What is Harm Reduction in Recovery?

By: Sid Sphan

In the process of drug and alcohol abuse recovery, there is a multitude of different types of treatment. Some are provided through residential treatment programs, others through community-based recovery programs like AA. One solution, however, is harm reduction.

But it isn’t just a type of treatment used in recovery programs; it’s an umbrella term used to refer to ways to minimize negative health, social, and legal impacts associated with drug use for individuals. Harm reduction encourages the journey of substance abuse recovery while acknowledging that constant abstinence from drugs isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.  

Within the harm reduction movement, there are 8 principles.

  1. Recognize and help others recognize that licit and illicit use of drugs is a part of the world and we should minimize harmful effects, rather than shaming or condemning users. 
  2. Understand that drug use is complex and on a spectrum from severe use to complete abstinence, as well as acknowledging that some ways of using drugs are safer than others.
  3. Look at the quality of life of both the individual and the community as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  4. Give services and resources without judgment or coercion to both the people who use drugs, and the communities they live in to reduce the harm that comes with the drug use.
  5. Give a voice to current and past drug users in the decisions about programs and policies that are for them in the first place.
  6. Affirm people who use drugs as the primary agent of their own harm reduction, and encourage them to support each other and share information that is applicable to their actual situation and usage.
  7. Recognize that social inequalities affect not only people’s capacity for effectively dealing with drug related harm, but also their willingness to be vulnerable enough to do so. 
  8. Do not attempt to minimize, or ignore the real and tragic dangers that can be associated with illicit drug use.

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