In 1972, Dr. H. L. Wen, a Hong Kong neurosurgeon found that an acupuncture procedure he utilized as an analgesic on a surgical patient also led to the reduction of the patient’s opium cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The good doctor used ear acupuncture also known as auriculotherapy in he surgery. This type of acupuncture sticks acupuncture needles into pressure points on the outer ear to diminish pain on specific parts of the body.

With auriculotherapy, Dr. Wen experimented on different addicts. He found that the treatment was very effective for all types of addictions and led to a high rate of recovery for around 85% of addicts who tried it. Two years after it was introduced in the United States, acupuncture in the form of ear acupuncture was used by the South Bronx Lincoln Memorial Hospital in New York City as an adjunct treatment protocol for methadone by the hospital’s addiction recovery and detoxification clinic.

Eventually, methadone was dropped. Ear acupuncture proved to be so effective in treating drug addiction that drug addiction detoxification and recovery clinics in several cities of the US have been established using this protocol.

Medicaid was publicly funding these clinics. A ruling by the FDA stating that acupuncture was “experimental” effectively excluded this treatment from being given public and private insurance coverage.

What is TCM?

Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM has five components:

1. Tui Na massage
2. Qi gong
3. Dietetics
4. Herbal pharmacopeia
5. A unique mind/body psychology

TCM is centered on the philosophical notion of chi or Qi, vital energy that circulates along a dozen energy channels known as meridians. These channels have over 100 major acupuncture points lying just above them. Qi is a unique form of bioelectrical energy that possesses innate intelligence, the same as the forces of nature.

The energetic and subtle body is where these 12 energy channels are located. This body serves as the energetic blueprint for the physical body. Chinese medicine considers an ideal state of health to be one where Qi is flowing smoothly through the meridians and in ample amounts. Western medicine considers this optimum health, while Chinese medicine sees this ideal state as organic harmony or balance.

On the other hand, when Qi flow is blocked, illness will occur initially in the subtle body and then eventually affect the physical body. Illness is thus considered as a state of disharmony in which the innate energetic intelligence of the body is unable to optimally function. With the aid of strategically placed needles, blockages are cleared and Qi flow is restored.

Auriculotherapy is based on the belief that the full body is a mirror of the body’s meridians found on the ear. The ear, hands, and feet energetic systems are mini-maps of the entire body’s 12 meridian energetic systems.

Basic auriculotherapy procedures for addictions

Each session will use a combination of unique pressure points that is determined by the practitioner. In addiction rehabilitation, however, the protocol used for recovery never changes. For all addictions, there are only two basic auricular acupuncture protocols used which non-TCM practitioners are allowed to perform. These protocols are:

1. The NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) treatment protocol: This protocol makes use of ear acupoints Liver point, Lung 2, shen men and C. kidney. The shen men is used to treat oversensitivity, anxiety, and stress. The autonomic acupoint is used for balancing blood flow, as well as balance of the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems.

2. The ACACD (American College of Addictionology and Compulsive Disorders) treatment protocol: Besides using the three NADA points (C. kidney, autonomic point, and the shen men), the ACACD utilizes three other acupoints: Point zero for homeostatic balance, brain point for endocrine glands and the limbic system point for aggressive compulsive behavior.

Emily Farish is a licensed acupuncturist in Spokane, WA and the founder of Emily Farish Acupuncture.