The following post is shared and authored by Victoria Walsh, a former senior partner at Inventory Solutions based in South West, London – with 23 years of experience in the UK property and insurance industries, Victoria is a social media expert and writes articles and eBooks.
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How Harm Reduction Works in Substance Use
Harm reduction is a different approach to drug abuse that aims to educate addicts about their safety and process the issue at a slower pace than most other treatments.
Understanding that harm reduction does not encourage the usage of drugs but instead focuses on the situations and reasons for the drug abuse will help others see the vital role that this approach plays in the lives of recovering addicts.
What is Harm Reduction?
Harm reduction is aimed at reducing the amount of harm that people do to themselves when using drugs. Instead of preventing or stopping people from using drugs, this approach works with those already using and attempts to educate them on their addiction and the causes to deter them from continuing usage.
This approach focuses on safer drug use and educating people about drug usage to better understand the consequences if they begin or continue to use illicit drugs. Some believe that his approach encourages drug abuse, while others support it, stating that it is a more realistic approach to treating addiction.
Harm reduction is believed to be more respectful of the individuals’ choices. It allows them the freedom to make their own choice and eventually decide to abstain from the harmful substances themselves.
Why Harm Reduction and Not Abstinence?
An essential fact that we often overlook is that addiction is not always harmful to those who use drugs. Some find the habit debilitating and cause their relationships and health to suffer. Some users can still function in society despite their addiction and require a different approach to come off the drugs.
Putting people into treatment when they don’t want to be there increases the chances of a relapse and lowers the success rate. Different people need different support and different solutions. Looking at the individual, their reasons for abuse and their condition’s severity is the first step towards a successful attempt at sobriety.
Addressing the issues that may be causing or triggering the abuse will help the person heal and improve their state of mind to the point where they will no longer rely on drugs. It is essential to consider the surrounding factors to prevent a cycle from occurring where they go through treatment, only to return to their old ways once they start to face the situations that caused them to use substances in the first place.
For example, it makes no sense to force a person experiencing homelessness and drug abuse into treatment, only for them to eventually return to an impoverished and homeless lifestyle that might be causing the problem in the first place.
Addressing the underlying issue is what harm reduction focuses on and can often lead to a more successful treatment where the individual comes out mentally more robust and capable of dealing with their triggers.
Harm Reduction Approaches That Work
Needle exchange schemes: Perhaps the most well-known harm-reduction scheme that often misleads outsiders is the needle exchange scheme. This scheme provides clean and sterile needles to those who inject their drugs and aims to reduce the transmission of blood-borne diseases, and encourages the safe disposal of syringes.
Acupuncture: The Lincoln protocol evolved at the Lincoln Hospital in New York in the late 1970s. Five tiny needles are inserted into certain points that are specific to the chemical dependency the body faces during addiction. This technique relieves withdrawal symptoms and can improve relaxation and overall mental and physical functioning, clearing the mind and allowing the addict to reflect on their situation.
Motivational Interviewing: This therapeutic technique addresses the addiction by focusing on motivating addicts to strengthen their commitment to a particular goal, such as becoming clean. Drug addiction is a coping mechanism for traumas that may have occurred in the individual’s life, and addressing those issues will eradicate the chances of a relapse.
Suboxone and Methadone Maintenance, Groups: Methadone or Suboxone is helpful in maintenance prescribing because ‘one daily dose’ is possible. Groups introduce the element of support to make sure the dose is taken regularly to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Support Groups: Support groups such as SMART and AA (alcoholics anonymous) NA (narcotics anonymous) are vital in preventing relapse. Joining these groups is a lifelong commitment to remaining sober.
Buddhist Psychology: Pursues of recovery by mending the ‘hole in the soul’ Buddhist psychology believes an addict is at odds with the universe and because of this the sufferer is lost to addiction. Treatments include mindfulness, concentrated through and a commitment to sobriety.
The examples listed are not a comprehensive list but a brief indication into what is possible when practicing harm reduction techniques.
Common Harm Reduction Guidelines
These are the lessons and phrases you’ll learn about most when taking the harm reduction approach;
- Always tell someone what drugs you have taken if you are planning on using them.
- Always use sterile needles and never share injecting equipment.
- Start with smaller doses. An illicit substance such as Ecstasy tends to take a while to kick in, which may cause the person to take more than needed for the desired high.
- Never mix drugs with other drugs, alcohol, or medication.
- Never use drugs in an unsafe place that you are not familiar with.
- Never drive or operate heavy machinery when under the influence.
- Ask for help if you are worried about a friend who has used drugs.
- Place the person who is unconscious or sleeping in the recovery position.
- Always trust a professional healthcare provider for the best advice.
The most common misconception about harm reduction is that it encourages or condones drug abuse. The process of abstaining from drugs, alcohol, and addictive tendencies takes time and is different for everyone.
Working on healing the individual can be very effective and more successful in the more extended scheme of things. That person will be more in touch with how they feel and will have a better understanding of what triggers their addiction.