners. You could also ask the therapist for references from previous clients or get recommendations from friends. If you have any doubts about the level of qualification, competence or safety of any therapist or practitioner who offers to help with your treatment then do not engage with them until you have checked them out. If you need help or advice about this, please contact a support organisation.

A traditional Chinese treatment that involves placing needles in specific areas of the body, usually the ears with opioid dependence. The needles are sometimes lightly stimulated with electricity. It is not clear whether acupuncture has a positive effect upon heroin dependency. Some patients appear to benefit from receiving it but others do not.

Homeopathy/herbal therapy
Herbs, extracts and minerals, sometimes highly diluted, are used to help the body eliminate the substances of dependence. Withdrawal symptoms are still felt, but the ‘treatments’ are claimed to speed up the elimination process.

Nutritional care
The nutritional approach relies on the theory that by consuming only natural fruits and vegetables, juices and soups, the body will naturally detoxify itself in a short amount of time. Exercise and dietary supplements are added to try and reduce withdrawal symptom severity.

The naturopathic method is an extension of the nutritional approach and is based on the concept that the body can heal itself. The person lives in a healthy environment (open, natural, supportive), in a healthy way (hiking, swimming, being outdoors), eats well and receives massage or acupuncture.

Long-term benefits
Despite having been used for many years, little information is available about the effectiveness of alternative medicine in drug dependency. Some recovering users, however, report that alternative therapies – particularly acupuncture – have really helped them.