Harm reduction therapy is an approach that focuses less on abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and more on safety and quality of life.
The central premise of harm reduction therapy is not to limit substance abuse itself, but rather to limit the adverse events that come from substance abuse. The purpose is to keep people safe when they engage in drug and alcohol abuse, because some methods of use are simply more dangerous than others. That means the responsibility for safer drug and alcohol use rests on the individual user.
As you might expect, harm reduction therapy has caused some controversy. While some people consider it an effective way of avoiding dangerous situations like overdose or drunk driving, others see it as normalizing addictive behaviors. However, when used strategically, harm reduction therapy can complement traditional addiction treatment.
Opioid Replacement: You may have heard of methadone and buprenorphine as replacements for heroin and prescription opioids. These medications serve harm reduction strategies through medication maintenance programs. Buprenorphine has had varied success rates, while methadone is up to 90% successful. In order for these treatment plans to work, they also must include therapy. Meanwhile, naloxone is the “antidote” treatment to counteract overdose on opioids like heroin and painkillers.
Marijuana: While there is now widespread acceptance of cannabis as a recreational drug, there are efforts underway to limit the occurrences of people driving under the influence of marijuana. Also, the advent of vaporized and edible THC prevents the negative effects of smoking marijuana.
Alcohol: Harm reduction therapy for alcoholism emphasizes controlled drinking — especially for people who aren’t yet ready to get help. This approach seeks to prevent people from driving whenever they have been binge-drinking. It also suggests scheduled days of abstinence throughout the week.
Stimulants: Harm reduction therapy for users of stimulants provides education on drug use, and attempts to limit stimulant-specific problems like poor hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases and dental issues, and tooth decay.
While the behavioral health experts at Harbor Village generally adhere to an abstinence-driven recovery model in both alcohol rehab and drug rehab, we see the benefits of harm reduction therapy as a treatment tool. If you’d like to discuss harm reduction therapy as a potential part of your recovery plan, let’s talk. We’d love to help you find an approach that works well for you.