Dealing with a friend or relative with drug addiction or a history of alcohol abuse is scary and heartbreaking in a way that can never be fully understood by those who don’t experience it. Despite any potential attempts of your loved one to deceive you, you can likely see that the person is struggling even if you don’t understand how the situation got to where it is.
You might feel that things are on a downward spiral, always seeming to lead to more denial, more destruction, and of course, more drugs and alcohol. If your next step is planning an intervention for your friend or family member with qualified professionals, what are some ways you can prepare?
The Harm Reduction Journal describes harm reduction as an umbrella. It includes prevention and treatment aimed at reducing the severity or incidence of negative outcomes from behaviors, even if the behaviors are not completely abandoned.
While harm reduction’s core and obvious objective is applied in society all the time—life vests and seatbelts exist to logically follow the same basic concept of risk management for certain activities—the term harm reduction is usually attributed to drugs and alcohol, or substance use disorders (SUDs). Specifically, it often refers to intervention services like needle sharing programs which have been gaining traction in Philadelphia and other cities around the world.
The pressing need for practicality over idealism led to harm reduction. It’s already been about three decades since the opioid crisis began, with three waves to date. In 2017, nearly 20 million in the US battled drug or alcohol addiction according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Since COVID-19, few dare to claim that the number has decreased.
Harm reduction uses a person-first viewpoint that keeps the person with addiction in the forefront as someone worthy of respect and, ultimately, their own free will. It considers the numbers, too—not just the 20 million (and likely rising) for whom abstinence is not currently working, but the idea that one more shot at recovery, at life, is better than one life lost.
Harm Reduction in an Intervention: Does It Really Fit?
A drug or alcohol intervention must be planned delicately, so seek out professionals who take the time to understand you and your family’s specific circumstances before proceeding. Following are three tips that can help make the intervention as caring, realistic, and effective as possible, despite the difficulty of the situation.
- Think of the person’s needs hierarchy: Food, water, and shelter are obviously immediate priorities. People also need to feel safe in their neighborhood and take care of serious mental health issues before focusing on bettering themselves. Where might change be possible for factors that may have contributed to the addiction developing in the first place?
- Try your very best to let go of judgment: You might not know how things got so out of control, and perhaps you mourn for the days your loved one was not “lost” to their addiction. However, we can only progress from what is happening in the present moment. During the intervention, and in your letter to the person if you’re writing one, you can mention difficult emotions, but try to stick mostly to facts that can’t be easily disputed.
- Consider if abstinence is the only way: A huge part of harm reduction is meeting the person where they’re at. While abstinence is of course the safest and most ideal option, it doesn’t work for every individual every time. The person’s willingness to change and the danger and legality of the substance used are just a few factors to consider when determining the objective. Asking the person during the intervention is another obvious step, but compromise may be part of the process.
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