According to a 2012 article in the Huffington Post, over 2000 alcohol and drug recovery facilities worldwide have integrated ear acupuncture into their treatment programs. Developing from a 35 year experiment performed at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, NY that involved delivering 100 acupuncture treatments each day to substance abusers.  Additionally, the Miami-Dade Drug Court, a nationally recognized entity emerging from the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, is an extension of the success of the Lincoln Hospital experiment.

What is Ear Acupuncture?

Ear (auricular) acupuncture is known by professional acupuncturists as the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol. Only licensed personnel trained to employ NADA protocol in facilities approved by appropriate state health agencies can perform ear acupuncture for the purpose of relieving cravings and distressing symptoms of withdrawal.

The NADA website describes in detail the application of ear acupuncture:

“At five designated ear points in each auricle (outer ear), clinicians apply fine gauge, sterilized, one-time use stainless steel needles just under the skin, where they remain for up to an hour while the client relaxes quietly in a comfortable chair…The procedure functions as an adjunct to a comprehensive treatment program offering the basic therapeutic elements of counseling, education, family involvement, mutual support group involvement, supportive health care of general nature… benefits reported by clients 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” (http://www.acudetox.com/about-nada/12-faqs).

Traditional, “whole body” acupuncture differs from auricular acupuncture because it targets five points on the ear that correlate to the functioning of the liver, kidneys and lungs, three organs that suffer the most damage from a drug or alcohol addiction. In addition, ear acupuncture releases blocked meridians so that the person’s chi is able to flow freely throughout the body.

Abusing alcohol or drugs contributes directly to block meridians due to impairing of the normal metabolic rate. With the body incapable of eliminating toxins from the blood, energy levels fall dramatically and the lack of chi worsens the intensity of the addiction even further.

What Research Says about Ear Acupuncture for the Treatment of Addictions

Although clinical studies concerning the efficacy of NADA and auricular acupuncture on improving recovery/relapse rates for addicts provide mixed results, one study conducted by the Medical Director for the Colorado Mental Health Institute’s recovery division Dr. Elizabeth Stuyt found that over 60 percent of a group of patients participating in auricular acupuncture sessions twice a week finished their treatment and left the recovery program.  Moreover, patients reported that auricular acupuncture also helped alleviate insomnia as well as feelings of aggression and anger.

The NADA points out that auricular acupuncture should be used in conjunction with traditional addiction therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and life skills counseling, and not as a stand-alone addiction treatment.

The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association offers research literature for those interested in this alternative form of treatment.