Substance use disorders are associated with many harmful behaviors, such as risky sexual behavior, contracting blood-borne illness through sharing needles, driving under the influence, and consuming excessive amounts of substances. Harm reduction techniques work by reducing risky behaviors and can include needle exchange programs, slowly reducing the amount of substances consumed, providing condoms, and working to develop safer alternatives to driving after using a substance, rather than focusing exclusively on abstinence, as in most rehabs.
Essentially, harm reduction acknowledges that complete abstinence isn’t a realistic solution for everyone, but the idea is to attempt to mitigate the damage associated with drug abuse and addiction.
The following principles are central to harm reduction:
- Accepting that drug use is part of our world and choosing to minimize its harmful effects rather than ignoring or condemning them.
- Understanding drug use as a complex phenomenon and acknowledging that there are some ways of using drugs that are clearly safer than others.
- Establishing quality of individual and community life and well-being as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
- Calling for non-judgemental and non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and to the communities in which they live, to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
- Ensuring that drug users have an influence in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
- Affirms drug users themselves as the primary agents in reducing the harms of their drug use and seeking to empower users to share information and support each other.
- Recognizing that the realities of poverty, racism, social isolation, class, past trauma, discrimination, and other social inequalities affect people vulnerability to drugs, as well as their capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
- Not attempting to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with drug abuse.