Harm Reduction Options for Substance Addiction

Addiction Recovery Publishing Addiction Recovery June 13, 2024

Harm Reduction Options for Substance Addiction

It is important to remember that, in recovery, everyone will walk their own individual path. The iconic American author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” There are some people in recovery who are going to walk a very linear recovery path, and there will be others who take a few sidesteps along the way. Then, some will follow a path of total abstinence, and some will utilize harm reduction options. The important thing to remember is that the only right way is the way that works for the individual.

Better Understanding Harm Reduction Options

“Harm reduction” is a term that gets bandied about a lot these days, yet many people are unfamiliar with exactly what it is. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Harm reduction is a practical and transformative approach that incorporates community-driven public health strategies – including prevention, risk reduction, and health promotion – to empower people who use drugs (and their families) with the choice to live healthy, self-directed, and purpose-filled lives… Harm reduction approaches have been proven to prevent death, injury, disease, overdose, and substance misuse. Harm reduction is effective in addressing the public health epidemic involving substance use as well as infectious diseases and other harms associated with drug use.”

Also, harm reduction is about giving people an option other than abstinence. For many people, harm reduction meets temporary needs as they continue to progress in their recovery journey. Many people who utilize harm reduction options also do so because they are struggling with chronic relapsing and ending up in dangerous situations. 

Harm Reduction and Healing at the Cellular Level

There is a misconception that harm reduction is a form of “enabling.” This is simply untrue. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “At its core, harm reduction supports any steps in the right direction. Critics may contend that harm reduction somehow enables or excuses poor choices. Although abstinence may be the ultimate goal and is of course the only way to avoid all negative consequences associated with substance abuse, the harm reduction practitioner seeks to meet with the client where he or she is in regard to motivation and ability to change.” Harm reduction allows an individual a healthy track by which they can avoid the negative consequences of their substance addiction.

When harm reduction options are properly administered and supported, there is no reason why an individual cannot experience healing at the cellular level. Allowing an individual to take a harm reduction path that better helps them focus on the other aspects of their recovery (like therapy and holistic healing) is a great way to ensure that they stick with their treatment plan. 

When someone who continues to try a complete abstinence plan of recovery keeps relapsing, they are putting themselves in needless danger. If supervised harm reduction keeps an individual safe while on their recovery journey, then this is an ideal road to go down. Also, harm reduction can free up the mental and emotional space that one needs to address the root/core causes of substance addiction.

Harm Reduction and Getting to the Root/Core Causes of Substance Addiction

Substance addiction remains a highly prevalent problem in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and SAMHSA, “In 2022, 48.7 million people aged 12 or older (or 17.3%) had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 29.5 million who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million who had a drug use disorder (DUD), and 8.0 million people who had both an AUD and a DUD.”

Many of these people are also struggling with underlying issues that are causing their addictive and negative behaviors. It is relatively rare that the substance is the sole reason for an individual’s issues. This is why it is often said in recovery circles, “Substances are my secondary problem.” Of course, the underlying issues cannot be adequately addressed unless the substance use is also addressed.

Many people who struggle with substance addiction are struggling with underlying issues of trauma and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Also, trauma and PTSD are much more common than many people may think.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and the National Center for PTSD, “About 6 out of every 100 people (or 6% of the U.S. population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.” Also, “About 5 out of every 100 adults (or 5%) in the U.S. has PTSD in any given year. In 2020, about 13 million Americans had PTSD.” Of course, whether harm reduction options are the right fit for the individual is not solely based on the underlying issues. However, they should always be taken into account.

What Are Harm Reduction Options for Substance Addiction

There are many harm reduction options for people struggling with substance addiction. Harm reduction also looks different for those in treatment versus those who are not. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Decades of research have shown that some harm reduction strategies provide significant individual and public health benefits, including preventing deaths from overdoses and preventing transmission of infectious diseases among people who use drugs and the larger community. Others reduce emergency department visits and costly healthcare services, while in some cases offering people who use drugs opportunities to connect to substance use treatment and other healthcare services in settings relatively free of stigma.”

As one can see, external harm reduction programs are a great way to help people get the right help that they need. Harm reduction options can also continue for those who are in treatment. This may include the continued use of licit and illicit substances while being closely monitored by medical professionals and harm reduction specialists. It could also mean participating in therapies that utilize substances for an individual well-being. One example is ketamine therapy.

Harm Reduction Options and Ketamine Therapy

Ketamine therapy has had a resurgence in recent years. This is primarily due to many new studies coming out that are showing its efficacy in treating a number of different types of addiction and mental health issues.

According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, “In the past two decades, subanaesthetic doses of ketamine have been demonstrated to have rapid and sustained antidepressant effects, and accumulating research has demonstrated ketamine’s therapeutic effects for a range of psychiatric conditions.” Also, “Systematic reviews and meta-analyses provide support for robust, rapid and transient antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects of ketamine.”

However, it should be noted that certain types of harm reduction should be closely monitored in relation to ketamine therapy to avoid any adverse reactions. This is emblematic of why it is so crucial to work with professionals when harm reduction options are being used in treatment.

Harm Reduction Options and Person-Centered Therapy

Now, harm reduction options can be a great way to clear mental and emotional blockages that could get in the way of an individual’s focus on their recovery. This is especially true when it comes to engaging with therapies like person-centered therapy.

According to the International Journal of Person Centered Medicine, “Person-centered therapeutics is the use of an interpersonal alliance and humanistic dialogue to orchestrate lifestyle change and other procedures as needed to heal illness, prevent disease and promote health. Randomized controlled trials of person-centered treatments that promote well-being have lower drop-out, relapse and recurrence rates than other treatment approaches.” Also, “For therapeutics to be effectively person-centered, it must involve an awareness and respect for the whole person, whose health is certainly more than his or her symptoms of illness and past medical history.”

