For a long time, those who struggled with addictions had only one model of treatment and it centered around the idea of abstinence only. While 12 steps and abstinence only have certainly helped many people, they aren't for everyone.
What is harm reduction? In short, harm reduction refers to programs, policies, and practices that aim to the reduce the harms associated with substance use or other risky behaviors.
One of the first harm reduction ideas started with IV drug users and the concern of spreading HIV through dirty needles. At the time, it was controversial to be handing out clean needles to people who used IV drugs. Now needle exchange programs are commonplace, and the evidence supports that these programs reduce various harms (HIV, Hepatitis C, skin infections, etc.).
Some harm reduction ideas are so commonplace that many people don't realize they are participating in harm reduction--for example using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections, or using designated drivers while drinking.
Opioid Replacement Therapy, methadone maintenance programs, safe injection sites, and Naloxone distribution are among many other examples harm reduction.
Have you tried an abstinence only or 12 step approach and found difficulty with it? Don't give up hope--there are other options!
Harm reduction can be different for everyone. If you are using alcohol or other drugs, harm reduction may look like using less, using in different ways, using at different times, not driving while using, etc. Anything that reduces harm is part of harm reduction.
If you are interested in trying a harm reduction approach, whether it be with your alcohol use, gambling, or other drugs or risky behaviors, feel free to contact me. I'd love to help.
What have your experiences been with harm reduction and/or abstinence only approaches?
Amber is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. She offers counseling for individual adults and clinical supervision for social workers. For fun, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, researching genealogy, reading, and dragon boating.
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