Harm Reduction and Moderation

Contrary to popular opinion, the idea that drugs are addictive in and of themselves, because of their chemical composition or effects, is a myth. Surprisingly, only 10-20% of those who try even the most stigmatized drugs like heroin, crack, and methamphetamine become addicted. Instead, addiction most often occurs as a coping strategy in response to dynamic personal and societal factors. Though most people first think of sobriety as the only solution to substance use issues, the movement toward moderation has been around for a long time, particularly in the concept of harm reduction. Read more about why Evo thinks sobriety shouldn’t be the only option.

Harm reduction refers to practices that focus on reducing the harm of drugs, providing care to people who use drugs rather than solely trying to stop drug use. During the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, many countries began to provide free needle exchange, safe injection sites, and health services to drug users. Research on these measures shows decreased infection rates. Harm reduction tactics, including media campaigns against drunk driving, cut drunk driving deaths in half from the early 1980s to 2013. Harm reduction techniques are also common in non-substance settings, like safe sex education for teens.

Renegotiating relationships to substances takes time, deep internal struggle, and often involves making mistakes. Yet, many rehab programs view relapse as a sign of failure or even as grounds to kick someone out of treatment, rather than part of the natural course of recovery. By contrast, research on non-judgmental harm reduction approaches, like needle exchanges and health interventions, shows great success in reducing infection and overdose. These approaches do not prolong addiction. In fact, numerous doctors, clinicians, and community practitioners who practice harm reduction say their clients would not have started their recovery journey if not for their exposure to these alternative methods. These approaches lead with the sentiment that a person’s life is valuable, no matter what. When people see that others value them, they start to value themselves.

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