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What Is a Harm Reduction Approach?

August 25, 2022

Harm Reduction is an addiction approach that has gained popularity over the past several years. There was a time when addiction occurred in the shadows, was not talked about, and was highly stigmatized. As a result, punitive approaches to drug use were taken. While stigma still exists and much work remains to be done, society’s view of addiction has significantly improved.

Harm reduction aims to reduce the damage caused by alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behaviors. Harm reduction aims to keep people alive and encourage positive change. A common myth is that those who support and operate with a harm reduction approach do not encourage abstinence. One does not need to be mutually exclusive from the other. Recovery is a process that takes time and is a journey. For some, that journey includes employing strategies that reduce risk or harm before engaging in complete abstinence. Recovery is not a one size fits all approach. There is no “correct” way to achieve long-term sobriety.

Some examples of harm reduction strategies include:

  • Clean needle exchanges
  • Safe injection facilities are also referred to as "shooting galleries"
  • Free condoms are being offered at the clinic
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Medical marijuana 

Sometimes at the onset of a recovery journey, the goal of complete abstinence is unimaginable or undesirable. Yet “meeting people where they are” is frequently heard in addiction treatment. Individualized treatment plans and goals are set to reduce the negative consequences of substance use.

Look at it through the lens of someone with a goal to lose weight. There are many ways to achieve weight loss and varying degrees of diet and exercise. For example, it is not entirely outside of the norm to see someone first start with eliminating soda from their diet, then work on eating three balanced meals, or start intermittent fasting, then incorporate exercise two times a week, then move to three times a week, then five times a week. So why is a similar approach out of the question for addicts? Call today! 508-506-8940

Courtney Carpenter Clinical Director Sunrise Detox Millbury
Executive Clinical Director
Courtney Carpenter, MA, is no stranger to management roles in substance use treatment. Previously a Regional Director of Program Operations, she offered executive leadership to case management and the clinical departments for two MA locations. Courtney has a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a master's degree in Counseling Psychology from Assumption College.