Harm Reduction Programs For People Not Ready To Quit An Addiction

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“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

~ Anonymous

Are you suffering from a substance abuse addiction? Do you want to stop but aren’t sure how? Do you refuse to enter a treatment program or attend counseling sessions because you’re afraid the addiction specialist will make you go “cold turkey?” Would you rather “wean-off” the substance so you don’t experience harsh withdrawal symptoms?

If the answer is “YES” to any of the questions posed above, you may want to consider harm reduction therapy.

What is harm reduction therapy?

Harm reduction is a customized approach to helping you get clean and sober. It is a more compassionate, non-judgmental, and realistic approach to treating a substance abuse addiction. With this approach, you are not required or forced to immediately stop the drugs and alcohol. Rather, it resembles cognitive-behavioral therapy in that it helps you address your thought processes and behaviors that are encouraging and upholding the addiction.

Harm reduction seeks to meet you where you are, so you can gradually make the change needed to live a happy, addiction-free life. It allows you to regain some semblance of normalcy and functionality in your life, even if you’re not 100% ready to quit.

Harm reduction therapists help you address your drug and alcohol use so it doesn’t destroy your body, mind, relationships, and/or life. More specifically, it teaches you how to control triggers, usage, and behaviors that are contributing to the addiction. The goal is to gradually reduce the addiction’s hold over you. Research suggests that many young adults suffering from drug and alcohol addiction prefer this treatment approach to in-patient residential treatment programs, hospitalizations, and addiction counseling.

Why is this method used to treat drug addiction?

This method is primarily used to treat drug addiction because it has become universally rampant. Other factors used to determine if or when harm reduction is used include a lack of real deterrents to stop the drug abuse, the widespread criminalization of drug addicts, poor socioeconomic factors, and the decline of health and longevity in drug abusers.

Even more pressing is the ever-growing popularity of needle-sharing amongst young adults. Needle-sharing increases the risk of HIV, tetanus, hepatitis, botulism, and other blood-related bacterial infections and diseases. Therefore, drug abuse places everyone, especially young adults, at-risk for these infections and diseases. It even heightens the risks for healthcare providers who treat needle-sharing drug abusers and addicts.

The harm reduction program encourages addiction specialists and clinics to offer drug users, abusers, and addicts clean needles to use, along with a safe place to dispose of them once used. Advocates believe this method can reduce the spread of blood-related infections and diseases. In fact, studies suggest that this method is an effective way to reduce or limit the spread of harmful and dangerous illnesses amongst 20-somethings.

Note: Harm reduction methods are also used to treat alcoholics struggling to stop or reduce their alcohol consumption.

Thus, the aim is to replace an extremely harmful drug (i.e. heroin, cocaine/crack, meth, etc.) with a less harmful one (i.e methadone or suboxone) to reduce drug addictions. And, although these alternative drugs are also unhealthy, studies suggest that an addict who replaces “harder drugs” (i.e. heroin and crack) with methadone or suboxone is more likely to return to a place of stability in their personal, career, and social lives.

The benefits of harm reduction programs

Studies suggest that harm reduction programs may have a positive impact on the health and well-being of addicts struggling with drug addiction by lowering the risk of blood-related infections and diseases, like HIV, hepatitis, botulism, etc., reducing overdoses, and decreasing homelessness and criminal behavior on the street.

Another benefit? These programs offer specialized treatment for addicts once they are ready to seek help for their addictions. They also provide non-judgmental support to addicts who simply aren’t ready to quit the habit or behavior. 

In some situations, harm reduction programs can even help recovering and former addicts regain the life they once had before the addiction took hold. These programs not only help the addict and his or her family but also the community as a whole by reducing the number of drugs, crime, and disease in the world.

According to recent studies, harm reduction programs can curb alcohol and marijuana use in young adults – common gateway drugs that are linked to harmful, dangerous, risky, and criminal behaviors. Results suggest that these programs are even more effective than abstinence-based treatment programs like AA or NA.

Harm reduction programs may involve a variety of medical and psychological techniques and methods. However, the overall focus of this approach is to lower the risk of harm, prevent overdose deaths, and reduce the transmission of addiction-based infections and diseases.

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Actionable Steps


Opioid addiction

Harm reduction is a commonly used medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for people who are addicted to opioids or opiates (i.e. heroin, hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone, Percocet, morphine, etc.) and/or alcohol. The most common MAT medications are buprenorphine, methadone, suboxone, and naltrexone. An opioid addict typically receives addiction counseling and behavioral therapy in addition to MAT.
The goal of MAT is to teach drug and alcohol addicts strategies that can help them refrain from drugs, recover from the addiction, and go on to live healthy drug-free lives.


Opioid overdose

Opioid abuse and addiction have reached epic heights with Millennials and Generation Z’ers. Thus, the goal of harm reduction is to reduce overdose deaths by doing two things: providing opioid abusers and addicts with “less harmful drugs” like naloxone and training healthcare workers and the general public on the effects of opioid use and the signs of opioid abuse, addiction, and overdoses.



Harm reduction can also involve reducing your alcohol consumption and/or adopting a healthier lifestyle and drinking habits. This approach is especially appealing to the younger crowd who isn’t quite ready to give up drinking.
In fact, research suggests that younger alcoholics tend to prefer this method over abstinence-based programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This method lowers the risk of alcohol-related injuries or death by helping alcoholics gradually cut-back on the amount of alcohol they consume.


STD transmission

Harm reduction also inadvertently helps reduce or prevent the transmission of STDs like HIV, AIDs, and hepatitis. How? Well, drug addicts are not always careful and safe when having sex to obtain drugs and alcohol. Many do not wear protection during sexual activities, leading to the spread of STDS. Others do not practice safe sex because they want to “ride the high” of the drugs or feel relaxed during intercourse. This increases the risk of contracting an STD.
Harm reduction programs provide addicts with safe need-exchange services so they are not forced to use (or reuse) contaminated, bacterial-infested needles. These individuals are provided with sterile needles or syringes each time they “shoot up.” Lastly, harm reduction programs provide drug addicts with safe places to use drugs, complete with onsite needle disposal bins to dispose of them once finished.


Read more about this topic

You can learn more about harm reduction by reading the following articles:
Harm Reduction Guide, Harm Reduction Strategies, and How Harm Reduction Works With Substance Use.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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