Harm Reduction

Policies, programs, and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of alcohol or other drugs.

Harm reduction is an approach that promotes health in a way that meets people where they are at, accepting that not everyone is ready or capable of stopping their substance use at a given time. Instead of making judgments about where individuals suffering from addiction should be with regards to their health and behavior, harm reduction focuses on promoting evidence-based methods for reducing associated health risks in the current moment (e.g., preventing HIV transmission).

The defining features of harm reduction include a focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of substance use itself. Harm reduction initiatives run the gamut from medical care and disease prevention, to education and linkage to addiction treatment.


  • Non-judgmental approach that meets people where they are at

  • Treating all individuals with dignity, compassion, and respect

  • Opposition to the stigmatization of substance use disorder

  • Use of evidence-based policy and practice

  • Accepting behavior change as an incremental process. Small gains for many people have more benefit for a community than large heroic gains achieved for a select few. People are much more likely to take multiple tiny steps, rather than one or two huge steps

  • Inclusion of individuals in active addiction, in recovery, and within the community to shape policies and practices

  • Focus on quality life improvements over abstinence

  • Commitment to universal human rights

  • Empowerment of the individual as the primary agent responsible for reducing the harms related to their substance use


While prevention and harm reduction have common goals of creating a healthy community of thriving individuals and prevention of injury and death, most harm reduction strategies are outside the purview of addiction prevention.