top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr Shawn M. Carney

Ear Acupuncture For Stopping Smoking & Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

The NADA protocol is an acupuncture-based treatment program that uses only ear points for decreasing symptoms of discomfort or cravings associated with the withdrawl from substances like nicotine.

What is NADA?

The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association protocol (NADA) is one of the most commonly used forms of acupuncture treatment in the United States and was originally designed for use in acute heroin withdrawal, though it has since become a remarkably effective tool applied to many populations receiving behavioral and primary healthcare. The NADA protocol is a standard five-point acupuncture application, which does not require patient-specific case-history gathering nor provider-specific diagnosis-differentiation. Practitioners use the same five points regardless of the 'drug of choice' or use patterns. Acupuncture treatment for drug and alcohol problems in the United States were primarily developed at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, New York.

History of the NADA

The simplicity of the treatment is doubtlessly part of its success and widespread use; a 2012 survey reported 628 licensed addiction treatment programs include acupuncture as a therapeutic tool! NADA is a straightforward, low-cost treatment that involves bilateral needle insertion at ear points Shen Men, Sympathetic, Kidney, Liver and Lung. The combined effect of the five-point protocol is yin tonification, restoring the calm inner qualities akin to serenity.

The applications for adjunctive treatment of addictions came accidentally in 1972 when Dr. Hsiang-Lai Wen, a neurosurgeon in Hong Kong, discovered that needles inserted in the ear – intended as a preoperative anesthetic – abated physical withdrawal symptoms from opium. He later conducted a study and published his findings, garnering interest in new uses for this ancient medicine. Simple manual needling produced a prolonged effect and patients were able to use acupuncture and experience suppression of their withdrawal symptoms!

NADA Point Descriptions

The NADA's five points were chosen based upon clinical indication as well as lower electrical resistance and pain sensitivity. All of the points serve to balance the body's energy and assist the body's healing processes.

In general, needling Sympathetic and Shen men points produce calming, relaxing, and centering effects. The three other points, Kidney, Liver, and Lung correspond to yin organ systems in Chinese medicine. The yin organs are seen as internal, nurturing, nourishing, restorative, and supportive. They store the vital substances such as energy and essence. In Western medicine, Kidney, Liver and Lung relate to detoxification and cleansing and are largely recognized as the organs of elimination.

Beyond Addiction: NADA for Trauma, Tragedy and Mental Health.

Considering the benefit that clients experienced with the ear acupuncture treatment, advocates formed the NADA organization in 1985 to facilitate its growth. In 1989, Lincoln Detox’s medical director, Michael O. Smith, helped petition for the first law in the United States allowing non-acupuncture personnel to provide this standardized and limited protocol. The new law stipulated that individuals could be 'Acupuncture Detoxification Specialists' (ADSes), as long as they worked in a setting that also provided comprehensive addiction treatment services. It also required them to be supervised by a licensed acupuncturist or a physician with acupuncture training.

Multiple studies published in peer reviewed journals support the adjunctive use of NADA for the treatment of heroin, alcohol, and cocaine addiction. It can be used in the acute and chronic phases of substance use treatment. NADA is increasingly integrated into dual diagnosis settings to help patients with substance use disorders that also have other behavioral health symptoms. Patients have reported significant benefits including improvement in depression, anxiety, anger, impaired concentration, and problems with energy and body aches/headaches. NADA has shown to be effective in both successful completion of a 90-day in-patient dual-diagnosis treatment program for those with borderline personality disorder as well as tobacco cessation.

But going further, since some of the most common responses observed clinically from subjects receiving a NADA treatment include improved sleep and feeling calm enough to cope, it has been increasingly applied to episodes of trauma and disaster experienced worldwide. People involved in disasters such as wildfires or terrorist attacks are often too traumatized to even begin to talk about what they have experienced and often report difficulty sleeping. Many people in these situations have reported significant benefit from the NADA nonverbal treatment.

For example, after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, an 'acudetox stress reduction clinic' began in Manhattan providing more than 1,000 treatments in the first 10 days and continuing through 2007, funded by the Red Cross. NADA trainings were conducted in India and Thailand for Burmese refugee camps in 2001 and the Pan-African Acupuncture Project brought NADA treatments to Uganda and surrounding regions in 2002. In 2003, the use of NADA in Substance Misuse Programs in the United Kingdom expanded to over 130 correctional facilities, and NADA-style treatments were developed in Peru, Mexico City, and the Philippines as well as in Gulf Coast recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Our clinic is proud to offer multi-session packages of this treatment to patients and interested parties. Contact our clinic above for more information about scheduling a session.


1. Carter K, Olshan-Perlmutter M, Marx J, Martini JF, Cairns SB. NADA Ear Acupuncture: An Adjunctive Therapy to Improve and Maintain Positive Outcomes in Substance Abuse Treatment. Behav Sci (Basel). 2017 Jun 16;7(2):37. doi: 10.3390/bs7020037. PMID: 28621706; PMCID: PMC5485467.

3. Wen, H.L. & Cheng, S.Y.C. (1973) Treatment of drug addiction by acupuncture and electrical stimulation. Asian Journal of Medicine, 9, 138-141.

The content and any recommendations in this article are for informational purposes only. They are not intended to replace the advice of the reader's own licensed healthcare professional or physician and are not intended to be taken as direct diagnostic or treatment directives. Any treatments described in this article may have known and unknown side effects and/or health hazards. Each reader is solely responsible for his or her own healthcare choices and decisions. The author advises the reader to discuss these ideas with a licensed naturopathic physician.


bottom of page