Harm Reduction is an approach to addiction that has gained increased popularity over the past several years. There was a time when addiction occurred in the shadows, was not talked about, and was highly stigmatized. Punitive approaches to drug use were taken. While stigma still exists and much work remains to be done on this, society’s view of addiction has improved greatly.
Harm reduction aims to reduce the damage caused by alcohol, drugs, and/or other addictive behaviors. The goal of harm reduction is to keep people alive and encourage positive change. A common myth is that those who support and operate with a harm reduction approach do not encourage abstinence. One does not need to be mutually exclusive from the other. Recovery is a process that takes time and is a journey. For some, that journey includes employing strategies that reduce risk or harm before engaging in complete abstinence. Recovery is not a one size fits all approach. There is no “correct” way to achieve long-term sobriety.
Some examples of harm reduction strategies include:
- Clean needle exchanges
- Safe injection facilities also referred to as “shooting galleries”
- Free condoms are being offered at the clinic
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Medical marijuana
Sometimes at the onset of a recovery journey, the goal of complete abstinence is unimaginable or undesirable. Needing to “meet people where they are at” is a frequent phrase heard in addiction treatment. Individualized treatment plans and goals are set to reduce the negative consequences of substance use.
Look at it through the lens of someone who has a goal to lose weight. There are many ways to achieve weight loss and varying degrees of diet and exercise. It is not completely outside of the norm to see someone first start with eliminating soda from their diet, then they work on eating 3 balanced meals, or start intermittent fasting, then they incorporate exercise 2 times a week, then move to 3 times a week, and then 5 times a week. Why is a similar approach out of the question for addiction?