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    Habits and Addictions

    Harm Reduction

    Not ready for abstinence? Traditional self-help groups turn you off?

    Much of habit and addiction treatment today is geared towards those who are ready and willing to give abstinence a try. Not only is abstinence not possible in many cases (obsessive-compulsive tendencies, food, sex, etc.), but this is not representative of the nearly one-third of Americans who struggle with problematic substance use and other risky or addictive behaviors who are not yet ready to take that step. While this population may indeed want to work towards positive change, services are often inaccessible (and often harmful) to those not yet ready to sign up for such paternalistic and patriarchal recommendations for wellbeing.

    Harm reduction encourages abstinence when able. But it also recognizes this as an ideal to shoot for, while still acknowledging that taking risks are part of our daily lives in many ways already. Risks such as driving a car (in which we wear seatbelts for safety, have stop signs, and anti-lock brakes, to reduce harm) or washing our hands to avoid illness. Drug use has always been a part of society and will continue to be. Harm reduction begins to ask the question WHY on an individual and cultural level instead of why can’t you stop. From this entry point, we can begin to change our relationship to the drug of choice through understanding and addressing the purpose of the use.

    A harm reduction approach suggests that better is better. It further suggests that not only is it possible to work on other areas of life before changing addictive behaviors, but it is absolutely essential to look at these other life factors concurrently with the use of a chosen substance. While the goal may be abstinence, a lot of positive work can be done on the way there to improve quality of life, realistically look at the purpose of the drug of choice and what factors may be driving its use.

    Harm reduction respects individual choices and believes that the client often knows what is best for them, in their lives, in this moment. Different from traditional recovery approaches, harm reduction meets each person where they are at, allows the person to guide the treatment process and encourages holistic, lasting and sustainable change through techniques such as Motivational Interviewing. It offers practical, individualized strategies that recognize each person’s story as unique and part of a mutually affected relationship with their environment. It offers hope and is a humanistic, strengths-based approach to improved quality of life. Shame and stigma have no place here.

    Harm reduction has been successful in many ways, in many environments and with many risk-taking behaviors. Lives have been improved, saved even from this approach. It is a realistic approach to a complex problem. Let’s begin.

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