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 | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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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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