top of page

"Harm reduction hurts abstinence goals"

The Tired Narrative: 

Abstinence-based interventions have traditionally dominated America's addiction treatment industry. The ultimate goal of treatment is typically defined as long-term abstinence from all "mind-altering" drugs. Medication treatment like methadone and buprenorphine are described by "experts" as not "true" recovery. 

Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 11.16.07

Harm reduction models, which aim to ensure that those who are using drugs do so in ways that are less risky to their health, are typically framed by the media as being in opposition to abstinence-models, or vice-versa. 


The Informed Narrative: 

Harm reduction interventions and abstinence-based models are part of a broad continuum of health care that needn't be framed in opposition to one another. Many harm reductionists are abstinent themselves; those who are abstinent also see value in harm reduction interventions. Though there are disagreements between people in both camps, they do not need to be dramatized or overblown.

Furthermore, medication treatment such as methadone and buprenorphine meets several different definitions of "recovery." Saying otherwise stigmatizes people who are engaged in evidence-based treatment. 



Framing abstinence and harm reduction as "warring camps" fuels the perception that communities working together to address drug use and overdoses are divided. It is important for the public to understand that treating addiction, like any other illness, requires people to find the path that works best for them. Many in harm reduction and abstinence-based recovery are currently working to the bridge the gap.

Connect with Expert Sources:

Louise Vincent, drug user activist, Reframe the Blame


Brooke Feldman, in recovery, social work 

Screenshot 2019-04-05 01.57.19.png
Screenshot 2019-04-05 01.57.19.png
bottom of page