What Is Harm Reduction When Discussing Alcoholics?

Harm reduction places accountability in the hands of individuals. Using this approach, alcoholics are able to get and receive the treatment they need. They are encouraged to begin working where they are, and a team of professionals may be enlisted to provide self-care, safety, health and other education for the individual. This approach works because the focus isn’t on morality, but rather it is based on pragmatism. In alcoholics, this approach is used to address people on all levels with drinking problem.

Understanding the theory of harm reduction

Harm reduction serves to minimize the risks and dangers that come with using alcohol. The main premise of the theory is that people will drink alcohol, and that it is impossible to eliminate the behavior. Working from that understanding, the needs of people with varying degrees of drinking problems can get the help they need and remain safe as they are educated on how to lower risks. Binge drinking and alcoholism are problems that cannot be eliminated altogether, so providing the right interventions can be the key to protecting those who are at risk.

Basic principles of harm reduction in treating alcoholism:

• Focus is on minimizing the effects of alcohol addiction
• The complexity of the condition encompasses a range of behaviors
• Aim is to protect people from further self-harm through education
• Interventions focus on improving the quality of life and wellbeing for individuals
• Emphasis is on a non-judgmental approach to getting resources and services in the hands of those at risk
• Teaches people how to take ownership of their addiction, which empowers them
• Operates from the understanding that some factors like class and poverty put some at risk for doing harm to themselves
• Never downplays the severity of the addiction and the real harm in alcohol abuse

What is harm reduction when discussing alcoholics?

Harm reduction in action for treating alcoholics is complex. Many people have varying degrees of alcohol addiction. Some are binge drinkers who may not drink more than once a month. Others may need to drink first thing in the morning and throughout the day in order to stay aware. The harmful reduction approach acknowledges that different people from different backgrounds have different types of drinking problems. Getting the right treatment program starts with an assessment to fully understand the broad range of the person’s drinking problem. Recommendations are made with the person’s value system and drinking profile in mind. One person may be perfectly suited for an intensive treatment program while another person may be a better fit for group classes to curb their drinking problem. Some people do well by simply moderating their alcohol consumption, and eventually end up abstaining altogether. The person’s goals are matched to the right resources and support to help them get the care they need.

Alcohol: drinking problem versus addiction

Drinking problems can vary between individuals, much like the behaviors of people who have had a lot to drink. A person can have a drinking problem and not necessarily be an addict. Some research indicates that most people either have a mild or moderate drinking problem. Another person could be classified as alcohol dependent. Among these two groups alone, there can be a range of differences in demographics and resources available. The harm reduction approach takes into account all of these variables. The first instance of help comes from helping the drinker become aware of their challenges using cognitive behavioral therapy.

Harm reduction doesn’t focus on the moral appeal or idealistic principles in dealing with alcoholic individuals or those with drinking problems. The programs focus on educating the consumer on the severity of the problem and the many risks that come with continuing that behavior as it relates to harm to self and others.

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