12-steps and harm reduction
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The 12-Steps and Harm Reduction

The United States is currently in the midst of an opioid crisis. The number of people addicted to opioids as well as other drugs or alcohol is on a steady incline. Although many people are still in active addiction, there are a number of proven and effective methods available to treat addiction like the 12-step program. However, there has been a controversy surrounding the 12-steps and harm reduction, which was based solely on the perception of one’s addiction and what it means to be clean or in the process of getting clean. Also, the individual’s intentions and mental state during active addiction and the beginning of sobriety play a large factor in what will work for them.

Understanding Addiction

Addiction is classified as a disease, which means it is treatable. The root of addiction ranges from a number of factors—biological, environmental, and developmental.

Addiction affects the brain in many ways by tapping into the communication systems and sending an influx of pleasure into the brain’s reward system. As you continue to use drugs, the brain becomes accustomed to the surge of dopamine, leading to tolerance. Tolerance occurs when you need more of the drug to achieve the desired effects. As tolerance grows, so does dependence. Dependence on drugs or alcohol can be both physical and mental, leading to the inability to function normally without them. This is a clear sign of active addiction and with every addiction comes withdrawal, which is the body’s reaction to the absence of a drug or alcohol.

Withdrawal can be severe and one of the main reasons why people in active addiction cannot stop using. The fear of the complications that occur during withdrawal will keep someone using. It is when they experience severe consequences or hit rock bottom that heightens the desire to stop.

When it comes to success from the 12-steps and harm reduction programs, it is almost impossible to compare the two. A lot of the individuals suffering from addiction must come forward about their experience in these types of programs—with the stigma around addiction, it is hard to find people willing to do so.

The Recovery Journey

Every individual’s recovery process is different. There is no set path to sobriety from a drug or alcohol addiction. When it comes to opioids, sometimes all you can do is depend on facilities that provide you with safety to continue using, knowing where to find help when enough is enough.

Not one person in the world can persuade an individual in active addiction to get clean. However, the support from the 12 -steps and harm reduction programs can influence a change.

The stigma against addiction and those addicted to drugs tend to sway toward 12-step programs being the only form of recovery, leaving harm reduction completely out of the equation. Sometimes, this can dissuade people from asking for help knowing the negative connotations that may follow.

Harm reduction can, at times, be the only reason you have made it through addiction partially unscathed. For me, as a recovering addict with access to these programs, it saved me and provided a “safe haven” when there was no other option.

Knowledge of the 12-steps and harm reduction can be effective and can eventually lead you to achieve your goals of maintaining sobriety, as it did for many of our predecessors.

The Benefits of Harm Reduction

Harm reduction consists of programs, policies, or practices, which aim to reduce adverse health, social, and economic consequences of the use of legal or illegal drugs. These programs do not typically require individuals to completely stop their consumption of drugs; however, they do provide them with resources to stop if and when they are ready to. Harm reduction programs accept the reality that most individuals in active addiction are unwilling or unable to stop using drugs—making it easier for people to accept the help from these facilities.

The goals of harm reduction facilities are to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug abuse. Some of the strategies and approaches of a harm reduction program include:

  • Free HIV testing
  • Clean syringes and injection paraphernalia for intravenous drug users
  • Access to overdose reversal agents such as Narcan
  • Methadone or Suboxone (maintenance programs)

Certain harm reduction programs also cater to the homeless, those without the ability to receive addiction treatment in a private facility, or who simply do not want to.

From experience during my active addiction, coming from a place where the opioid epidemic runs rampant meant access to facilities like these wherever I ended up. As an IV drug user of multiple drugs, I was educated how to effectively use Narcan, given access to a shower and a place to eat or rest inside, clean needles and other tools used for safe injection, and free HIV testing.

Some might think these programs enable those in active addiction, but they are simply trying to combat many of the negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm reduction programs benefit the hundreds of active addicts who aren’t ready to take the steps necessary to get clean such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These programs keep individuals stuck in active addiction safe and provide a number of effective methods to reduce drug abuse.

12-Step Programs

The goals behind a 12-step based program strictly revolve around complete abstinence from any mind or mood altering substance. The 12-steps and harm reduction programs share similar aspects yet differ in a number of ways.

A 12-step program is a set of guiding principles that outline the course of action for recovery of addiction or alcoholism. These programs suggest you remain free of any substances to succeed in the program. The rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are open to anyone who is willing to stop using drugs or drinking alcohol. Even if you attend these meetings while under the influence, you are still welcome. However, you may face judgment and this can steer individuals away who may not be ready to stop and are aware of these programs and what they have to offer.

Twelve-step programs and harm reduction can be effective together, though it is likely that if you are not willing to stop using drugs, a 12-step program will be less effective.

Although 12-step programs are beneficial, there is no evidence suggesting 12-step programs show higher success rates due to their intolerance for the use of any drugs or alcohol. The differences between 12-steps and harm reduction rely solely on the individuals plan to become entirely free of drugs or alcohol or if they want to continue using.

Are You Struggling?

Treating addiction is a process and it can take some time before you realize what works for you. Although the 12-steps and harm reduction programs are effective, they may only work for a number of people. If you find yourself struggling to stay clean with these methods of treating addiction consequences, do not give up. Drug Treatment Center Finder can help you find the right program that suits your individual needs. Addiction is a cunning and powerful disease and the more severe your addiction is, the higher level of care you might need to successfully maintain sobriety. Our trained professional staff is available 24/7 at (855) 619-8070 and ready to help you regain control of your life. Do not become another statistic; get help now!