The idea of “harm reduction” is an appealing one.
After all, who wouldn’t want to reduce harm anytime such a thing is possible? Ideally, of course, we would like to avoid harm entirely, but reduced harm is preferable to more harm, right?
But are there circumstances in which a commitment to harm reduction can actually lead to more problems than might otherwise occur? We would argue that there are, indeed, such circumstances.
For example, if you choose a harm reduction strategy for your recovery journey, you may unintentionally undo all the hard work you have done to get sober. In a case like that, harm reduction leads to real—and significant—harm.
Let’s look at an example.
The Free Ride Home Can Have a High Cost
Many communities offer programs to provide free rides home to individuals who have been drinking too much on one or another of the various holidays that tend to inspire high levels of alcohol consumption.
On its face, that seems great. Getting intoxicated individuals home safely without letting them get behind the wheel is, it could be argued, a winning scenario for everyone.
But now consider the person who is in recovery from a substance use disorder centered on alcohol. Maybe the incident that convinced this person to get into treatment involved a motor vehicle—a drunk driving citation, a minor accident, or something far worse. Our hypothetical person has been sober for a while now, and that is a very good thing.
But then they spot an announcement of the free ride home program for an upcoming holiday. It might be all too easy to rationalize going out for a few (or more than a few) drinks and then taking advantage of the harm reduction program. After all, our friend in recovery connects the dangers of drinking with driving. If they definitely won’t be driving, then drinking isn’t a problem, right?
But of course, drinking is a problem–potentially a big problem that can lead directly to a relapse.
So, does that mean there is nothing good about harm reduction programs? Not at all.
Instead, it means that a harm reduction program is not the best option for a person in recovery.
When it comes to protecting your ongoing sobriety, your best option is always going to be abstinence.
All About Abstinence
As a rule, the word “abstinence” tends to come up most often in conversations about sex—particularly in the context of premarital sex among young people. People debate whether teens, for example, should have access to birth control or should be encouraged to remain abstinent—that is, to not have sex.
But sex is not, of course, the only thing someone might abstain from. You can also abstain from drinking alcohol or using drugs. And when you are in recovery, that sort of abstinence is your best way to protect your hard-won sobriety.
Is it easy? Not at all. But if you don’t drink or use drugs, you can’t relapse. That might seem obvious, but it is an important thing to remember when temptation comes calling—whether that temptation comes in the form of an intense craving or in the form of a harm reduction program that seems tailor-made for you.
Reality Check Regarding Relapse
We want to be clear here, and so we will reiterate this important point: Abstinence is the best option for recovery, but it is not easy to accomplish.
Indeed, many people experience a relapse (or more than one relapse) after regaining their sobriety. If you are among those who experience a relapse, it can certainly be discouraging, but it is decidedly not the end of your recovery journey. Instead, after a relapse it is essential that you return to treatment so that you can restart the process of getting and staying sober.
Reduce the Power of a Substance Use Disorder to Cause You Harm
It is undeniable that ongoing use of drugs or alcohol causes harm—both to the person with the substance use disorder and to the people in their lives. The key to ending that harm is getting treatment.
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we are committed to helping you regain your sobriety and then providing you with the resources, strategies, and support you need to begin your recovery journey with confidence. We can also address any co-occurring mental health disorders that may be contributing to (or be worsened by) your substance use disorder.
If you are experiencing the many harms that come with drugs and alcohol, the time to get help is right now. We are eager to help you reclaim your life.