Published On: June 30, 2023

Acupuncture Protocol by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association

NADA developed a protocol for the use of acupuncture for mental health, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. During NADA acupuncture treatments, your acupuncturist will gently place small needles into five points on each of your ears. Then, you’ll relax quietly with others in your treatment group for about 45 minutes.

Each needle corresponds to a pressure point that affects one of these areas:

  • Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic nervous system regulates healthy digestion and a regular sleep cycle, while the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that may take over during detox and recovery.
  • Shen Men, known in ancient Chinese medicine as the Heavenly Gate or Divine Point. This pressure point calms both the body and mind, encourages the removal of harmful substances and eases discomfort. It also helps boost the effects of acupuncture treatments on the other four pressure points.
  • Lung point. Activation of this pressure point helps ease breathing and provides emotional release.
  • Liver point. Acupuncture treatments that target this area can help detox the body, boost confidence and alleviate feelings of anger.
  • Kidney point. Activating this area may reduce feelings of despair and encourage organ healing.

NADA offers training on this protocol to various health care providers and community groups, including but not limited to:

  • Social workers
  • Therapists
  • Harm reduction and addiction counselors
  • Drug court providers
  • Trauma support and disaster relief teams
  • Physicians, nurses, first responders and other health care providers

Benefits of NADA Acupuncture Treatments for Drug Treatment

NADA has designed its protocol to be appropriate across cultures, affordable and effective. The organization’s ear acupuncture technique was adapted for addiction treatment in the mid-1970s at Lincoln Hospital in South Bronx, New York. A group of physicians based the protocol on earlier research conducted on auricular acupuncture in Hong Kong.

Treatment facilities can implement this acupuncture technique as part of behavioral health and addiction treatment programs that incorporate medical and clinical recovery, education, individual counseling and group therapy.

The organization reports clear evidence that people who have NADA acupuncture treatments experience:

  • An enhanced sense of internal peace and fortitude
  • Fewer barriers to counseling and therapy
  • Reduced symptoms of trauma and stress, such as agitation, sleep issues and anxiety
  • Decreased physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms
  • Fewer cravings for drugs, alcohol and nicotine during recovery

According to the Cleveland Clinic, therapists have used this form of acupuncture to help patients cope with trauma and natural disasters, including after events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Future research may focus on how these paper-thin needles can create a possible mechanism for lasting recovery without adverse effects.

The Research on Acupuncture Treatment and Substance Abuse

A 2012 systematic review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine analyzed English-language and Chinese-language research published on acupuncture and addiction recovery since the 1970s. The authors found that the majority of studies to date support the efficacy of acupuncture for drug addiction.

In 2017, a study published in Behavioral Science specifically looked at the NADA acupuncture protocol described in the next section. Researchers found that people in traditional addiction recovery programs who received auricle acupuncture reported:

  • Less tobacco and alcohol use at 3-month and 6-month follow-up appointments
  • Higher energy levels
  • Better overall quality of life
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Lower stress

Western scientists tend to focus on the biological effects of acupuncture. For example, they speculate that the needles may stimulate dopamine release that improves mood and relieves pain. The Cleveland Clinic reports that the treatment is safe and effective, even for pregnant women and others who want to recover from addictions without the use of other drugs and medications.