Acupuncture for Stress Relief and Substance Abuse: An Interview with Dr. Amy Wolf, DACM, Founder of Herb + Ōhm

Sarah Suzuki, LCSW, CADC and founder of Chicago Compass Counseling interviewed Dr. Amy Wolf, DACM about using acupuncture and Chinese Medicine to treat substance abuse. Sarah and Amy collaborate to help people on their journey toward sobriety and a healthy, happy lifestyle! 

SARAH: Hello Everyone! I interviewed Amy Wolf, who practices acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Amy Wolf was well into her career as a master’s-level accountant when she made a dramatic change: she left the corporate world, earned her Doctorate of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DACM) from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and now runs a thriving medical practice in Chicago’s Loop. She is a licensed acupuncturist and a board-certified Traditional Chinese Medical Herbalist.  

Amy, thank you so much for interviewing with me! I wanted to learn more about your practice since the patient’s I’ve referred to you have had such a fantastic experience. What do you think sets you apart from other practitioners?

AMY: Aside from being one of the few Doctors of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Illinois, one of my biggest differentiators is that I take the mystery out of Chinese Medicine. During each visit, I explain exactly what I’m doing and why, and I try to set specific expectations for what my patients can expect on their path to wellness. I also take insurance and fully appreciate the distinct advantages of Eastern and Western healing philosophies, while maintaining an optimum balance between the two. This synthesis creates maximum benefits and results for my patients.

Lastly, I believe that the quality of care a practitioner provides to a patient has healing capabilities. I strive to heal not only through Chinese medicine, but also through the connection I make and the time I spend with patients to show them that I care and am a true partner in their health and well-being. 

SARAH: It's great that you bring a personal passion and empathy to the field of medicine. That is pretty different from what it must have been like for you in the corporate world. What made you decide to become a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

AMY: I am fueled by my dream to own and operate a business in an area that I am truly and authentically passionate about: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and integrative healthcare. Before becoming an acupuncturist, I was a tax accountant. A drastic change, right? It was. After spending five years in the corporate business world, I realized that my career was not providing me with the satisfaction that I sought in my personal and professional life. The absence of any semblance of work/life balance prevented me from making my health and well-being a priority, and I was growing old in the prime of my life! This led me on a journey towards changing my life for the better and using my business background to start a practice in an area that I was truly passionate about: TCM. Even when I was in tax, my favorite part of the job was helping, supporting and educating my peers. It was, and has always been about caring for and connecting with people in order to achieve a common goal.  Today, this goal is improving one’s quality of life by helping them to feel their best every day.   

SARAH: Your patients in the corporate world must appreciate you knowing from your own experience how demanding their jobs are, and how hard it is for them to prioritize wellness when they are facing multiple demands. Did you always believe in the efficacy of TCM? A lot of young professionals think TCM is "way out there" or "new-agey." 

AMY: Before I made the decision to go back to school for acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, I knew I had to believe in my "service/product." I was having some abdominal pain that hadn’t gone away for about two weeks, and I went to see an acupuncturist who was also a Chinese Medical doctor. In one treatment, my pain was gone and I never looked back. This is all I needed to experience to believe in the efficacy of TCM. Don’t knock it until you try it!

SARAH: TCM is amazing! I was raised by a doctor who believed that all cures came from a prescription medication. I was skeptical of acupuncture until a short course of acupuncture and herbs cured a bout of insomnia I had in my early 20's. So, let's talk about substance abuse: A lot of my clients are high-powered professionals who binge-drink and use drugs as a way of coping with stress. You know a lot about how challenging stress feels for them. How can TCM help? 

AMY: 99% of the patients I see come to me for symptoms that arise out of lack of work life balance or from high stress and pressure to perform and succeed.  It has become an area of expertise for me and is one of my personal passions since I experienced the pressures of a corporate career first-hand. I love that I’m able to help my patients escape that pressure in a healthy way and give them an opportunity to recharge and relax. Sometimes just having 30 minutes of peace can make a world of difference. Ironically, I sometimes work even longer hours as an entrepreneur, but because I am fulfilling my dreams and pursuing my passion I am able to bring almost unlimited energy to my patients and practice.

SARAH: The extra hours really don't feel like work when you love what you do. So in terms of actual research, the people I work with in my counseling practice are drawn to my use of evidence-based practice. When I recommend acupuncture as an evidence-based practice, they are almost always surprised. What is the evidence that acupuncture can help people who are recovering from alcohol and drug abuse?

