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What is the Harm Reduction Model?

Some people consider addiction an all or nothing type of lifestyle. They might believe that if someone wants to get off of a drug then they need to be completely abstinent right away in order to recover. However, in many cases this is not realistic and this kind of pressure can actually be harmful for people who want to get better.

For very severe addictions, it can be more effective to follow the “harm reduction model” which focuses on getting the person into safer habits so that they can avoid overdose and work gradually to become sober. In a harm reduction model, the person struggling with addiction might benefit from using substitute drugs like methadone or suboxone instead of trying to quit cold turkey.

Being too strict about quitting a drug through total abstinence can sometimes lead to problems as the person struggles through detox. Although total sobriety may be the best option for some people, others need to wean themselves off of drug use in order to stay safe. Depending on the severity of a person’s addiction, the harm reduction model may be the most effective way to recover.

Harm Reduction Model

Minimizing Harm in Drug Addiction

The goal of the harm reduction model is fairly simple: it serves as a way to minimize harm as much as possible. Ultimately in treating people with addictions, you want to reduce the negative impact that addiction has on them and most importantly keep them alive. Cravings can be very problematic for people dealing with deadly addictions such as opioid abuse.

Those who have a purist notion about how to recover from an addiction may not understand the use of suboxone in treatment. However medications like suboxone can save people’s lives, preventing overdose and helping people deal with cravings. Recovery is not about punishment or adhering to strict standards but it is really about getting on the road to better health.

Harm reduction is a way to avoid a one size fits all type of treatment approach and take into account a person’s individual needs. If they are in the grip of a very severe addiction then they may not be ready or in a safe enough place to be abstinent right away. Using medication to wean them off of opioids or other drugs may be the best solution.

Avoiding Overdose and Encouraging Better Health

The harm reduction model focuses primarily on preventing overdose and reducing health problems right away. When a person is able to switch to a medication like suboxone then they are immediately out of the harm’s way when it comes to overdose. Suboxone is designed to prevent people from overdosing because it gets rid of cravings but it does not have a euphoric effect that the individual will become addicted to.

Suboxone also prevents withdrawal symptoms which can cause people to relapse if they are experiencing intense cravings or painful reactions to quitting. Instead of worrying about the possibility of overdosing or relapsing, the person can focus on improving their mental and physical health so that they can be in a better position to eventually become completely sober. Being abstinent can create more danger of overdose because the person reduces their tolerance significantly and a relapse could be deadly.

Instead of spending time searching for their next fix, when a person takes substitute medication they can start learning how to get involved in other more positive activities. Since their physical need for drug use is diminished they can work on resolving some of their mental symptoms of addiction. They can learn how to cope with emotional issues and stress that may lead them to crave substances.

Mental and emotional health is an important part of recovery and the harm reduction model gives people space to focus on their health. They are not overcome by physical dependency and spend time healing their minds so that they can gradually use more positive tactics to cope with life. As they reduce their dose of medication they can also become adjusted to being physically free from any substance use.

Changing Concepts of Recovery

Instead of viewing addiction as a moral issue, it is more useful to see it as a medical problem caused by a real illness. Treating addiction as an illness will make the harm reduction model a more sensible solution. Rather than viewing any kind of substance abuse as immoral, people can begin to understand the importance of health and safety above traditional moral beliefs.

The priority in treating an addiction should be keeping the person alive and getting them into a healthier state of mind so that they can work toward eventually being completely sober. It can take time and a lot of hard work but harm reduction methods can make addiction recovery much more manageable for people with difficult dependencies.

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