It’s common to associate drug addiction and alcoholism treatment with abstinence, but this is not the only approach. Harm reduction therapy offers an alternative for those looking to curb drinking and drug-taking. Based on the principle of improving health and wellbeing and promoting safety without insisting upon cutting down or giving up completely, the harm reduction approach represents a modern solution. If you’re new to this kind of treatment, or you’re looking for help with addiction, here’s an informative guide to harm reduction therapy.
What exactly is harm reduction therapy?
Harm reduction therapy utilizes a model, which is based on reducing the severity of the effects produced by taking drugs or abusing alcohol. The aim is not to encourage the individual to give up drugs on the spot, but rather, to focus on improving all aspects of their life. Harm reduction therapy is underpinned by the knowledge that dealing with addiction can take time, and that there is no universal treatment pathway that suits everyone.
The definition provided by the International Harm Reduction Association describes harm reduction as, “Policies and programs which attempt primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of mood altering substances to individual drug users, their families and communities, without requiring decrease in drug use.”
Harm reduction therapy is often pitted against abstinence, but in most cases of treating addiction, there is no right or wrong answer. Some people can abstain, and the results are very positive, but cutting out substances is not always a realistic or achievable target.
The principles of harm reduction therapy
Harm reduction concentrates on the impact of addiction on the individual and the network of people that surrounds them, and it is founded on a set of key principles that are designed to reduce the risk of harm and enable the individual in question to improve every element of their life. Examples of the principles of harm reduction therapy include:
- Respecting each individual and their rights and dignity
- Using evidence-based treatment techniques
- Avoiding stigma, judgment, and prejudice
- Reducing the risk of harm associated with alcoholism and drug taking: this relates to the individual and the people and communities around them
- Providing access to a diverse range of resources and therapies that are designed to help people eventually stop using substances
- Setting achievable goals and prioritizing major milestones
- Involving the individual in their treatment plan
One of the main messages providers of harm reduction therapy are keen to get across is the difference in psychology and attitude to substance abuse. This form of treatment is all about respecting the individual, treating them in the same way as every other person that shares the sidewalk, and ensuring they feel able to ask for help without feeling like they’re inferior or that they’re being judged. Having a supportive network can make all the difference.
How does harm reduction work?
Often, when we think about addiction treatment, our automatic response is to consider cutting out drugs and alcohol altogether. Abstinence has been used for decades, but there is an alternative, which is gathering pace. Harm reduction utilizes a different approach, which encourages individuals to make positive changes without requiring them to abstain. The aim is to provide access to resources, support, treatments, and techniques, which enable individuals to enhance their health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of harm. There are many examples of harm reduction in action, which we may not even be aware of. These include safe needle facilities and exchange programs, drink driving laws, free condoms, and opioid replacement therapy.
The primary aim of harm reduction therapy is to reduce the risks associated with abusing substances, rather than trying to help an individual conquer an addiction as quickly as possible. When you abuse drugs, or you drink too much, you put yourself at risk, as well as others around you. This form of therapy creates a safer environment, which encourages individuals to make positive choices.
As well as promoting safety, harm reduction therapy also encourages making gradual changes. Moderation management is a phrase that became commonplace in the 1980s, and it offers an alternative route to abstinence. Rather than cutting out drink and drugs from day one of treatment, the moderation management model is based on cutting down and shifting towards more controlled drinking.
Who is harm reduction therapy for?
Harm reduction therapy can be beneficial for anyone who is struggling with addiction. It is particularly useful for those who are worried about the impact of their illness on family members or friends, and it can help people who have struggled to respond to other techniques. Abstinence can be effective for some people, but addiction treatment should never be considered as a one-size-fits-all solution.
Many people are apprehensive about taking the first step and seeking help through therapy or counseling, and they worry about the stigma attached to drug or alcohol abuse. Harm reduction therapy aims to break down barriers, championing human rights and providing those who need help with support and assistance. People who are brave enough to take that step should never feel like they’re being judged, and with harm reduction, the focus is very much on building confidence and creating a positive, safe environment. Sometimes, people want to try and overcome addiction, but they’re anxious about the response they’ll get if they do make that call or book an appointment with a doctor or a therapist. For many, harm reduction therapy is a less daunting option, as it creates a level playing field where stigma is eliminated.
What are the goals of harm reduction therapy?
There are two main goals of harm reduction therapy. These are:
- To reduce the risk of harm connected to taking drugs or abusing alcohol. This covers everything from health risks associated with using needles to taking steps to protect family members who live with an individual with an addiction.
- To provide the necessary resources, support, and guidance to help people if and when they do decide that they want to try and cut down or quit drinking or using substances.
Both these goals are relevant in the context of working to hit targets without requiring the individual to abstain from substances or change their habits.
What is the difference between harm reduction therapy and abstinence?
Harm reduction therapy and abstinence are very different forms of addiction treatment. Abstinence involves cutting out drink or drugs completely and encouraging an individual to adapt to a drug or alcohol-free life, often with the support of therapists and medical professionals. When treatment for addiction begins, the primary aim is to support the individual while they battle urges, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms. In addition, other forms of therapy, for example, group or one-to-one counseling, can help those affected to identify why they turned to drugs or drink and how they can learn to cope with potentially tough times in the future. One of the most significant challenges of abstinence is managing withdrawal symptoms, which can be incredibly unpleasant and intense when somebody has been drinking or taking drugs for a prolonged period of time.
Harm reduction therapy offers a different perspective, and it doesn’t require individuals involved in a program to alter their habits. The main objective is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and create a safe environment, in which the individual can thrive. Support is available, people have access to safer ways of taking drugs or drinking alcohol, and experts are there to encourage positive habits. Harm reduction lowers the risk of accidents and injuries, and it helps to shield the individual, as well as those around them.
Developing a treatment plan
At Wellness Collaborative, we provide tailored treatment for those battling addictions. We have created a safe, comfortable, welcoming environment, and we focus on offering therapies that cater for the individual. We know that there is no miracle cure for addiction, and we also understand that every person is unique. We want to ensure that we achieve the best outcomes for each individual, and this is why we champion a collaborative approach. Our harm reduction treatment techniques are based on scientific evidence and they provide a modern alternative to methods that are founded on the principle of abstinence.
Dr Kelli Wright offers bespoke harm reduction therapy in Houston, providing individuals with access to a broad spectrum of resources, a diverse range of treatments and unwavering guidance and support.
Developing a treatment plan involves getting to know the individual, taking time to talk, and figuring out techniques that are most likely to work for that specific person. We aim to actively involve each individual within the planning process, and we encourage sharing ideas, being open and honest, and working through issues or potential obstacles and barriers together.
How can I find out more?
If you’d like to find out more about harm reduction therapy, or you’re eager to talk about treatment methods or objectives, feel free to contact Wellness Collaborative. We can discuss the approach in more detail, answer any questions you have, and set up an informal consultation.
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