Like it or Not, We Live in a "Harm Reduction" Society

“Harm reduction” is nothing new. Just look around. It’s everywhere in our modern society. Harm reduction has become the health and safety standard for the 21st century.

Don’t believe me? The list of ways we’ve integrated harm reduction into our culture in the United States is endless. In fact, harm reduction is so common in our society we consider it normal. Are you surprised? Here are some examples from everyday life:

• Wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle
• Pasteurization of milk
• Sand around children’s playground equipment
• Seat belts
• Traffic lights and Stop signs
• Eating less fat, sugar, and salt
• Helmets when playing sports
• TSA screening at the airport
• Brushing your teeth
• Police patrols
• Condoms before sex
• Putting plywood over windows for hurricane protection

And the list goes on and on. With harm reduction so prevalent in our society, you’d think it would be the norm in the addiction industry. But it’s not. A few years ago, I submitted a proposal for a presentation on harm reduction to the American Psychological Association (APA). It was promptly rejected. The brain disease theory is still the most widely accepted concept of treatment in addiction. Because of this, harm reduction is rarely considered.

We disagree with that. At Alternatives, we offer modern addiction treatment programs. Our goal is to meet clients where they’re at. Why wait until they hit “rock bottom,” or all other forms of treatment have failed? That makes no sense.

For example, if an extremely overweight man comes into our office and tells us he wants to cut out 25% of the sugars and starches in his diet, but he intends to continue with his nightly “Twinkie fix,” we’re happy to help him achieve that goal. This is harm reduction. Yet many treatment facilities wouldn’t accept him as a client. They’d determine he’s in denial and not serious enough for treatment. Once again, we disagree.

Harm reduction is very successful in addiction treatment. Why? Because it’s so flexible. This approach can be the first step toward a goal of complete abstinence. Or it can be the end goal. At Alternatives, we leave that choice up to the client.

Like it or not, we live in a harm reduction society. If your goal requires more flexibility, maybe you should consider harm reduction as a treatment option. It works!


Marc F. Kern, Ph.D., aka "The Habit Doc" is a nationally syndicated addiction expert and harm reductionist. To learn more about Dr. Kern's philosophies and read more posts like this one, please visit

For inquiries, contact The Habit Doc Staff directly at 1.888.532.9137.