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.