Harm Reduction

The use of addictive substances and involvement in addictive behaviors is a global phenomenon that crosses cultures, classes and sectors. The harm reduction approach involves a variety of practical strategies and ideas aimed at minimizing the negative consequences associated with addictive substance use and addictive behaviors, while taking into respectful consideration the rights of those who consume these substances and engage in these behaviors.

The leading principles of harm reduction are:

  • The recognition that the consumption of addictive substances, both legal and illegal, is part of the world in which we live. We do so without ignoring the serious dangers of addiction, and the need to try to reduce its harmful effects.
  • The understanding that the use of addictive substances, especially illicit ones, is a complex phenomenon spanning a wide range of behavior, from mild use to severe. In order to reduce the damage associated with the use of addictive substances, there is a need for an approach that teaches and encourages safer consumption.
  • The belief that the success of addiction-related interventions and policy should be measured according to the quality of life of the individual and the benefit to the community, and not necessarily by whether abstinence is achieved.
  • There is a real need to provide services, without judgment or coercion, to addictive drug users and their communities, in order to assist them in reducing the damage associated with drug use and other addictive behaviors.
  • Consideration should be given to the needs and requests of both current and former drug users in order to design programs and policies that serve them well.
  • People with substance and behavioral addictions should be empowered to act as the primary agents of change in their own recoveries, and to help their peers through information sharing and support.


Why is the harm reduction approach important? How does it contribute to the individual and community?

  The harm reduction approach first arose from the fear of the spread of HIV among injecting drug users. The understanding that the use of used and contaminated needles contributes to the spread of the virus spurred programs that distributed sterile syringes to drug users. While this type of approach does not prevent drug use, it can certainly help prevent the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases — that is, it can minimize some of the harm linked to drug addiction – which is no less important. Today, there are many effective treatments designed to minimize the harmful effects of addiction, such as decreasing the frequency of addictive substance use or addictive behaviors, and reducing the risky behaviors associated with drug and alcohol use. Moreover, safeguarding the health of those suffering from addiction is increasingly recognized as a more urgent and important goal than ensuring abstinence. This approach, then, is ideological, practical, safe and even cost-effective. What is more, the harm reduction approach significantly impacts the health of both the individual and the community. It is carried out with respect and compassion for those suffering from addiction, and strives to avoid judgment as much as possible, and to reject the stigmas, street slang and derogatory terminology that perpetuate stereotypes and create barriers. The harm reduction approach advocates for humanism and the protection of human rights – in particular, the right to benefit from high-quality health services, social services and scientific advancements, as well as the right to freedom, including freedom from degrading, cruel and inhumane conditions. Therefore, the harm reduction approach supports the application of laws and regulations that limit the incrimination of illegal drug users and that demonstrate respect for the basic human rights of these individuals, as for every other citizen.  

Did you know?

  Today there are many effective treatments designed to minimize the harmful effects of addiction, such as decreasing the frequency of substance use, and reducing the risky behaviors associated with being under the influence of drugs and alcohol.