Updated: Aug 24
Feeling strung out? Addicted? Try needles in your ears!?
The Need for a Different Way
The year is 1974 in the South Bronx and Dr. Michael Smith treats addicts. He has seen a lot of addicts come and go at the Lincoln Hospital. Some make it out alive. Some don’t. Methadone treatments help some but this is still an addictive substance that causes liver, nerve, and brain damage when used long-term.
Doctor Smith wanted to find another treatment that helped patients with addiction recovery without doing more damage or causing another addiction. Only 2 years before that, a neurosurgeon living in Hong Kong, H.L. Wen, M.D., discovered that acupuncture could be used very effectively for treating withdrawal symptoms during addiction recovery. Though acupuncture has been used for centuries to alleviate pain and treat disease, this was the first time the ancient healing modality was used to treat addiction.
Dr. Smith adopted this modality and with help from local acupuncturists, formed a protocol which was first given in 1974. The initial treatment only placed one needle - in the lung point on the ear - and used electrostimulation to stimulate the point. Why the ear you ask? Ease of treatment, the ability to treat multiple patients at once, and way less invasive than taking your clothes off and laying on a table for 40 minutes. For these reasons, even the military has adopted aural acupuncture. The Nanking Army Ear Acupuncture Research Team said this in the 1960’s: “Whether indoors, outdoors, in an open field, factory workshop, battlefield, trenches or classroom, ear acupuncture can be applied”.
High Rates of Success Take the Treatment Worldwide
Acupuncture itself has been around for about 3,000 years (12 times longer than the American medical system) and is still thriving today because it works. An acupuncture “map” shows the human body with meridians or lines like uninsulated wires running through it. These meridians are the pathways through which our vital life force energy (Qi) flows within the body. By placing needles in specific points along these meridians, Qi is allowed to flow freely at those points, which maintains health in the body. A partial western explanation of the physiological mechanisms at work is, needling acupuncture points stimulates the central nervous system which in turn releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain, aiding the body in healing and regeneration.
Dr. Smith’s aural acupuncture protocol for addiction recovery was so incredibly effective that by 1975 it became a permanent part of the Lincoln Detox program. It got even simpler when staff discovered manual stimulation of the needle was even more effective than electrostimulation, making the treatment even cheaper and more accessible. Changes within the city hospital system required Lincoln Hospital to stop using methadone altogether, which further proved the effectiveness of aural acupuncture.
The outer ear is like an energy switchboard that sends electrical signals to the brain. Placing needles in specific points on the ear stimulates the release of endorphins while lowering stress hormones and promoting relaxation. With time and much experimentation, an even more effective protocol was created that includes the following 5 ear points. This is the NADA protocol we still use today.
Sympathetic - helps with overall relaxation by calming the nervous system
Shen Men/Spirit Gate - reduces nervous anxiety
Kidney Point - heals internal organs while calming fear
Liver Point - purifies the blood, calms aggressive tendencies, and aids in detoxification
Lung Point - helps the patient let go of grief
During the crack cocaine epidemic of the mid 80’s, the protocol proved to be just as effective in treating the cravings, dysphasia, and anxiety associated with crack withdrawals. As word spread throughout the world about this protocol, practitioners came to New York to learn how to perform this treatment on their own patients. In 1985, the Lincoln detox staff along with other chemical dependency professionals formed the group NADA - the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association. In 1988, The Acupuncture Detoxification Training Institute at Lincoln Hospital was established. Thousands of practitioners took the training and now this treatment protocol is practiced worldwide with life changing results.
To give you an idea of the efficacy of this treatment, consider this: By 1992, The Lincoln Detox Clinic had successfully helped 15,000 crack patients get sober within a 5 year time span - proving it to be vastly more effective than anything else available at the time. 90% of pregnant women enrolled in the detox program were drug free by the time they gave birth.
The NADA protocol has been proven to decrease cravings for all kinds of addictive substances including cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, heroine, crack, meth, even gambling and food addictions. Treatments also greatly decrease withdrawal symptoms, making recovery more manageable. Participants and healthcare providers report reduced anxiety, fewer sleep disturbances, and a reduced need for pharmaceuticals.
The NADA protocol has proven extremely effective in pain management, helping people to wean off of addictive pain medications. It is also incredibly effective for treating trauma. Acupuncturists Without Borders, a non profit that helps with disaster relief efforts, uses the NADA protocol to help people manage the intense stress that comes from living through a crisis.
Not Just for Addicts! All trauma
NADA is not just for addicts. A unique characteristic of the NADA protocol is its power and utility in a group setting. Acupuncturists without Borders, a disaster relief organization, use NADA not quite exclusively in all of their relief work. They now have over 40 established care centers in 16+ countries. They provide much needed relief for traumatized refugees migrants and natural disaster survivors in the US and around the world.
In a NADA session participants sit together in a group for 30-60 minutes after needles are placed in their ears. During this time something amazing happens. Every group session is unique but nearly every time in a group setting at about the 25 minute mark of the treatment you'll see everyone in the group shift. Not a visible shifting in the chairs although that happens too. The shift is palpable in the air. Even talkative groups around 25 minutes become more still and quiet and reflective.
While people sit they might talk, they might not, either way they absorb the treatment together. Trauma shared is trauma reduced. There is a sense of solidarity in knowing that they are not going through this alone. It's healing to know that others are sharing in your struggle and that you are all working towards a better life together.
Courage, Perseverance, and Support
NADA is kind of like a superpower that makes your chances of recovery a lot higher by making the process more bearable. Recovering from addiction, whether it's smoking tobacco, social media or heroin takes courage, strength, and lots of community support. Incorporating NADA into your recovery will definitely increase your chances of success. Recovery is always hard and can be excruciating, but you got this. If you’ve tried and failed just know it's a part of the process and next time you try. Try NADA
If you want to try out NADA you can find a licensed acupuncturist near you by clicking here!