Acupuncture for Addiction

Did you know that acupuncture can be a useful tool to help with detoxification and recovery from addiction, and that Spring is the best time to detoxify? The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol is an accessible, clinically effective, drug-free adjunct therapy that greatly enhances success of recovery. This treatment consists of auricular (ear) acupuncture points, so can be done sitting up, in group settings, or as an add-on to a full-body acupuncture treatment. 

In 1974, the first US acupuncture detoxification clinic opened at Lincoln Memorial Hospital in the South Bronx with the grassroots assistance of community activists like the Black Panthers and Young Lords. Since then, acupuncture has steadily increased in popularity as a treatment for many substance use disorders, ranging from drug and alcohol dependency to other addictions such as smoking and overeating.  

Five Seasons practitioners trained directly with the founding director of this program, Michael O. Smith, MD, a dedicated and compassionate pioneer in the field of psychiatry and addiction. Our practitioners often include or adapt the NADA protocol to our usual acupuncture point selections which are customized for you at each visit. 

Spring is a particularly beneficial time to use acupuncture for addiction and detoxification. According to Chinese Medicine principles, the season of Spring is associated with the wood element. The dynamic of this element is to ‘orderly reach,’ to grow and expand–our thoughts, our experience, our abilities, our capacity.  Thus, this is an ideal season to embark on new endeavors and harness this energy for success. The wood element is related to the liver organ, and this is also a key time to detoxify. Spring is a season of new beginnings and growth, and is an optimal time to set new goals, help ourselves grow, and work on detoxification.

Clinical evidence shows that acupuncture works very well to control addictions, curb cravings including alcohol, drugs, and nicotine, and address behavioral issues without any side effects. It is considered a preferable way to bring relief from withdrawal symptoms and promote relaxation and improved sleep. Acupuncture helps raise the level of endorphins, the same “feel-good” chemicals released during exercise that also act as the body’s natural painkillers. Patients have reported experiencing a very calming effect and feelings of peace and well-being after receiving acupuncture. Being in a positive frame of mind helps patients deal with the mental, emotional, and physical obstacles that may arise during their recovery.

Further benefits of the NADA protocol include relief from emotional trauma, less agitation, and a discovery of inner strength and quiet. Not only is NADA used in addiction settings, but also for behavioral health and disaster-relief settings. Rather than treat symptoms in a superficial manner, acupuncture addresses the deeper imbalances in the body, works to get to the root of the problem, and detoxifies the body of chemicals that trigger addictive behavior.

Using NADA, acupuncturists treat patients by inserting short, thin, sterile needles at three to five different points in the ear. The patients then sit or lie comfortably for about 20-30 minutes. Three of these five points help to strengthen the liver, kidneys, and lungs, organs that are often most damaged in people with a substance use disorder, due to the high-volume stress of eliminating toxins from the body. Learn more about each point below:

  • Shen Men: Also known as “Spirit Gate”, this point works to reduce anxiety and nervousness, and has an overall relaxing effect. It is believed to create a balance between negative emotions (such as impatience and mood swings) and positive emotions such as joy, which helps to bring on a sense of well-being. NADA points for addiction
  • Liver: The Liver point is most beneficial for wringing out the liver of toxins–physical and emotional, and for creating emotional balance by reducing anger and depression. It can also help to stabilize impulsiveness and mood swings.
  • Lung: In Chinese Medicine, the lungs play a vital role in the flow of qi through the body. This point alleviates toxicity in the immune, integumentary (skin), and respiratory systems, as well as promotes balance, relaxation, and courage. The point works to create a healthy mind, body, and spirit. 
  • Kidney: This point alleviates toxicity in the kidney from chemical use. It purifies the blood, quells fears, lessens insecurities, and provokes gentleness and awareness.
  • Sympathetic: This point addresses the autonomic nervous system, replacing stress with calm. It helps to calm the primitive part of the nervous system that responds to perceived danger – the flight or fight response.

Patients seeking treatment for substance use disorders are advised to receive frequent and regular acupuncture until sober and then gradually scale back to help them remain so. As with most things, it is important to remember that while acupuncture can be a significant part of recovery, no single type of treatment will be effective in the recovery from all addictions for all individuals. Patients are encouraged to build a supportive network of help, including practices such as counseling, education, group therapy, and medical support.

Curious about the NADA protocol? Contact us at with questions, or click here to book an appointment today.

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