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Difference Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

Drugs and alcohol abuse is a major area of concern all over the world in both young and elder persons. While practices and measures have been put up to curb this problem, drug consumption and addiction still remain a major issue. Among the measures put up include rehabilitation of addicts, control of the sale of drugs as well as harm reduction as well as abstinence methods. 


What is Abstinence?

This is the complete termination of alcohol and drug use. It is known to be the most effective way of treating addiction. 


What is Harm Reduction?

This is the reduction of harm caused by addiction and addictive agents. It works by reducing the economic, social and health harm while not reducing the actual usage. It is used in reducing harm by reducing the usage of alcohol and drugs. This method mainly focuses on self-accountability. It is mostly criticized as it is seen to enable addicts access to drugs, for instance through the provision of clean needles to drug users in a bid to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS. 


Similarities between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

  • Both work towards the reduction of drug and substance abuse


Differences between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

  1. Definition

Abstinence is the complete termination of alcohol and drug use. On the other hand, harm reduction is the reduction of harm caused by addiction and addictive agents. 

Abstinence vs. Harm Reduction: Comparison Table


Summary of Abstinence vs. Harm Reduction

While the treatment of drug addiction by use of abstinence and harm reduction strategies has been seen to have high success rates, the problem is yet to be solved. The strategy to use, however, solely depends on an individual’s needs. 


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1 Comment

  1. The first graphic in this article doesn’t seem to make sense. It is showing prescribers likelihood to prescribe AntiRetrovial Therapy (ART) to drug addicted HIV patients based on their Cd4 count, which is a blood marker used to measure viral load. It is interest ing, but it doesn’t explain the difference between harm reduction and abstinence in my opinion.

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References :

[0]Gerstein D & Harwood H. Treating Drug Problems, Volume 1. National Academies Press Publishers, 1990.  https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=8NAOD1z7DBAC&pg=PT82&dq=drug+Abstinence&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi7q-be_vLhAhUQ2BoKHajpCu0Q6AEIOzAE#v=onepage&q=drug%20Abstinence&f=false

[1]Tatarsky Andrew. Harm Reduction Psychotherapy: A New Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Problems. Jason Aronson, 2007.  https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=hu0pVjZhhD8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=drug+Abstinence&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi7q-be_vLhAhUQ2BoKHajpCu0Q6AEILDAB#v=onepage&q=drug%20Abstinence&f=false

[2]Witkiewitz K & Marlatt G. Harm Reduction, Second Edition: Pragmatic Strategies for Managing High-Risk Behaviors. Guilford Press Publishers, 2011.  https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=9UeIN01-fgwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Difference+between+Abstinence+vs+Harm+Reduction&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiPlNv4_fLhAhWN4IUKHc0fD6sQ6AEIUjAH#v=onepage&q=Difference%20between%20Abstinence%20vs%20Harm%20Reduction&f=false

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drug_Project_Continuum_of_Care.png

[4]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nida-nih/8427042145

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