Acupuncture for Addiction

Acupuncture is form of traditional chinese medicine where specific points on the body are stimulated with fine needles, magnets or other means, with the goal of balancing Qi, the body’s innate energy.  Auricular acupuncture is a specific subcategory, where only points on the ear are utilized.  In traditional chinese medicine, the ear is a map of the body, so that by stimulating points on the ear, the whole body can be effected.


Addiction is a whole body experience, and so it seems intuitive that treating the whole person with a systemic therapy like acupuncture could offer a lot of benefit. Addiction can often be to medications or other drugs, alcohol, caffeine or cigarettes, but also to foods, particularly sugar.  Quitting any of these substances can be difficult and in the case of some pharmaceuticals, dangerous, without support.  Auricular acupuncture has become a medically accepted way to support detoxification and promote compliance with abstaining from addictive substances without the aid of other medications.


In the mid-1970s, Dr. Michael Smith, a physician at Lincoln Memorial Hospital in  Bronx, New York, developed a set of auricular acupuncture points as a way to support drug detoxification. By 1985, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) was founded to promote the use of auricular acupuncture as a drug-less alternative for  addiction treatment.  Now there are over 10,000 healthcare professionals, over 700 healthcare clinics in the United States and an estimated 2,000 sites around the world offering the NADA treatments.


The NADA protocol has developed from Dr. Smith’s study and research to be an excellent means of supporting detoxification, using only five points on each ear.  The treatments typically last about forty minutes and can be done with the patient sitting or laying down. All the patients receive the same treatment, 5 small acupuncture needles in each ear. Patients often report feeling “energized” and “lighter” after a treatment.  Practitioners have found that the NADA protocol improves program retention, reduction in cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbances and need for other medications.


The acupuncture points used in the NADA protocol each have significance and facilitate balance in the body.

Shen Men

“Spirit gate” is known to help calm and relax.  It is excellent to reduce anxiety and nervousness, often associated with withdrawal.


This point is named for one of the two aspects of the nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic.  It supports balancing the nervous system and helping with reducing pain.


In Traditional Chinese medicine, the kidney is a source of energy.  This point is also used to support willpower and reduce fear as well as support detoxification.


Imbalance in the liver in Traditional Chinese medicine can be a source of anger and aggression.  Also, supportive of repairing liver function and detoxification, the liver point is to help heal emotional and physical damage.


The immune system as well as the emotion of grief are associated with the lung.  This point facilitates letting go as well as improving the whole system.


Much research has been and continues to be done on the NADA points for detoxification.  Yale recently did a study showing that patients receiving treatments had better compliance and were less likely to relapse when in detoxification programs for cocaine.


While acupuncture is certainly establishing itself as a useful tool against addiction, the individual’s attitude and behavior are equally as important as well as support, including counseling or self help groups.  Supporting the body and establishing balance helps break bad habits and promote better decisions.

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