Harm Reduction Substance Abuse

What is Harm Reduction?

What is Harm Reduction?

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is the practice of using interventions that reduce the risk of the worst possible outcome in addiction. While there is an emphasis on the significance and importance of abstinence, harm reduction accepts that not everyone is ready to stop abusing drugs but respects the safety of those in active addiction without passing judgement. In the past, addiction has been viewed as some sort of moral failing and as time has progressed it is widely recognized that addiction is a chronic disorder of the brain [1],[2],[3]. There are many factors that influence the likelihood that someone may become addicted to a substance – such as environment, genetics, behavior, and once a person is exposed to a substance, changes in brain chemistry[4]. Despite these influencers, harm reduction acknowledges that it is ultimately the drug user themself who is primarily responsible for their own harm reduction and subsequent recovery from addiction[5]. Empowering them on the way, harm reduction is suitable for those who are walking on the journey to recovery for the first time, and even those who have seemed to try it all but struggle to maintain their footing on the path to sobriety. A common intervention that is embedded in the principles of harm reduction are needle exchange programs for those in active heroin addiction. Another well-known harm reduction principle is the use of overdose prevention methods, such as the medication often used by first responders when they encounter someone who has overdosed, Naloxone.

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Moving away from active addiction.

On the way to a drug free life, those in active addiction may begin with the use of low-threshold pharmacological interventions as they enter the withdrawal process. Medications like Buprenorphine and Suboxone have been well known to reduce the impact of the side effects of withdrawal. At the Harm Reduction Center we encourage change through our model that applies Integrated MAT, Motivational Interviewing and additional therapeutic modalities we can empower and enrich the lives of those who are ready and willing to live a life free of drugs. Without passing judgement, we provide each of our clients with the tools they need to embark on their road to recovery. We recognize that every person is different and their journey to a new life is just as unique as they are. Let us empower you.


1-    Courtwright, DT. The NIDA brain disease paradigm: History, resistance and spinoffs. History Faculty Publications. 2010. Paper 2 Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unf.edu/ahis_facpub/2

2-    Ersche KD, Williams GB, Robbins TW, Bullmore ET. Meta-analysis of structural brain abnormalities associated with stimulant drug dependence and neuroimaging of addiction vulnerability and resilience. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 2013; 23:1–10. [PubMed: 23265962]

3-    Vrecko S. Birth of a brain disease: Science, the state and addiction neuropolitics. History of the Human Sciences. 2010; 23(4):52–67. [PubMed: 21243829]

4-    Kreek MJ, Levran O, Reed B, Schlussman SD, Zhou Y, Butelman ER. Opiate addiction and cocaine addiction: Underlying molecular neurobiology and genetics. The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2012; 122(10):3387. [PubMed: 23023708]

5- https://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/

https://www.unodc.org/ddt-training/treatment/VOLUME%20D/Topic%204/1.VolD_Topic4_Harm_Reduction.pdf

http://www.unodc.org/documents/prevention/Reducing-adverse-consequences-drug-abuse.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4070513/pdf/nihms589334.pdf

Bartlett, R. Brown, L. Shattell, M. Wright, T. Lewallen, L. (2013) Harm Reduction: Compassionate Care of Persons with Addictions. Medsurg Nursing. 22(6). Pages 349-358.

  1. Hello! I am an MSW student learning about addictions. I am fascinated by harm reduction in that it…

1 Comment

  1. Christopher Hanlon
    January 16, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Hello! I am an MSW student learning about addictions. I am fascinated by harm reduction in that it is very client centered and at its heart desires the client to determine, (through individualized introspection and professional guidance) causation, whether or not it has roots in pathology (disease model) and individualized treatment. It seems so many treatment programs push (sometimes not even citing research) the ‘chronic, replapsing, diseased nature of addiction’ as fact. I do believe that, especially In the absence of biological markers, we need to consider ‘addiction as a pathological disease’ as theory rather than fact. Thanks for your blogs.

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