Difference Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

There are mainly two widely used strategies for alcohol and drug addiction recovery. These are abstinence and harm reduction and both are widely applicable and useful strategies for defeating addictions.

Both these strategies have some advantages and disadvantages. There are several differences between these two strategies that make them distinctive from each other.

Abstinence vs Harm Reduction

The main difference between abstinence and harm reduction is that abstinence is the additional recovery approach that follows complete termination of drug and alcohol use, on the other hand, harm reduction is the addiction recovery strategy that reduces the harm caused by addictive agents and addiction. Abstinence is more popular compared to harm reduction strategies.

Abstinence vs Harm Reduction

Abstinence refers to an addiction treatment strategy that totally terminates the consumption of any addictive substances like drugs and alcohol.

In other words, abstinence means complete avoidance of any kind of addictive substance for a considerable time.

If a person does not engage himself/herself in any kind of addictive habit at all, either for a long period or indefinitely, that person can be called abstaining or abstinent.

Harm reduction is another type of addiction recovery strategy that aims to reduce the harm caused by addictive agents and addiction.

Harm reduction works by reducing health, social, and economic harm, instead of reducing the usage of addictive agents, like drugs and alcohol. It focuses on the consequences of addiction and self-accountability. 

Comparison Table Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

Parameters of ComparisonAbstinenceHarm Reduction
DefinitionAbstinence is the addiction recovery strategy that focuses on withdrawing every addictive agent, like alcohol, drugs, and any other medications.     Harm reduction is the addiction recovery strategy that minimizes the negative legal, health, and social impacts associated with the addiction, drug policies, and drug use.
AimAbstinence focuses on total cessation of addictive agents by using 12 step recovery methods.     Harm reduction focuses on reducing the consequence of addictive agents and addiction.
StrictnessAbstinence tries to emphasize the roots of the addiction by terminating all addictive agents and tries to establish a long-run recovery.     Harm reduction is less strict compared to abstinence and it allows the consumption of addictive agents.
UsageOver the years the use of abstinence has been used widely and gotten popular in rehabilitation centers.     Harm reduction is less popular compared to abstinence as it doesn’t focus on stopping the addiction, rather focuses on the consequences of the addiction.
HonestyOver the years the use of abstinence has been used widely and gotten popular in rehabilitation centers.     Harm reduction is less popular compared to abstinence as it doesn’t focus on stopping the addiction, rather focuses on the consequences of the addiction.

What is Abstinence?

Abstinence refers to an addiction recovery practice that restrains the addicted person from indulging in any time of addiction or addictive agents.

It represents exhibiting restraint and self-control when it comes to consuming any addictive agents like alcohol or drug, or both. This approach was first introduced in the 1950s by AA or Alcoholic Anonymous through an addiction program.

Currently, most rehabilitation centers use this approach. The abstinence approach focuses on the total termination of addictive agents and addictive behavior. It consists of ten principles-

  • Addiction is a primary and involuntary disease and it is diagnosable and describable.
  • Addiction can not be cured totally, but it can be dominated.
  • The nature of the initial treatment motivation, its absence or presence can not predict outcomes of the treatment.
  • The dimensions of addiction treatments can be psychological, spiritual, physical, or social.
  • An environment of respect and dignity is required for treating addiction.
  • People who are suffering from substance abuse are considered vulnerable to mood-altering drug abuse and it is seen as chemical dependency.
  • Multidisciplinary treatment programs are best for treating chemical dependency.
  • For providing emotional guidance and support, a recovered person act as a primary counselor.
  • In this approach, a twelve-step program is considered to be the most effective treatment and recovery practice.

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is another addiction recovery strategy that consists of some set of practical ideas and strategies with an aim of reducing the negative consequences of consuming addictive agents.

It is also considered as a movement for bringing social justice and respect for the rights of addicted people.

The main purpose of the harm reduction approach is to provide practical ideas and strategies for reducing the negative impacts of addiction and addictive substances. The main principles of harm reductions are-

  • It accepts illicit and licit drug use as part of the world.
  • This approach believes that the best practice of addiction recovery is to focus on minimizing the negative impacts of adductions.
  • According to this approach drug use is a multi-faceted and complex phenomenon that consists of a wide range from total abstinence to severe abuse.
  • It believes that total termination of drug usage is not the best for community and individual well-being.
  • Calls for non-coercive and non-judgemental resources for people who are suffering from addictive substance abuse.
  • It ensures that drug users maintain a voice within the formation of future programs and services. 
  • It affirms drug users as the primary agents of decreasing the negative impacts of drug addiction.
  • It seeks to empower people with drug use history to share their experiences and support each other.
  • It gives importance to the socio-economic dimension of drug abuse.
  • It doesn’t try to reduce the danger or harm related to the use of illicit and licit drug use. 

Main Differences Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

  1. Abstinence is the addiction recovery strategy that focuses on withdrawing every addictive agent, like alcohol, drugs, and any other medications. On the other hand, harm reduction is the addiction recovery strategy that minimizes the negative legal, health, and social impacts associated with the addiction, drug policies, and drug use.
  2. Abstinence focuses on total cessation of addictive agents by using 12 step recovery methods. On the contrary, harm reduction focuses on reducing the consequence of addictive agents and addiction.
  3. Abstinence tries to emphasize the roots of the addiction by terminating all addictive agents and tries to establish a long-run recovery. Harm reduction is less strict compared to abstinence and it allows the consumption of addictive agents.
  4. Over the years the use of abstinence has been used widely and gotten popular in rehabilitation centers. Harm reduction is less popular compared to abstinence as it doesn’t focus on stopping the addiction, rather focuses on the consequences of the addiction.
  5. The abstinence approach doesn’t believe that the addicted person will tell the truth about his or her drug/alcohol consumption. The harm reduction approach assumes that the addicted person will be honest in revealing his or her drug/alcohol consumption.
Difference Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

Conclusion

Which is the best treatment philosophy between abstinence and harm reduction, is still considered as the most debatable topic in many addiction recoveries and treatment communities. It is fully dependent on personal needs.

Abstinence follows the complete termination of addiction, while harm reduction focuses on reducing the negative consequences of addiction.

While abstinence is stricter compared to harm reduction, the latter can be the best for those people who are willing to give up the addictive substances but struggle very much to completely terminate the addictive substances at once.

Harm reduction can be a good and positive start to reducing the negative impacts of addiction and addictive substances. It can lead to healthier and safer life choices.

References

  1. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=abstinence+&btnG=#d=gs_qabs&u=%23p%3DMJgj-eXRsuYJ
  2. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=harm+reduction+drug+use&oq=harm+reduction+#d=gs_qabs&u=%23p%3DpUQgZp0HW0EJ
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