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The Use of Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment Programs

By 16th July 2012July 13th, 2016Research
Acupuncture in Addiction Treatment Programs

Acupuncture is a traditional method of health care that has been practiced in China and other parts of Asia for 2,000 years using a textbook that is still used today. Acupuncture is based on the correlation of individual locations and superficial “energy” phenomenon of the body with health supportive functions of our body. It is taught and licensed throughout the U.S.

Many popular alternative healing methods are based on similar principles, such as: acupressure, reflexology, reiki, shiatsu and Qi Gong. Micro-acupuncture uses points on a small part of the body that also shows correlations with balancing and restorative functions. Points on the feet, hands, scalp, and especially the ear are used in this regard.

More than 2,000 drug and alcohol treatment programs in the U.S. and 40 other countries have added ear acupuncture to their protocol. This development is based on the 35-year experience of Lincoln Hospital (Bronx, N.Y.), which delivered 100 acupuncture treatments per day as part of its comprehensive substance disorder program. The nationally-recognized Miami Drug Court is an outgrowth of the Lincoln experience.

Acupuncture provides a foundation for recovery and psycho-social rehabilitation. It is a supportive component of a substance abuse treatment as well as in enabling job readiness.

Several characteristics of acupuncture enhance overall functioning:

  1. As a non-verbal intervention, it helps in reaching resistant patients.
  2. It reduces anxiety and agitation while facilitating calm and receptive behaviour.
  3. It helps develop an inner meditative core in even the most troubled and fearful persons.

Ear acupuncture is the common technique used. Treatments are generally given in large groups where patients sit together quietly for 45 minutes. This process is called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) protocol. Many jurisdictions have laws that allow a wide range of clinical personnel to be trained to use the NADA protocol in state-approved facilities by those fully licensed. States that do not have this provision, such as Florida and California, have very few NADA programs in comparison with states like Virginia and New York, who have these standards. NADA training involves sterile precautions and integration with social services. Apprenticeship training is always necessary.

The 21st century has brought a remarkable expansion in the use of the NADA protocol. Post-trauma treatments were given to community members after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Treatments for firemen have been permanently introduced in both cities. NADA protocol acupuncture is now used in 130 prisons in England. Correction officers provide all of the treatments under a five-year training contract by Smart-UK. In fact, the jail program was expanded because of an 80 percent reduction in violent incidents. NADA has been used for stress and suicidality by thousands of military personnel in India.

NADA acupuncture has changed the face of psychiatric hospital care in Northern Europe. Three thousand nurses have been trained in 100 different public facilities. They report much less use of seclusion and benzodiazepine medication. Refugee services in war torn areas have been particularly impressive. The DARE program in Thailand has provided ear acupuncture for many years with a dozen different Burmese tribes in border camps. NADA was introduced during a two-week training sponsored by the Real Medicine Foundation in refugee camps in East Africa in May 2008. After one year, 29,000 treatments had been provided by the refugee trainees. Support was provided for survivors of a violent land dispute and for the soldiers guarding them.

Magnetic beads have been used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, night tremors, bed wetting, and violence-prone adolescents. Successful reports have been submitted from the U.S., Germany, England, Ireland, and the Philippines. This technique is in the early stage of evaluation.

The ear acupuncture protocol is safe and inexpensive with an obvious potential for wider usage in the psychiatric field. The research and development of this technique has been done entirely in the public sector.


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Carter KO, Olshan-Perlmutter M, Norton HJ, Smith MO (2011). NADA Acupuncture Prospective Trial in Patients with Substance Use Disorders and Seven Common Health Symptoms. Journal of Medical Acupuncture, 23(3): 131-135.

Shwartz M, Saitz R, Mulvey K, Brannigan P (1999). The value of acupuncture detoxification programs in a substance abuse treatment system. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 17(4): 305-312.

Smith MO, Brewington V, and Culliton P (1998). Acupuncture in addiction treatment. In Sherman, B. R., Sanders, L.M., Trinh, C. (Eds.) Addiction and Pregnancy: Empowering Recovery Through Peer Counseling. Praeger Publishing.

Yarberry M (2010). The Use of the NADA Protocol for PTSD in Kenya. German Journal of Acupuncture and Related Techniques. 53(4): 6-11.

Wen HL. Cheng SYC (1973). Treatment of drug addiction by acupuncture and electrical stimulation. Asian Journal of Medicine, 9:138-141.

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