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Harm Reduction Approach to

Substance Use Disorders

Typically, when people hear about treatment for substance use disorders they fear that in order to be “successful” they must commit to sobriety for the rest of their lives. In “all-or-nothing” addiction recovery programs, complete sobriety is often the number one goal.  An alternative approach, called  “harm reduction” empowers the client assess how substance use has impacted their life and allows them to decide what success looks like.  Our role is to offer support for moving toward a life that is less harmed by substances. 

Recovery counseling does not have to be focused 100% on substance use and abuse. There are a multitude of factors that impact your life and your substance use, including stress, mental and physical health, relationships, support networks and your employment situation.  Counseling can address all of these issues

Individual and Couples/ Family Sessions

Recovery counseling does not have to be a solo experience. Recovery focused relationship counseling is a unique opportunity to explore the ways in which your substance use and your recovery can be supported by your loved ones. Improve your ability to communicate, set boundaries, and have deep, meaningful connections.

Individual therapy can be supplemented by occasional sessions with a partner or loved one to allow you to share and find support for your progress. 

Popular Questions about Harm Reduction Treatment

Kyle Smyth, MPS, LADC  is a licensed Alcohol and drug counselor who provides services for those struggling with substance use disorders.  Below he answers common questions that people may have before deciding to begin recovery counseling.

A harm reduction approach is different than what many may expect or have experienced in the past. Historically treatment settings have emphasized abstinence as the goal, and days sober as the measure of success. A harm reduction clinician takes the radical approach of letting the client select their own goals for treatment, and the quality of the client’s life as the measure of success.

Kyle’s Answer: If a client has chosen to work with me then they feel they have a problem. While substance use disorders may be superficially similar, each client’s concerns are unique to them. Therefore, I believe that each individual client requires an approach to their treatment that is tailored to them. One person might need support in becoming abstinent from all substance use, another might want to end their alcohol use but continue to use cannabis. I do not assume that I know what is best for them in their life. Instead, I try to offer the information that they need to make the choices that are best for them, on their terms.

Kyle’s Answer: There are two goals that I have in my work with clients, first to support them in being safe and second to support them in pursuing happiness.

Kyle’s Answer: I believe that abstinence should not be a requirement for treatment. Recovery, whatever it looks like, will often have ups and downs. For a client that is having a difficult time with recurrences of substance use that is a problem for them it seems like some treatment is better than no treatment.

Kyle’s Answer: No, I believe that testing a client’s blood or urine for substances does not aid treatment in any appreciable way. Offering a non-judgmental, client led process reduces the need for clients to mislead me about their substance use.

Kyle’s Answer: Not necessarily. A harm reduction approach to substance use disorder treatment also encourages a broader look at what it means to offer treatment for clients. Most clients that I work for are also concerned about depression, anxiety, trauma, or any number of other serious mental health issues. Often these concerns are what makes it difficult for them to have a healthy relationship to substances like alcohol or opioids. A harm reduction approach to treatment places these concerns at the forefront of treatment without ignoring a client’s concerns about their substance use.

Kyle’s Answer: I choose to be a harm reduction provider because of how I understand my goal as a mental healthcare provider. My goal is not to decrease the quantity of substances like alcohol used, though that is often a byproduct of my work. I do have the goal of helping people be as healthy as possible while striving for the joy that gives their life meaning. I believe that practicing harm reduction best allows me to achieve that goal.

Substance Use DisorderS

Provider

Kyle Smyth, MPS, LADC

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