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  • Writer's pictureJillian Speck

What is Harm Reduction



Using a harm reduction approach gives people who use substances an option to make choices on how to manage their use and reduce harms.

Harm reduction is not limited to substance use, we engage in harm reduction practices in our daily lives in order to reduce risks and maintain a healthier and safer lifestyle. By practicing a harm reduction approach, individual choices are recognized, leaving people's dignity intact.

A frequent misunderstanding of harm reduction is that it encourages substance use and does not consider abstinence. That is NOT THE CASE. Harm reduction approaches are not based on a particular outcome, which means that the goal of abstinence can also fall under the harm reduction umbrella.

Basically, harm reduction supports the notion that individuals who suffer from substance use issues should be treated with respect and dignity and there is a wide range of treatment options, leaving individuals to make well informed decisions about their specific needs and what would best suit them, by reducing risks and leading a healthier and safer lifestyle.

Where most people misunderstand and are misinformed about harm reduction is the wide spectrum of strategies this approach includes. Harm reduction incorporates safer use, managed use, abstinence, and meeting people who use substances “where they are at”.


Unlike abstinence based programs that focus on putting a big stop sign in front of drug use, harm reduction reduces the consequences of using drugs and focuses on how a person's lifestyle and social surroundings affect their decisions to use drugs or not.


It aims to educate people on ways to reduce the risk of harm associated with drug use rather than telling them that they should stop altogether. This approach acknowledges the fact that despite our best efforts, we aren't always able to help everyone but by providing education in the case of safer drug use, this can potentially keep someone from getting hurt without demanding that they give up any part of their life or culture just because they choose to experiment with drugs.


Here are just a couple of reasons I choose to embrace Harm Reduction when it comes to helping my clients with substance use disorders.



Harm Reduction is a non-judgmental approach

No one likes to feel judged, and it is definitely not helpful when someone is asking for help. Harm reduction is flexible, meets people where they’re at, and is accommodating to individual needs because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to substance use disorders.


Treating all individuals with dignity, compassion, and respect

This sort of goes hand in hand with not being judgmental. It’s important to me that people, no matter what they’re going through, feel respected.


Accepting that change takes time, and we can’t force it on people. One step at a time over the course of long periods of time is much more beneficial than making big leaps all at once. People will be much more likely to complete small tasks repeatedly rather than try and finish one huge task over a short period of time.


It puts people first

Harm Reduction services focus on the quality of individual and community life and well-being as an indicator of “success.” It’s not just solely focused on the complete elimination of all drug use. I love the fact that it looks at the whole picture and everyone’s individual circumstance and let’s everyone decide what success looks like for them. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when helping people live their best lives.


Now that you know a little bit more about why I’ve embraced the idea of Harm Reduction when helping my clients, how could you benefit from maybe developing your own plan about how you can start creating a better plan for yourself?


If you need help with any of this, you can book a free call with me and we can talk about what it could look like for you.




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