Acupuncture – Needles to Detox and Relax in Addiction Treatment



Sanford House counselor Lynnel Brewster is a RN, so she has a caring air about her. I am not afraid of needles per se, and I have always been interested in acupuncture, so I was open to joining her group acupuncture session. The room was subdued. There was green tea steeping. Curtains drawn, new age music playing and comfortable places for everyone in the group to recline. We all took turns sitting in a chair, while Lynnel put needles strategically around the circumference of our ears. We were then told to close our eyes and relax.


My experience was delightful. How often does a busy person take an hour midday to detox and rest? Before I fell under the spell, I realized I wanted to know more about the process. Inquiring minds and all that…  Lynnel sat down with me yesterday to answer my burning questions.




Lynnel Answers My Burning Questions:

1.  What is this procedure called? Auricular detoxification acupuncture (ADA).

2. What result should we expect? ADA helps alleviate the symptoms of detox: mental, emotional and physical. It provides a method of self-soothing the pain, anxiety and depression typical in early recovery.

3. What are the five areas of the ear where the needles are placed? The Sympathetic, Shenmen, Kidneys, Liver and Lung. The Sympathetic balances the “fight or flight” syndrome; the Shenmen reduces pain. The Kidneys, Liver and Lung detoxes pores and organs.

4. Why are the needles put in the ear? After 25 years of study, ADA has determined these pressure points are optimal for detoxification.

5.  Is music, tea and a soothing location important to the process? It certainly adds to the experience. And for most of our clients, self-care has not been part of their reality for a long time.

6. How often should a person get ADA? We provide acupuncture once a week at Sanford House. Consistency is important, and this is something the women can do for themselves when they leave treatment. The more you experience acupuncture, the more the lasting benefits.

treatment to “real life”…

7. Why is Sanford House offering acupuncture to its clients? This was suggested to me by Sanford House founders Rae and David Green. We are always looking for unique offerings with different levels of benefit to our clients. When they asked me if I’d like to become certified in ADA, I jumped at the chance. I am excited about any offering that soothes and relaxes our clients. Also anything positive that can be transferred to long term recovery.

8. Some of us fell asleep, some drifted and still others were antsy – what’s the best way to “surrender?” I can usually tell by the way a woman walks in the room how she is going to accept acupuncture and whether it will be successful. If they are in a bad mood or “edgy”, I usually tell them to take some deep breaths before we begin. When a client resists, the needles might pop out. Or it’s tough to get them in…

9. Group vs. individual sessions – thoughts? The main thing is having the space for everyone to be comfortable. And no distractions. I like groups of 5 and I have been known to cancel a session if there is something going on outside that is too noisy (like an impromptu street improvement). I think the optimum time to relax is 60 minutes.

10. You have said that some people’s bodies are more pliable – with “ears like butter” – what does that mean? You have to be ready to surrender. Shut the eyes, concentrate on breathing. I can just feel it when someone is uninhibited. The needles go in smoother.

a “holistic” approach to addiction treatment…

11. What credentials do you need to administer acupuncture? I am now an Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist. I attended a 3 day training session, took a test and before I got my certificate, I had to administer acupuncture to 80 ears. You do not have to be a nurse to be a specialist, but it helped in the training.

12. I saw lights and shapes when I was resting with my eyes closed… I’ve heard other people say that. You might go into a meditative dream state – in and out of REM sleep… It’s almost like a resting state after a yoga session.

13. Does it ever hurt? Someone who might have an organ effected by substance use could feel a bit of pain as the needle goes in. For the most part it is painless.

14. As a nurse, why did you embrace this “alternative” procedure? I believe in a holistic approach to addiction treatment. “Holistic” has come to mean a sort of “touchy-feely” or alternative approach, but it is really defined as “the whole body”. When Rae and David approached me, I was excited to learn something new. The women at Sanford House work hard on their programs. It is gratifying to be able to say, ‘surrender and relax’.



Lynnel says with a smile, “Many of the women at Sanford House tell me this is their favorite group session.” It is certainly easier to lay back with needles in your ears than to get to the root cause of your addiction. However, after a grueling week of individual and group therapy, journaling, sharing, and digging deep, it is a luxury to sit on the couch in the dark and listen to a mellow tune.


And taking time to relax is just one of the lessons to be learned (and taken home) in “holistic” addiction treatment.




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Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.