Can Acupuncture Help Recovery From Addiction? – Cleveland Clinic


Drug addiction and trauma are very difficult and complex things to deal with. Fortunately, neither of them has to struggle alone. In addition to treatment solutions that take into account a person’s individual needs, there are additional therapies that can help promote healing and recovery. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) acupuncture protocol is one such therapy.

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What is the NADA protocol and how can it help with addiction, trauma or other mental health issues? Licensed acupuncturist Tim Sobo, LAc, explains how it works and shares some tips for ensuring success with this form of acupuncture.

The origins of the NADA protocol

The NADA protocol was created in the 1970s at Lincoln Detox in the Bronx, New York. This form of acupuncture for drug withdrawal has its origins in the research of Chinese neurosurgeon HL Wen. Wen took a closer look at the effects of electrostimulation on the pulmonary point of the ear and how it might help relieve acute symptoms of opium withdrawal.

Today, NADA offers training for:

  • Addiction and Harm Reduction Counselors.
  • Mental health therapists and social workers.
  • Correctional officers and drug court staff.
  • Disaster relief teams and trauma support center staff.
  • First responders, health promoters, nurses and paramedics.
  • Acupuncturists and doctors.

Ear acupuncture points for the NADA protocol

While traditional acupuncture sessions may involve placing needles at different points on the body, the NADA protocol is ear or ear therapy. The needles are placed at five specific points and patients rest for about 30 to 45 minutes with them.

The tips are:

  • Kidney – This point promotes organ healing and can help allay fears.
  • Liver – The ear point of the liver helps with blood purification and detoxification. It is also believed to reduce anger and increase self-confidence.
  • Lung – The pulmonary ear point can help release emotions and increase lung capacity.
  • Shen Men – Also known as the “Divine Point” or “Heaven / Spirit Gate,” the Shen Men point is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and body. It can also promote detoxification, reduce pain, and help energize other acupuncture points.
  • Sympathetic – This point helps manage the sympathetic (regulates fight-or-flight responses) and parasympathetic (maintains rest and digestion) branches of the autonomic nervous system. It is also good for pain relief as it can dilate blood vessels.

NADA is usually offered in groups, which makes it more affordable. But there is another added value in this community acupuncture approach. People who experience it will know that they do not experience it alone.

“The group advantage is a combination of shared experience, accessibility and affordability. From a purely clinical standpoint, you get the shared effect of being around other people and it gives you the perspective of “We’re all going through this together – and we’re going to get better together.”

What can NADA acupuncture help treat?

The NADA protocol has been shown to decrease cravings for alcohol, drugs or even cigarettes. Sobo says it also makes withdrawal symptoms less intense. This form of acupuncture can also be used to help manage gambling problems and food addiction.

NADA acupuncture has helped people recover from trauma or natural disasters. When used after September 11, it helped people relax and sleep better. The same could be said when it was used after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“There is a group called Acupuncturist Without Borders who go to places after natural disasters. These acupuncturists administer the NADA protocol to affected individuals to help reduce the stress of these situations, ”explains Sobo.

Additional benefits of NADA acupuncture

One study has shown that the NADA protocol can help improve the quality of life of those who follow traditional treatment programs. Participants who received NADA acupuncture reported feeling better about themselves and having more energy. They also consumed less alcohol or tobacco during the three- and six-month follow-up periods of the study.

“The NADA protocol can increase calm, promote better sleep, and decrease restlessness and stress. Overall, it makes people feel better, and it allows more positive things to happen. For example, using it in a mental health situation might help people calm down so they can build better relationships with their therapists. This then leads to better counseling sessions for the future, ”says Sobo.

What are the risks of the NADA protocol?

As long as you go to a qualified acupuncturist, there is no risk.

“Side effects are virtually non-existent with the NADA protocol or acupuncture in general. The needles are all single use, sterile and disposable, so there is not much risk of infection. And when done right, the needles shouldn’t go that deep into the ear.

NADA even said the protocol is safe for pregnant women. The group claims to have a very successful documented history of treating pregnant people living with addiction.

Does Acupuncture Help Recover From Addiction?

According to Sobo, NADA acupuncture is most effective when participants are receptive and engaged in treatment. If the will is not there, the protocol will not succeed.

“For it to work, there has to be a desire to stop. For example, you cannot be passive in wanting to quit smoking. But if you have the ‘I’m going to quit smoking and I’m going to do my best to do everything right’ mentality, the NADA protocol will work on top of that. ”

It’s important to realize that the whole process is going to take some time, but Sobo says you should notice results after a few sessions.

“It won’t be a situation where you get treated seven times and nothing has changed. If you are trying to quit smoking, you might notice that instead of smoking a pack a day, you only smoke three-quarters of a pack per visit two or three. As you continue to be treated, those three-quarters of a pack can go up to half, then a quarter, and eventually you will feel less urge to smoke. It may take a month or a few months to get there, depending on a person’s smoking history. But since we are using the NADA protocol to help treat addiction, withdrawal symptoms need to be gradually reduced and managed.

The same goes for trauma or mental health issues.

“It will be a process that builds on itself. One-time, one-time traumas can be treated quickly and effectively in the hope that they will not turn into permanent problems. But if you have a long history of trauma, the length of your treatment will depend on your goals and the condition being treated. It’s like seeing a mental health professional. You are never really done with them, but eventually you will get to a point where you don’t need to go to therapy all the time.

Sobo adds that it’s best to see a practitioner who encourages you to stick with therapy and any other treatment program you’re in. If someone tells you that NADA acupuncture is all you need and suggests that you end other treatment programs, they are not the right acupuncturist for you.


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