Addiction treatment has made some substantial progress over the years. Since the 1800’s, homes were established for men and women to heal from the abuse of drinking or drug use. As the illness of addiction was better understood by experts, distinctions were made between the healing of addiction for women versus men and for teens versus adults. And as a result, treatment for addiction became more and more refined based upon the different needs of men, women, and teens.
In the same way, addiction treatment continues to grow and change. For instance, for a long time, addiction was seen as a personal flaw. An addict was seen as someone who has moral failings and cannot resist their own temptations. For this reason, addiction was treated, in many cases, by bringing the addict to church and having them abide by religious guidelines as a means to heal.
However, addiction treatment has come a long ways since then. Instead of a moral failing, experts have agreed that addiction is a medical disease and should be treated as such. With this new view of addiction, much has changed. The tendency to judge it as a personal flaw changed. Instead, addiction was an illness, something someone acquired just like cancer and was influenced by genetics. Yet, despite this new perspective, there remains the tendency to judge an addict as having done something wrong, made the wrong choices in life, and as someone who cannot cope with the demands of life.
Despite the move from seeing addiction as being the result of a personal flaw to being seen as a medical disease, there is still much progress to make. Fortunately, in recent years, more and more experts are seeing addiction with a new lens. They are beginning to use a new model, known as harm reduction.
The harm reduction model is an evidenced based practice of identifying ways in which the physiological, psychological, social and financial burdens of substance and/or alcohol use can be minimized through education and empowering an individual. In other words, the focus is on reducing the amount of harm that an individual who is using might experience because of alcohol or drug use. Here, addiction treatment is not focused on sobriety. It’s not forcing an individual to become sober. Instead, the model encourages accepting an addict wherever he or she is at and not judging them for their inability to stop using.
Although sobriety might be the end result and perhaps the desired goal, a reduction of harm model does not stigmatize an individual for their substance use. For instance, if an individual were to enter a sober living treatment facility and meet with a drug counselor. Counseling would focus on ways that that person could reduce the harm of the addiction. Perhaps that might be drinking two nights a week instead of four. Or it might be refraining from driving while drinking. Or a reduction of harm intervention might also be deciding not to drink or use drugs when on medication.
Some of the practices involved in a reduction of harm model include:
- Determining the physical needs and concerns to keep an individual safe and healthy.
- Utilizing counseling techniques such as open ended questions, rolling with resistance, asking permission, using positive affirmations and feedback in order to determine the current level of use. This is done through dialogue and drug tests. Once the current level of use is assessed, this is then used as a baseline from which a reduction of harm begins.
- Developing a drug treatment aftercare plan which are directly related to goals for reducing harm and identifying triggers to prevent relapse.
- Identifying an individual’s goals and action steps involving substance use, safe using, reduction of use – if possible, and relapse prevention.
- Based upon the information gathered, providing the individual with resources such as linking them up with other models , if they are appropriate, depending upon where an individual is in his or her recovery. For instance, if a user is actively seeking treatment and has reduced his or her drinking to only when triggered by emotional events, connecting that person to an Alcoholic Anonymous community might be helpful.
Essentially, the reduction of harm model is different than most other recovery models in that its focus is on reducing the harm that addiction creates. It does not strive for complete abstinence, although abstinence can be a long-term goal.
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