Moderate drinking programs are aimed primarily at early stage problem drinkers who wish to stay within moderate drinking limits, such as the NIAAA limits of 4 standard drinks daily and 14 weekly for men and 3 daily and 7 weekly for women. Research such as that of Martha Sanchez-Craig shows that these programs can be quite effective with early stage problem drinkers but that those with more severe problems are less likely to stick to such limits.
An alcohol harm reduction approach is aimed at all drinkers but in particular offers options to those who are unwilling, unable, or not yet ready to abstain from alcohol. A harm reduction approach always supports successful abstinence or successful moderation as ways to resolve alcohol problems, but in addition it offers options for those who are not abstaining or sticking to moderate limits.
Just as it is true that the more heroin one shoots, the more one needs clean needles, so it is true that the more alcohol related problems one has the more one needs to apply harm reduction strategies to deal with them.
The old idea that people with drug or alcohol problems need to “hit bottom” in order to change has been quite discredited. The reality is that many people who use drugs or alcohol do so because they have suffered trauma, and increasing their trauma only serves to increase their drug or alcohol use.
People often need to be built up to get strong enough to recovery from their drug or alcohol problems—tearing people down dos not help. Helping people to reduce drug or alcohol related harm and to improve mental, physical and financial health does NOT enable people to continue their addiction, rather it enables people to recover.
Sometimes recovery can be defined in terms of abstinence, and sometimes it is defined in terms of non-problematic drug or alcohol use.
However, it is always of the first importance to keep people alive and healthy. Safety first. Because once you are dead you are beyond recovery.
Copyright © 2012, The HAMS Harm Reduction Network