An Introduction to Harm Reduction, and 8 Strategies to Consider

Table of Contents

“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 nearly 70 percent of U.S. citizens report using alcohol in the past year, 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 Alcoholics Anonymous, and most 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 now a different approach called harm reduction. Read on to learn why this strategy works better for many people than never touching a drink for the rest of their lives.

What Exactly Is Harm Reduction?

Photo by Thought Catalog for

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 quit drinking for good. For others, it means managing the amount they drink until they are at lower risk for problems in school, work, and relationships.

But how does that work? What are the most widely used harm reduction techniques?

Harm Reduction Strategies for Problem Drinking

The below strategies are meant to lower a person’s chances of hurting themselves (or others) with their drinking. What this looks like in action will vary from person to person. What matters most is the person’s willingness to make some changes in their everyday routines. Here are some of the most commonly used ideas to manage problem drinking:

  • Tracking your drinking habits to help you identify and stay on top of harm reduction goals
  • Setting and keeping periods of abstinence
  • Self-limiting consumption to a certain number of drinks per day
  • Handing off keys and phones to loved ones when drinking
  • Drinking less at 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. Most people will develop their own 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 own progress and hold themselves accountable
  • Encourage honest communication around how much is too much

Moving Forward: First Steps With Harm Reduction

If some of this information is resonating with you, that’s great to hear! But how can you get started? There are several ways to find support for harm reduction, including medications and new technology:

  • Ask your doctor about medication: There are currently three FDA-approved medications that can help people get their drinking under control. At Ria, we prescribe naltrexone, which reduces cravings for alcohol, and acamprosate (Campral) to reduce relapse risk—both of which are FDA-approved to treat AUD. Other medications include gabapentin, baclofen, topiramate, and varenicline, all of which are supported by research. Any of these prescriptions may help you stick to your harm reduction goals.
  • Explore helpful technology: Innovative tech is available to help people drink less often, including the Ria Health app. Our software monitors alcohol consumption, shows blood alcohol levels, and offers reminders to take your medication. It also allows users to connect directly with professionals who guide them through 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 your goals. Learn more about how it works, or get in touch with a team member today.

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.

Written By:
Ria Health Team
Our experienced team is committed to transforming alcohol addiction treatment.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.
Is My Drinking Normal?

Take our short alcohol quiz to learn where you fall on the drinking spectrum and if you might benefit from quitting or cutting back on alcohol.