An Introduction to Harm Reduction, and 8 Strategies to Consider

Last Updated on July 31, 2019

“How much is too much?”

When it comes to alcohol, the answer to this question varies from person to person. However, it’s on the minds of more and more Americans these days. Studies show that over 70% of U.S. citizens report using alcohol, and many of them are drinking more than they think they should.

Avoiding alcohol completely is one way to address this problem. In fact, this is the main goal of modern Alcoholics Anonymous and 30-day substance abuse treatment programs. Over the years, these approaches have helped many people, but for others, these methods aren’t the best fit.

The truth is that lifelong abstinence is just one of many ways to address problem drinking.

Did you know that there are FDA-approved medications available to help people manage their cravings and drink less often? Ever wondered about ways to control your drinking without committing yourself to lifelong abstinence?

You’re in luck! There’s a different approach called harm reduction. Read on to learn why this strategy is more relevant for many people, rather than asking them to never touch a drink for the rest of their lives.

What Exactly Is Harm Reduction?

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It helps to understand what medical professionals and recovery specialists are talking about when they refer to harm reduction. In short, harm reduction refers to lifestyle changes people make to prevent drinking from negatively affecting their lives.

For some, this process leads them to eventually quitting drinking for good. For others, it means managing the amount they drink until they are no longer at risk of losing success in school, work, and relationships.

People who recognize the need to be in more control of their drinking can get started by learning about the most widely used harm reduction techniques.

Harm Reduction Strategies for Problem Drinking

In this case, a successful strategy lowers a person’s chances of hurting themselves (or others) with their drinking. What this looks like in action will vary from person to person.

Most important is the person’s willingness to make some simple changes in everyday routine. Here are some of the most commonly used ideas to manage problem drinking:

  • Tracking drinking habits to establish and track harm reduction goals
  • Setting and keeping abstinence periods
  • Self-limiting consumption to a certain number of drinks per day
  • Handing off keys and phones to loved ones when drinking
  • Drinking less at a certain times to minimize sleep loss
  • Arranging rides in advance to avoid driving intoxicated
  • Logging out of public social media accounts before drinking
  • Putting off the first drink of the day for a half hour to shake up the routine

These are just a few examples and most people will develop solutions that fit their personal needs. So what makes for a good harm reduction strategy? The right ones will:

  • Help avoid scenarios in which drinking alcohol could have long-term consequences
  • Make it easy for people to track their progress and hold themselves accountable
  • Encourage honest communication to answer the question, “How much is too much?”


Moving Forward: First Steps With Harm Reduction

Maybe some of this information is resonating and you’re interested in changing your relationship with alcohol. That’s great to hear! In fact, this is the first step toward a healthier lifestyle with less anxiety about drinking.

What’s next? Don’t forget to learn about types of support available as you apply harm reduction strategies in your daily life.

  • Ask your doctor about medication: There are a number of FDA-approved medications designed to help people get their drinking under control. At Ria, we use baclofen, gabapentin, topiramate, veranicline, and (especially) naltrexone. The goal is to gradually retrain the brain, to make drinking less interesting. One of these prescriptions may be right for supporting your harm reduction goals.
  • Explore helpful technology: Innovative tech is available to help people drink less often, such as the new app by Ria Health. The software monitors alcohol consumption, shows blood alcohol levels, and offers reminders to take medication. It also allows users to connect directly with professionals who guide them through a personalized, private medically assisted treatment (MAT). These multiple tools help users get their drinking under control without having to quit completely.

Current thinking says harm reduction is a better option for many people than trying (and often failing) to maintain abstinence. At Ria, we work with you—on your own terms—to help you manage your alcohol consumption, and meet goals you set with the help of our medical staff and counselors.



Remy Antonio Albillar is a writer and communications specialist based in Phoenix, AZ. He has been writing professionally for 8 years, with a heavy focus on health care, addiction and recovery. He received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston, MA.

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