Acupuncture for Addiction and PTSD

When treating addiction and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the most common treatment involves inserting tiny needles into the ear. Ear acupuncture (also known as auricular acupuncture) has been used successfully to treat a wide range of complaints, and has a strong history in helping those who suffer from addiction or PTSD. Acupunture can be very effective, but if a more traditional road to recovery is for you there are plenty of mental health facilities for you to attend. For example, Honey Lake has Christian facilities to help you on the road to recovery and management of your illness and is the number 1 Christian mental health program in the US.

Auricular acupuncture happens to be a personal favorite for two reasons.

1) Auricular acupuncture is very effective.
2) The ear is easy to access.

Case in Point: Acupuncturists Without Borders

The accessibility of the ear and the effectiveness of this style of acupuncture is why groups like Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) use auricular acupuncture when providing disaster relief and recovery to communities in crisis. Volunteers set up clinics and provide (free) relief to people caught in the middle of a natural disaster or human conflict. The mission of AWB is to provide places of respite where people can find momentary relief, allowing them a chance to break from the cycle of trauma.

Trauma is not Limited to Large-Scale Crises

Every single day, in the community clinic, I see people who are in functioning in what I would call “emergency mode” or “crisis mode.” Though their conflicts aren’t necessarily the result of a natural disaster, many of our patients are the victims of poverty, childhood abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, and traumatic physical injury. Addiction and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often come hand-in-hand with these types of traumatic experiences. Substances are turned to in an attempt to ‘anesthetize” the pain, and over time addiction and substance abuse can take hold.

During my years as an acupuncturist (or, I should say, since I was about 8), I haven’t been able to help but notice the (often blatant) social stigma that follows at the heels of those who suffer from addiction and PTSD. This kind of judgment doesn’t help. Ever. Judgment only produces more shame, more isolation, and more suffering for those people dealing with these kinds of issues. Consider using the lens of compassion when trying to understand issues as complex as addiction, or PTSD, and try to avoid seeing people who suffer from these things as ‘other.’ The Struggle is real, folks. Be kind.

Addiction and PTSD: A Shared Experience?

First of all, let’s look more closely at addiction and PTSD, and what they have in common. In essence, recovery from chemical addiction mirrors the recovery path for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress. For instance, the mental and physical stress experienced by an individual caught in the midst of a natural disaster, or a war zone, is worsened by the breakdown of social infrastructure (family, community, government). Similarly, in the world of substance abuse, research has shown that before individuals can overcome chemical addiction, attention must be given to both the alleviation of the mental and physical stresses affecting their lives, as well as restoration of the community infrastructure.

And here is where community acupuncture can play an important role in recovery.

Treatment in a community acupuncture clinic allows people to experience relief from stress and trauma together, as a community. When the entire group feels calm and quiet and safe, strengths of the human spirit (that we so love to make Hollywood movies about), like hope, determination and resiliency have the space to grow. There is less pain in the body. And less pain in the spirit.
Put simply: Recovery from trauma involves physical relief, mental relief, accessible and affordable treatment, and a sense of (supportive, non-judgmental) community .

National Acupuncture Detoxification Association

A good example of this is the story behind the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA). In the mid-1970?s, Michael Smith, a medical doctor working in the South Bronx, became interested in using ear acupuncture to treat common drug addictions. He also wanted to offer an alternative to methadone – something that could help addicts overcome their addiction that wasn’t a pharmaceutical drug. The NADA protocol was born, and quickly proved to be very helpful in the treatment of addiction.

According the founder himself, the NADA protocol works because these specific points in the ear “enhance” overall functioning by doing the following:
1. As a non-verbal intervention, it helps in reaching resistant patients.
2. It reduces anxiety and agitation while facilitating calm and receptive behavior.
3. It helps develop an inner meditative core in even the most troubled and fearful persons.

The NADA Protocol/ 5NP

The NADA protocol consists of the insertion of small, stainless-steel, disposable acupuncture needles into five points on the outer surface (auricle) of the ear. The points needled are Sympathetic, Shen Men, Kidney, Liver, and Lung.
Normally, both ears are needled. Then the patient relaxes for 30-45 minutes in a safe, quiet space. Typically, the NADA protocol is done in a group setting to help build a support network among patients, and to help break down factors (and feelings) of isolation. Patients will often report an improved sense of well-being after the treatment. Common words used after a treatment include “energized,” and “lighter-feeling” and “relaxed.”

To sum up this post, I’ve pasted a blurb from the NADA website.

Dozens of studies have documented the effectiveness of the NADA protocol. Among the benefits reported by patients and health care providers are: improved retention in drug treatment programs; more optimistic attitudes about detoxification and recovery; reductions in cravings and anxiety; fewer episodes of sleep disturbance; and reduced need for pharmaceuticals.

Opening access to the treatment itself comes first. This occurs through eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic, socio-economic and environmental barriers to starting a program of recovery. The next task is to create a zone of peace within which patients can begin to experience their own inner strengths. Finally, and in respect to the other aspects, keep it simple.

While the NADA protocol is an important component of any detoxification program, it is by no means the only component. A patient’s behavior and attitude, along with the perceptions of the clinician delivering care, are also integral to successful treatment. The NADA protocol is often used with other treatment modalities, such as counseling, support groups and self-help programs, to increase the overall effectiveness of care.