While some feel the path to recovery only has two roads, one where someone is completely sober, and other where the person is in active use, a third road does exist, and it is gaining ground. Harm reduction is the practice of making a healthier, smarter, and safer choice when it comes to high-risk behaviors and is designed to lessen the harmful impact on a person.
Mixed feelings about this third road are understandable, but the positive impact of harm reduction needs to be acknowledged, and folks need to be educated about it as an option if quitting isn’t something they are open to.
Harm Reduction Matters and Can Make a Difference Because:
- If someone feels seen, heard, and respected in their choice to continue using, they may be more receptive to honest conversations about detox, inpatient or outpatient treatment, recovery meetings, groups, or other forms of support when they are ready.
- If someone feels informed and educated about the ways they can better protect their health and is able to accomplish those goals, they may be invested in taking better care of themselves in other parts of their lives. Achievements are empowering and boost self-esteem and self-confidence, no matter how small they may seem from the outside. Safer use means a safer life. Harm reduction can be the lifesaving step between reckless behavior and death.
- Forcing someone into inpatient or detox might backfire since it is impossible to make someone change just because you want them to. If someone is suddenly told they can’t use anymore and they aren’t involved in that decision, they might rebel and keep using or increase their use. Additionally, if someone feels pressured to quit cold turkey before they are ready, it could lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression, which could lead to more use.
- If someone isn’t made to feel that recovery is all or nothing, they might have a better chance of moderating or keeping themselves safe until they can make a decision that is right for them. Relapses are part of recovery, and relapses within the context of an all or nothing mentality might cause guilt or shame, which could lead to more use as well.
- Locations such as needle exchanges show compassion and willingness to meet people where they are at, verses where someone might want them to be. Needle exchanges also reduce the likelihood of contracting Hep C, HIV, or other diseases, which truly aids in keeping folks as healthy as possible. Safe consumption sites prevent overdoses, save lives, and keep folks connected to resources. Disposal sites reduce needles that would otherwise end up on the street, which poses a serious health hazard for anyone who comes into contact with them.
- We never know the trauma that another person has faced, or the pain they have endured.
Approaching someone with judgment or assumptions can create even more harm. It can also cause an individual to stop sharing what is truly going on for them and can cause them to stop asking for help. Someone could be at a breaking point in their life, and our ability to hold space for them where they are can make all the difference.
If you are exploring harm reduction for yourself, it could mean safer sex, limiting the number of alcoholic drinks consumed in one sitting, or limiting occurrences of drinking in a week/month, etc. It could also mean utilizing a needle exchange, not sharing needles, or using at a supervised consumption site.
If someone you love is exploring harm reduction, support them in this decision. Have an open and non-judgment conversation to develop trust. Remember, they get to decide how it looks, what it means and doesn’t mean, and will only concern the behavior they are willing and ready to address. Stay curious, open, encouraging, and be trustworthy. Offer to support them, and offer accountability, if they want it. Ask questions and listen to the answer.
“How can I support you in being safe in your use?”
“I think exploring harm reduction is a great option. What do you want it to look like for you?”
“What tools or resources are most beneficial to you during the harm reduction process?”
“Please know I’m here for you if you want to talk about anything else.”
Personal feelings on harm reduction aside, its benefits and existence as a valid and helpful option for folks can’t be denied. Everyone deserves information, education on options for safer use, and resources to make better choices. If someone is willing and wanting to make a positive change, it is a step that needs to be supported.
Are you wanting to explore a healthier lifestyle? Or have you tried, but not been successful?
Are you seeking a space to explore what types of healing could best support you?
Do you want to make changes, but not sure what kind? Or how to start?
If you are unsure about your long-term use but know your body, mind, heart, and spirit need a rest, contact us at Ashley Addiction Treatment, a residential treatment campus located in Northern Maryland. We provide holistic and comprehensive therapeutic support to empower you to make the positive changes you want to make in your life.
Our compassionate, non-judgmental, and safe staff are committed to your health, happiness, and well-being, and will be by your side every step of the way.
For more information, or to take the next steps, contact us at 800-799-4673.