It becomes very difficult for an individual to focus on their therapeutic needs when they are overly distracted by cravings and the stigma they may feel for choosing an alternative path of recovery. Individuals also need to understand that harm reduction should just be one part of an overall comprehensive recovery plan. People in harm reduction can get the same benefits from experiential therapies as those who take more “traditional” treatment tracks. These include therapies like surf therapy.

Harm Reduction Options and Surf Therapy

The Hamakua Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island offers a bounty of wonderous nature opportunities. This includes connecting to an amazing part of the Pacific Ocean and some of the best surf spots in the country. A mere 15-minute journey from our 30-acre luxury property at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab sits one of the best surf breaks on the island: Honoli’i. This is where an individual engaged in surf therapy can catch some of the most amazing waves in the world while also meditating between rides as the green sea turtles swim and dance below.

Surf therapy offers a myriad of benefits. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Carefully planned water activities tailored to the needs of the individual can contribute to correct psychosocial and cognitive development. The International Surf Therapy Organization summarizes the benefits of adequately indicated surf therapy as follows: improved physical health and mobility; improved mental health, including reduction of specific symptoms, such as posttraumatic stress and depression; improved well-being (strengthening of trust and confidence, encouragement of independence, resilience and protective coping strategies) and improved social skills.”

Also, it is important to remember that surf therapy is more than just catching waves. It is an experiential therapy that includes close work with a licensed professional. The same is true with equine therapy.

Harm Reduction Options and Equine Therapy

Equine therapy (also known as horse-assisted therapy) is getting more and more attention as more positive results are starting to be documented. There is also a wide array of beliefs as to why equine therapy can be so effective.

According to the peer-reviewed journal Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, “Horse-assisted therapy (HAT), an innovative psychotherapy that actively involves horses in the therapeutic process, is one such complementary (free-standing) or adjunct health-related activity. An increasing volume of HAT literature claims benefits to health based on explanations more or less founded in psychological theories such as attachment and psychoanalysis. Other explanations focus on the characteristics of the horse.” This last point is understandable, as it has long been understood that connecting with animals can be highly therapeutic.

Equine therapy has also been shown to help people in their long-term recovery. According to the peer-reviewed journal Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, “Quantitative data suggested a potential positive effect of EAS [equine-assisted services] on SUD treatment retention and completion as well as participants’ mental health; however, studies were limited by small sample sizes.” Also, “Qualitative data indicated that in addition to participants developing bonds with the horses and perceiving EAS as welcomed breaks from traditional treatment, they experienced increased self-efficacy, positive emotional affect, and SUD treatment motivation.” Another therapy that can be utilized during harm reduction is horticulture therapy.

Harm Reduction Options and Horticulture Therapy

Horticulture has been used for thousands of years to help people calm their minds and find a sense of inner peace. Due to this fact, like surfing, in recent years horticulture therapy has been cultivated more intently as an effective form of therapy.

The benefits of horticulture therapy cover a wide spectrum of needs. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “People’s interactions with plants, through goal-orientated horticultural activities in the form of active gardening, as well as the passive appreciation of nature, could be therapeutic to people with mental disorders in many ways. First, horticulture could have emotional benefits, such as reducing stress, reducing psychiatric symptoms, stabilizing mood, and increasing the sense of tranquility, spirituality, and enjoyment. Second, it could help people to reduce fatigue and restore attention and cognitive ability.” Other benefits include increased self-esteem and improved communication skills.

Also, there may be no better place to engage in horticulture therapy than at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab. When clients walk onto our luxury 30-acre property they will see rows of citrus and coconut trees, pineapple patches, bursting guava bushes, and abundant vegetable boxes. All of them, waiting to be engaged with, cultivated, and cared for. 

Harm Reduction Options and Yoga

Holistic healing options are also great supplemental modalities to go with harm reduction options. This is because holistic healing methods like yoga allow individuals to peacefully process their path and incorporate healthy practices in their day-to-day lives.

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. Initially, it began solely as a religious or spiritual practice, but it has since moved into the realm of mental health and addiction recovery. This is because the benefits of yoga fit nicely with the needs of someone looking to recover from substance addiction.

There are so many benefits of yoga that it can be hard to quantify. According to the International Journal of Yoga (IJOY), “Regular practice of yoga promotes strength, endurance, flexibility and facilitates characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being. Sustained practice also leads to important outcomes such as changes in life perspective, self-awareness and an improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment.” Also, “The practice of yoga produces a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response and with that interruption in the stress response, a sense of balance and union between the mind and body can be achieved.”

All of the aforementioned means, methods, and modalities can be highly beneficial for any specific track of recovery. This includes those choosing a path of harm reduction. 

Recovery for All at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

Here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we understand that everyone’s recovery journey is going to be different. This is why we tailor all of our recovery plans specifically to each client, including those who wish to utilize harm reduction options.

Recovery is one of the most beautiful paths that an individual will ever take. For those looking for a new way of life, there is no time to waste. The positive path is waiting, and it can start right here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

Not everyone’s path toward recovery is going to look the same. This includes those who choose to go down a path of harm reduction. Harm reduction for substance addiction can be highly beneficial for those individuals who struggle with abstinence (or personally choose to avoid it) but still need options to keep them safe and functioning in their day-to-day lives. If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders, we can help get you on the positive path toward long-term recovery right away. You don’t have to do this alone. For more information regarding harm reduction for substance addiction, please reach out to Exclusive Hawaii Rehab at (808) 775-0200.