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The Pitfalls of Harm Reduction Approaches in Addiction Recovery

Recovering addicts often find the process of becoming and staying sober too hard to do all at once. From this viewpoint, a rather controversial method of rehabilitation known as harm reduction has emerged. One approach, in particular, is known as moderation management, the idea that drinking ‘in moderation’ is ok, as long as it isn’t taken to the extreme. Whether or not it is an effective way to handle a person’s recovery is still up in the air. There are some who are supportive of this method as an alternative to ‘going cold turkey’. But for many, harm reduction therapy has many pitfalls that cannot be ignored.

What are Some examples of Harm Reduction Therapy?

Methadone clinics, needle exchanges, programs that supervise injections and even a lenient approach to those who continue to overdose after claiming sobriety are all examples of programs that have been implemented as harm reduction therapy. Many of these programs were born out of laws in the 1980s which made the distribution of syringes illegal. Activists who were looking out for AIDs patients and drug addicts expressed frustration with this act, stating that the evidence suggested a reduction in the spread of HIV due to needle exchange programs. Harm reduction proponents also stated that such programs did not actually elevate the overall use of drugs.

Moderation Management: Is Everything in Moderation a Plus or a Pitfall?

When it comes to alcoholism, harm reduction approaches may best be described as a pitfall rather than a plus. Moderation management is born from the premise that a person who is striving toward sobriety is allowed to consume a regulated amount of alcohol. Moderation (a controlled amount) management (not letting it get out of hand or turn back into the focus of your life. The problem with moderation management is this: being an alcoholic means that you are unable to stop drinking once you start. Your purpose for drinking is to keep consuming the alcohol until you reach your goal – to forget, to pass out, to lash out. Whatever the goal, an alcoholic typically isn’t drinking to have fun.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing The Best Therapy for You

If you are looking for the best approach to gaining and maintaining your own sobriety, you may need to ask some hard questions before you can proceed. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are ways you can determine if you have a serious problem with alcohol. Through these questions, you can see whether moderation management or abstinence would be a better option for you.

  • Do I drink to socialize or to get drunk?
  • Am I aware of when the alcohol changes my mood or behavior?
  • Does how much or how often I drink stay steady or is it increasing?
  • Am I legally old enough to drink?
  • Does my health status support me consuming alcohol, or should I stay away from it?
  • Do I have a family history of alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism?

Another area of focus for you to consider are the consequences that can result from drinking too much. It isn’t necessarily the alcohol itself that is the problem, but the fact that overconsumption leads to a higher risk for various problems. Some of the consequences and problems that arise amongst those who drink too much include:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Lowered inhibition
  • Slurring speech
  • Impaired Motor Skills
  • Confused thoughts and reactions
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma
  • Death

Additionally, drinking too much alcohol can cause:

  • Fatal car accidents and other types of injuries
  • Risk-filled behavior
  • Violence
  • Thoughts of/Acting on Suicidal and Homicidal tendencies

There are also long-term effects of alcohol abuse, such as increased chance of varying cancers (such as esophageal, mouth, larynx and more), liver damage (including a need for a liver transplant), loss of relationships, damage to careers, financial ruin, increased depression and anxiety and so much more.

Moderation Management or Abstinence: You Decide

Every person must choose what is best for their own life, either a moderation management approach or completely abstaining from alcohol. Being 100% sober certainly eliminates the possibility of relapsing every time you ‘just take a sip’ or choose to drink in moderation. While there may be some who experience success with moderation management, overall it seems a safer way to simply avoid drinking altogether.