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What Is Harm Reduction Counseling?

Learn about harm reduction counseling and how it can help people with substance use disorder in this informative article.

What Is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction counseling is a program designed to minimize the negative impacts of drug use. It focuses on helping those struggling with a substance use disorder stay healthy and alive. For those where full recovery may not be tangible, harm reduction is centered on meeting individuals where they are and helping reduce their risk for life-threatening conditions as a result of drug use.

In 2020, a national survey estimated that 59.3 million people aged twelve and older used illicit drugs. Harm reduction programs work to help individuals who use and abuse drugs. 1

Harm Reduction

Abstinence vs. Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is not the same as abstinence. Abstinence is the typical model for recovery when dealing with a substance use disorder. It involves completely ending the use of a substance and undergoing a medical detox and withdrawal, promoting sobriety.

Harm reduction, however, does not aim to end substance abuse completely. Instead, this model of recovery focuses on safer use. This can refer to teaching better hygiene during use to prevent diseases or implementing methods to reduce the risk of negative side effects and overdose. For those unable to undergo a complete abstinence-based treatment, such as individuals with little to no access to a treatment facility for safe detox, harm reduction can be a safer option to minimize risk.

Which Program Is Better?

Both abstinence-based programs and harm reduction programs have their own benefits. When it comes to deciding which option is best for you, understanding your own goals and needs can be a significant factor. After all, abstinence focuses on promoting a complete recovery from substance use disorder in which the substance is no longer used, while harm reduction focuses on safety and the individual outside of recovery.

How Effective Is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is considered an effective method of reducing the lethality associated with substance use disorders and addiction. The focus of harm reduction is to act as an overdose prevention strategy and help keep individuals safe while at this stage in their journey. 

However, harm reduction counseling can go beyond physical health and preventing overdose by also creating a better environment for those dealing with a substance use disorder. This includes reducing the stigma around substance use disorders and fostering more accessibility to help.

Harm Reduction Programs

Harm reduction programs can be beneficial for a variety of conditions, ranging from drug use and substance use disorders to certain mental disorders involving behavioral aspects. 

Harm Reduction Programs for Alcoholism

Although harm reduction is typically thought of in association with illicit drug use, it can also be applied to alcohol addiction. The origins of harm reduction programs can trace back to trying to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV through unhygienic drug use, e.g., sharing needles. While alcohol use does not contain these exact risks, there are still risks involved, including misuse, addiction, and even overdose.

Alcohol is one of the most commonly consumed and abused substances. In 2019, approximately 69.5% of adults aged eighteen and older drank alcohol, 25.8% of people engaged in binge drinking, and 6.3% engaged in heavy alcohol use. Additionally, 5.3% of people aged twelve and older had an alcohol use disorder. 2

With the high amount of alcohol use, harm reduction programs for alcoholism work to promote safe drinking habits and reduce the risk of negative side effects.

Harm Reduction Programs for Drug Use

Typically, harm reduction for drug use involves safe use in terms of hygiene, such as not sharing needles or other materials that could transmit diseases. In fact, research has shown that substitution therapy, a harm reduction strategy to reduce the spread of disease and infection, reduces the risk of HIV transmission by 54% among those who inject drugs via needles and syringes. 3

Nonetheless, more recently, harm reduction programs for drug use have also evolved to include a broader range of topics. In the past year, drug overdose deaths have increased by 29%, surpassing 100,000 lives lost. As a result, preventing long-term adverse effects and overdose are highly prioritized in harm reduction programs. 4

When is Harm Reduction Most Beneficial?

Some of the substances that may benefit from a harm reduction program include:

  • Opioids
  • Stimulants
  • Ecstasy
  • Tobacco

Principles of Harm Reduction

As mentioned previously, harm reduction goes beyond preventing negative side effects, as several of the principles of harm reduction revolve around mental health. This includes reducing the stigma that can arise not only around mental health issues but also the stigma around seeking professional medical help.

Some of the principles of harm reduction include:

  • Respecting the rights of those who use drugs
  • Stigma avoidance
  • A commitment to evidence
  • A commitment to social justice

Goals and Benefits of Harm Reduction

On top of the principles of harm reduction that focus on the individual, mental health, and substance use as a whole, there are also several benefits and goals. The main goal and benefit of harm reduction are to create a safer experience for individuals and maintain respect for them as human beings. 

Some of the other goals and benefits that make harm reduction a helpful program for those navigating mental disorders or substance use disorders include:

  • Overdose death prevention
  • Drug-related issues prevention
  • Drug policy harm reduction
  • Community safety
  • Contamination and infection prevention
  • Positive change encouragement

Harm Reduction Counseling Services at Genesis Recovery

Navigating substance use disorders, addiction, and even behavioral disorders can be difficult. At Genesis Recovery, you won’t have to undergo this process alone. 

Harm Reduction

Our Harm Reduction Programs for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction

Genesis Recovery is a state-licensed rehabilitation center geared toward treating substance use disorders and other mental health disorders in the sunny San Diego area. Our programs for alcohol and drug addiction offer a multifaceted approach designed to meet the unique needs of our patients.

We offer a wide variety of treatment methods to provide care at each stage of our patients’ recovery. Utilizing evidence-based therapies and incorporating spirituality, Genesis Recovery seeks to restore balance, reconnect loved ones, and encourage individual growth.

Some of the addiction treatment options you can experience at Genesis Recovery include:

Get Help Today

Here at Genesis Recovery, our goal is to help you through your recovery journey, whether you’re dealing with a substance use disorder or a mental disorder. Utilizing a combination of evidence-based treatment methods, spirituality, and the beautiful wilderness of the San Diego area, our professional and compassionate staff is prepared to meet you along every step of your journey to recovery.

Contact us at Genesis Recovery today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you begin the path to a higher quality of life.


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