Harm Reduction – Can It Work?

Harm Reduction – Can It Work?

Harm Reduction – Is it possible to reduce how much you drink if you drink too much? And how much is too much, anyway? The short answer is, “Yes – IF you’re not an alcoholic.”

This means that millions of people who drink too much can learn to re-drink. It also means that millions of others cannot.

As for how much is too much?

Harm Reduction - Can It Work?

Harm Reduction – Can It Work?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines “low-risk” drinking – aka “normal” drinking – as:

For Women: no more than 7 standard drinks in a week, with no more than 3 of the 7 in any day.

For Men: no more than 14 standard drinks in a week, with no more than 4 of the 14 in any day.

Standard Drink is Defined as: 5 ounces of table wine;1.5 ounces of 80-proof “hard” liquor (vodka, bourbon, gin); 12 ounces of regular beer; 8-9 ounces of malt liquor; 3.3 ounces of Champagne. For more standard drink measurements, click here.

Why Is It That Some Can Benefit From Harm Reduction and Others Cannot?

The answer to this is the definition of alcoholism, which is a chronic, often relapsing – but treatable – brain disease, one of the brain diseases of addiction. IF a person is not an alcoholic, it is possible for them to reduce how much they drink to fall within “low-risk” limits. This means that when comparing two people who drink heavily, one may be an alcoholic and the other may not be – even though they are both drinking heavily. To understand these concepts, check out:

The Addiction Project: What is Addiction

The Addiction Project: When Is Someone Addicted?

The Addiction Project: Why Do Some People Become Addicted

And What is the Benefit of Harm Reduction?

There are three key benefits:

1. Improve the brain and physical health of the drinker

2. The drinker can avoid causing Secondhand Drinking impacts for others

3. The drinker can avoid crossing the line from alcohol use to abuse to dependence (alcoholism). Yes – alcoholism – addiction (whether it’s to drugs or alcohol) – is a developmental, progressive disease. It always starts with alcohol abuse, which can take the form of heavy social drinking or repeated binge drinking. Alcohol abuse is what chemically and structurally changes the brain making a person’s brain more susceptible to that individual’s key risk factors for developing alcoholism.

How Much Is Too Much? At-Risk Drinking Patterns Explained

How Can You Tell if Harm Reduction Might Work For You?

One place to start is with a self-assessment of your drinking pattern. Here are two excellent sources for doing this:

NIAAA’s Rethinking Drinking – What’s Your Pattern?

World Health Organization’s Alcohol Use Disorders Test (AUDIT)

Bottom Line on Harm Reduction

Harm Reduction – meaning to work at reducing how much a person drinks – is possible if that person is not an alcoholic. Knowing this can help a person not be afraid to try. And if they try, and that doesn’t work, they may be that much closer to accepting they do have a disease – the brain disease of alcoholism.

Having this brain disease does not mean they are weak-willed. It only means their brain will not tolerate any amount of alcohol because of the way alcohol works in their brain. Armed with this knowledge, they can give up trying to drink like those who do not have this disease because it is a fight they will loose time and again, leaving them (and their families) lost, confused, angry, lonely, devastated, desperate, disgusted, betrayed, filled with self-loathing and shame….

To understand this fight and why a person who is an alcoholic is not their disease – rather a person with a disease – I encourage you to read this one last post:

Shatter the Shame of Addiction

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author Speaker Consultant Owner at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa Frederiksen is the owner of Breaking the Cycles.com and the author of nine books and hundreds of articles. For over ten years, she has been researching, writing, speaking and consulting on substance abuse prevention, addiction as a brain disease, dual diagnosis, secondhand drinking | drugging, help for the family and related subjects – all centered around 21st century brain and addiction-related research. Her clients (some as far as Kenya, Slovenia and Mexico), include: individuals, families, military troops and personnel, U.S. Forest Service districts and regions, medical school students, businesses, social workers, parent and student groups, family law attorneys, treatment providers and the like. Please feel free to call Lisa at 650-362-3026 or email her at lisaf@breakingthecycles.com.

2 Responses to Harm Reduction – Can It Work?

  1. Bev says:

    Exactly! Some people label themselves or others as alcoholic when they are actually abusing alcohol. While all alcoholics will go thru the ‘abuse stage’ not all who abuse alcohol will become alcoholic. It’s important to distinguish whether a person is abusing alcohol or if they are developing the disease of alcoholism. Great article!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Bev. Roughly 2 and one-half times more people abuse alcohol than are dependent on alcohol (alcoholics). And as you said, all alcoholics go through a stage of alcohol abuse but not all alcohol abusers will become alcoholics. Changing drinking behaviors early on can stop that progression. It can ALSO prevent the heartache and pain of secondhand drinking for the millions of family members who live with a loved one’s alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

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