AMY: For centuries, various cultures around the world have placed needles in precise locations on the body to relieve pain and treat disease. Only since 1972, when a Hong Kong neurosurgeon, H.L. Wen, M.D., discovered that acupuncture could alleviate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal, has this method been used for detoxification and relapse prevention.

In the United States, acupuncture detoxification was first introduced on an outpatient basis in 1974 at Lincoln Hospital, a city facility in the South Bronx area of New York City. By the mid-1980’s, the success of this unique procedure had become so evident that treatment facilities across the United States began incorporating acupuncture into their substance abuse programming.

In 1985, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) was established to promote education and training of clinicians in the NADA ear acupuncture protocol. In 1987, Bullock, Culliton and Olander published the first of many research reports now available on the effectiveness of acupuncture intreating addiction. Acupuncture detoxification has grown rapidly, evolved and is now used effectively for acute and prolonged withdrawal as well as relapse prevention.

For this reason, I incorporate the NADA protocol into the treatments I provide to those recovering from alcohol and drug abuse. It is a non-verbal approach to healing that involves the gentle placement of up to five small, sterilized disposable needles into specific sites on each ear. The recipients then lay quietly for about 25 minutes. Benefits include:

* Reduced cracings for alcohol and drugs, including nicotine

* Minimized withdrawal symptom

* Increased calmness, better sleep, and less agitation

* Relief from stress and emotional trauma

* An easier connection with counseling

* A discovery of inner quiet and strength

* An intention for recovery

The protocol has less of a specific effect on addictions or single behavioral health conditions, but is more of a stress reduction and calming technique beneficial as an adjunct to many different conditions. The combined application of acupuncture with counseling, education, medical support and self-help groups enhance opportunities for success. For more research and evidence related to the NADA protocol, please visit this website.


SARAH: A lot of my clients are afraid that the needles will cause pain. It makes sense that they would be wary, given that they were abusing drugs and alcohol in order to avoid or reduce feelings of pain. I’ve always found acupuncture to be relaxing – it’s rare that I can feel a needle. Is that a common experience?

AMY: Some of the biggest misconceptions of acupuncture are: 1)That acupuncture will hurt (like a shot does at a doctor’s office) and 2) That acupuncture doesn’t work. This is where my love to explain Traditional Chinese medicine comes in handy.

Many of these misconceptions occur because this medicine is foreign to people in the US and they have never experienced or been exposed to it. It is important for people to know that the needles we use are so tiny that many time people do not even feel them go in! If you do feel them, it is very subtle like a little pinch or bug bite. In fact, many people like the way they feel similar to how you may like when someone puts pressure on or kneads your shoulders or back when it aches. Feeling something from the experience is a good thing, not a bad thing. It tells us your body is listening. 

Also, it is important to remember that acupuncture has been around for 3000 years! It was the only medicine that existed in China at one time! Think about that…There are many studies that prove its efficacy. Overall, it helps to strengthen your body and increase its internal resources (pain relieving chemicals, anti-inflammatory chemicals, hormones) so that it can heal itself. It helps our bodies to function closer to 100% of their full potential in order to heal and protect us from disease.

SARAH: What is some of the feedback you’ve received from patients who were initially uncertain about acupuncture?

AMY: The feedback that I have received from patients who were initially uncertain about acupuncture is that it was more relaxing than they thought.  People generally leave feeling calmer and emotionally lighter. 

People are pleasantly surprised that they have 25-30 minutes to lay down, relax, take a break (or nap!) and clear their minds. There is value in taking time for oneself and relaxing the mind. When the mind relaxes, the body follows.  During this time, life slows down, people gain greater perspective, find an opportunity to take a breath, and recharge.  This helps to decrease feelings of being overwhelmed, lift one’s spirit, and provide greater direction on how to tackle challenges one day at a time.

SARAH: What is the best way for new patients to connect with you?

AMY: In today's digital world, patients often value the convenience of booking online. Patients can book via my website, or via the smart phone app Mindbody Connect (by looking up Herb + Ohm).  They can also call my business line at 312-757-1882, and I will return all calls as soon as possible. I offer complimentary consultation for those who’d like to discuss how acupuncture and Chinese Medicine can help them prior to receiving treatment. People can also submit their insurance information on my website, and I will get back to them with their coverage in 2-3 business days.

SARAH: Thank you, Amy! I hope that this will encourage people to try out acupuncture as an effective support in their journey of healing. 

Want to find out how practices like acupuncture can help you or someone you love manage the stress and pressures of work/life balance?