Harm Reduction vs. Total Abstinence

Many treatment professionals believe that total abstinence is the only way to effectively confront addiction. Others believe that a more moderate approach, (harm reduction), is a viable treatment in some cases, especially for people who aren’t ready or willing to give up substance use entirely.

This argument has raged for years and even the most skilled and experienced treatment professionals are often deeply invested in their belief that their way is the only way. They may refuse to consider any exceptions, and may look disparagingly upon any other points of view.

The Arguments Explained

Most treatment professionals agree that addiction is a chronic disease that changes the structure and function of the brain. Thus, those who advocate for total abstinence believe the changes in the brain make moderate use impossible, and that the only way to regain control is to stop using the substance entirely. They tend to view harm reduction approaches as enabling addicted people to continue the problem behavior.

On the other hand, those who argue for harm reduction argue that it is possible for some people to reduce consumption and use moderately. Although they may agree that moderate use isn’t always the ideal solution, they argue that many people aren’t ready to stop completely, especially in the early days of treatment. Thus, harm reduction is a way to reduce risk and minimize the chances of social, financial and psychological problems, or worse, while individuals learn to work through their issues and set reasonable goals for reduction in use.

In the meantime, while opposite camps continue the ongoing discussion about what approach is best, addicted people may be prevented from receiving the type of treatment that serves them best.

Our Philosophy: A Non-Dogmatic Approach is Best

At Paracelsus, we advocate no hard and fast treatment approaches. We believe that the goal of treatment is to make life better and healthier for addicted people, and that effective treatment is never a black and white, either-or issue.

Each person is accepted where he or she is at the moment, without judgment or proclamations about what is best for that individual. We provide one-on-one therapy that each person may need, including guidance for working through depression, trauma or other underlying issues such as physical health problems, be they many or few.

We offer complete support to those who believe total abstinence is the best option. However, we believe that for some individuals, the ideal of total abstinence is overwhelming, and that harm reduction may be the first step in a long journey to total abstinence – not a way of condoning dangerous behavior.

We provide ample education and information and provide guidance through the process of making well-reasoned decisions. Similarly, while our treatment doesn’t involve a 12-Step approach, we facilitate meetings for clients who find them useful. In short, the client’s needs and wishes always come first, we walk with them, side by side.

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