A personal recovery journey is bittersweet. It can be wildly beautiful but also brings painful losses – the many deaths of friends and family due to drug overdose. We have lost the lives of 750,000 people since 1999, and yet we seem to continue to have a hard time with the idea of harm reduction to treat substance use disorder. What could be the issue?
Harm reduction can be seen as an approach that aims to reduce the risk and negative consequences associated with the use of drugs. It has also become a movement that encourages society to support the rights and respect of people who are substance users (think Portugal). Harm reduction is synonymous with the belief that people can recover at their own pace without first choosing the often-terrifying option of abstinence.
As someone who was raised in a 12-step program, I understand the fear associated with anything but an abstinence-based approach. I remember the idea of leaving every single substance behind at the same time. It felt like my choices were limited, and if I wanted the option to try and reduce my use, that I would be demonized for my decision. Luckily for me, abstinence worked – but I have lost many loved ones. I often sit and wonder; if they were given the option of being loved and therapeutically supported as they reduced their use… would they still be alive today?
My personal, professional, and educational experiences over the last decade have left me with this: the inability in our field to incorporate harm reduction can be seen as furthering the condemnation and stigma that we all so desperately want to eradicate in the mental health universe. Harm reduction is not the answer for everyone (it certainly was not for me), but it will be the right answer for others.
Simply stated, you cannot treat someone who is dead. How can we come together and keep our loved ones here long enough for them to choose to live the way they want without judgment? A tough question that needs examination.
If you or a loved one needs help with a substance use disorder, O’Connor Professional Group is here to help. Call (617) 221-8764 or view our Addiction and Substance Use Services to see how you can help.
Meet the Author
Alex Kurjiaka, LPCA, is a Clinical Case Manager and Head of Talent Acquisition at O’Connor Professional Group (OPG). In this role, she not only provides coaching to clients in their communities but also sources qualified coaching professionals nationally for OPG. Alex has a diverse background in crisis intervention and treatment, working in multiple capacities in the mental health field including treatment admissions and business development. She has vast experience with behavioral health issues, specializing in substance use disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders. She holds a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Western Connecticut State University and received her undergraduate in Behavioral Science from Concordia University in New York. Alex is also a trained ARISE interventionist. With a background in childcare, Alex has worked with individuals at all stages of development, including children and adolescents. She takes a special interest in family systems and cognitive and emotional developmental norms for adolescents and adults. Alex believes our journeys are unique and that each client must be directed to the best fit for their personal recovery. Alex enjoys photography, writing, and is a self-proclaimed science nerd who loves to laugh.