The History of Acupuncture and Substance Abuse in the U.S.

Most Americans are surprised to learn that acupuncture has been used in this country to treat addictions for over thirty years. In 1974, Lincoln Hospital, located in the South Bronx in New York City, began a substance abuse program to replace methadone treatment with acupuncture. Over the next ten years Dr. Michael Smith developed a simple yet effective acupuncture protocol that eliminated withdrawal symptoms and significantly decreased relapse rates. At first it was used solely on Methadone addicts, but then expanded in the treatment of all drug, alcohol and smoking addictions.

Based on the success of the Lincoln Hospital model, in 1985 the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) was formed as a national non-profit organization. Its mission is to train health care workers in various settings to use the NADA protocol as part of any substance abuse program. Today, people across the United States receive detoxification acupuncture in hospitals, prison systems, through drug court alternative sentencing, alcohol and substance abuse counseling agencies and other private clinics.

What is NADA?

The NADA protocol itself is the insertion of 5 acupuncture needles into specific locations in the ear that stimulate the lungs, liver, kidneys and nervous system. The combination of these points aids in detoxification and restoring systemic equilibrium. It is used in conjunction with 12 step programs, individual and group therapy in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Regardless of the specific addiction or the setting in which it is treated, NADA states that “among the benefits reported by patients and clinicians are improved program retention, a more optimistic and cooperative attitude toward the process of recovery, as well as reductions in cravings, anxiety, sleep disturbance and need for pharmaceuticals.”

All acupuncturists at Triangle Acupuncture Clinic are trained in the NADA protocol and one of our acupuncturists has advanced substance abuse treatment training at Lincoln Hospital and is a national trainer of Detoxification Acupuncture at private substance abuse clinics on the East Coast. Triangle Acupuncture Clinic, however, does not provide services for acute detoxification of any kind. Instead we offer acupuncture treatment to help eliminate the cravings for specific substances. Mostly we treat people trying to quit smoking, but also work with individuals with other addictions.

Acupuncture for Smoking Cessation

When a person decides to quit smoking, various withdrawal symptoms occur. Emotional imbalances include irritability, anxiety, decreased threshold for stress, emotional outbursts, crying and/or a vague but strong sense of dis-ease. Physical symptoms vary greatly from increased food cravings, constipation or diarrhea, insomnia, decreased energy, palpitations, night sweats, digestive discomfort, muscle tightness to dryness. These withdrawal symptoms occur as the body attempts to re-adjust itself to no longer processing nicotine and the various addictive and harmful substances found in cigarettes. It takes most people at least two weeks to re-establish systemic harmony and feel at ease again without cigarettes, even though their bodies will continue to release and expel stored substances for months or years to come. But it is the first two weeks that is the most difficult period for smokers to get through. After that it is usually emotional triggers (or reminders) that need to be dealt with to prevent relapses.

Acupuncture helps people to stop smoking by tailoring their acupuncture treatments to their specific needs. There is no redundant set treatment because no one thing can work for every person. To be most effective, acupuncture must be based on specific needs and circumstances. Each person participates in a complete health evaluation and substance use history so that the acupuncture treatment that follows targets each individual’s concerns and imbalances.

After an acupuncture session, patients are taught how to apply acupressure to the 5 NADA ear points with tiny seeds that are placed on the ear. This gives people a proven tool to use on their own, to help decrease cravings and increase detoxification between treatments.

The combination of individualized acupuncture treatments with NADA ear points stimulated by the patient at home gives most people the extra help they need to finally end their smoking addiction.

How Many Treatment will I Need?

It is recommended that you come for acupuncture 2 or 3 times during the first two weeks you stop smoking. After that, an additional follow-up treatment to consolidate the effects is usually necessary. If life stressors or complicating circumstances are in play, then additional treatments may be necessary to preserve the positive results