Get Help Today. (800) 516-4357

Abstinence Based vs. Harm Reduction Model

Ultimately, the choice between harm reduction and abstinence-based treatment for addiction boils down to individual needs. If someone is a long-term drug user or heavy drinker, harm reduction is unlikely to be successful. On the other hand, a person who is looking to curb a mild to moderate drinking habit may benefit from harm reduction strategies.

Struggling with Addiction? Get Help Now

Abstinence-Based Treatment Programs

Many people struggling with drug or alcohol abuse find the idea of quitting overwhelming. Abstinence treatment requires recovering individuals to avoid substance use entirely. The finality of never using a drug or drinking alcohol again can be intimidating. And there is the fear of withdrawal symptoms. These concerns cause many addicts to delay seeking treatment. But drastic as it may sound, abstinence-based rehab is generally considered to be the most effective approach to drug and alcohol treatment.

The clinical team at Boca Recovery Center specializes in addiction medicine. We are here to extend a helping hand to you or a loved one struggling with substance abuse. Contact us today to see how our abstinence-based drug rehab programs can help you get your life back on track.

This article gives you an overview of abstinence treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. We explore the different models and approaches to drug and alcohol rehab. We compare abstinence-based rehab to harm reduction treatment. If you or a loved one is battling alcohol or drug abuse, read on to find out how abstinence addiction rehabilitation can help.

What is Abstinence-Based Treatment?

Abstinence is defined as the complete cessation of alcohol or drug use. This approach to rehabilitation dates back to many centuries ago. Ever since addiction was recognized as a medical condition, abstinence has been the traditional method of breaking out of the dependency. Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step recovery method are examples of programs that focus on abstinence.

Abstinence is the removal of drugs or alcohol from one’s life. Recovery is abstinence plus creating a new life where it’s easier not to use.

The Fundamental Tenets of Abstinence Addiction Treatment

Abstinence treatment for drug or alcohol abuse follows these 10 fundamental tenets:

  • Addiction is a disease. It is involuntary.
  • Addiction is a progressive and chronic disease.
  • Addiction cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed.
  • Residential rehab does not define the success of addiction treatment.
  • Holistic addiction treatment is necessary to address the physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs of an addict.
  • Alcoholics and drug addicts should be treated with dignity and respect.
  • Addicts are vulnerable to abusing a wide spectrum of drugs and these problems should be addressed during rehab.
  • A team of multi-disciplinary professionals should treat addicts by forming a close, informal relationship.
  • The primary counselor should be from a similar demographic as the recovering addict to promote identification and rapport.
  • Effective treatment for addiction sets expectations and provides support.

Challenges of Abstinence-Based Treatment

Abstinence therapy is not without its challenges. Many people are unable to comply with the strict adherence to complete cessation of use. Also, some programs focus on faith-based addiction treatment and this does not sit well with everyone. Not all recovering individuals are comfortable with spirituality and praying to God.

Many people are unwilling to enroll in abstinence-based drug rehabs because they are fearful of completely stopping use. The anticipation of severe withdrawal symptoms discourages some addicts from participating in abstinence treatment. There is the argument that abstinence treatment demonizes relapse and makes recovering individuals feel like failures. This perpetuates the stigma associated with addiction.

The expert team at Boca Recovery Center is dedicated to making your recovery from alcohol or drug abuse as easy as possible. We offer medically-managed detox to make withdrawal symptoms tolerable and safe. We are here to hold your hand through your recovery. Our abstinence-based rehabilitation program will give you the best chance of getting clean.

What is Harm Reduction Treatment?

As mentioned, abstinence treatment requires completely stopping the use of drugs or alcohol. A very different method of treatment is called harm reduction therapy. It is popular in Europe, whereas abstinence treatment is more commonly practiced in America.
The harm reduction approach focuses on reducing the harm caused by drugs or alcohol to the individual’s health, psychosocial status, and finances. It does not advocate completely stopping drug use. Harm reduction simply tries to make the drug use safer for the individual who is engaging in substance use. For example, individuals may be enrolled in a needle exchange program to reduce the risk of HIV transmission through shared needles.

Another form of harm reduction therapy promotes decreased drug and alcohol use. This program allows drug users and drinkers to continue using but in moderation.

The focus is on self-monitoring and self-accountability. Individuals are responsible for themselves. They do not submit to a higher spiritual power as required by Alcoholics Anonymous. Rather, recovering addicts are encouraged to self-report alcohol or drug use and keep track of their habit through online services and peer support.

Harm reduction treatment appeals to many people struggling with alcohol or drug dependency. It does not require the person to stop using completely. The risk of severe withdrawal symptoms is less.

However, the harm reduction method has not gained momentum because it is not effective in people with severe drinking or drug problems. A longstanding drug habit or heavy drinking cannot be effectively managed with moderation. There is a high risk of relapse to previous levels of use.

Challenges of Harm Reduction addiction treatment

Harm reduction methods receive a lot of flack from the addiction recovery community. Many counselors believe this approach enables abusers of drug and alcohol to continue using. Harm reduction treatment often becomes an excuse for relapse. People are frequently dishonest about how much they are drinking or using. Membership to harm reduction programs is generally online, so there is a lack of intensive treatment or monitoring.

Moderation management relies on recovering addicts to accept responsibility for choosing and maintaining the path to recovery. It requires early self-recognition of risky behaviors. However, it is more easily achievable than complete abstinence.

As an example, consider someone who is a moderate drinker and wants to use harm reduction methods to curb their drinking. On paper, it might sound like a great idea. However, in the real world, it may not be easy to implement. How many people can recall the number of drinks they had the previous night when they were out on the town with friends? And is it practical to expect someone to pause between drinks and make a note of how much they have consumed?

Success Rates of Abstinence-Based Addiction Treatment vs. Harm Reduction

Defining the success rate of a harm reduction approach is not straightforward. Harm reduction methods rely mainly on self-reporting by recovering addicts. Some people will invariably be dishonest about how much they are using. Recovering individuals who have undergone expensive rehab treatment may be embarrassed or ashamed to report a relapse. Also, how do you define success with the harm reduction method? Is going from five drinks a week to three drinks a week a mark of success? Or is success defined by two drinks per month?

The success of abstinence-based programs, such as the one practiced at Boca Recovery Center, has been evaluated and confirmed by many researchers. Abstinence-based rehabs are provided in person, in complete confidentiality. Psychotherapy is offered during treatment in a group or individual setting. The underlying principle of abstinence-based therapy is that the recovering individual is completely removed from access to illicit substances. This reduces the chances of relapse and protects against a potentially fatal overdose.

For some recovering addicts, a combination of therapies may work well. Studies have shown that approximately one-third of individuals who undergo moderation management move on to abstinence-only programs.

Abstinence Treatment or Harm Reduction: Which one is right for me?

Ultimately, the choice between harm reduction and abstinence-based treatment for addiction boils down to individual needs. If someone is a long-term drug user or heavy drinker, harm reduction is unlikely to be successful. It is unrealistic to expect that a person who has previously had difficulty controlling drug or alcohol use will be able to suddenly develop sufficient self-control to manage their addiction. Such individuals typically require long-term drug rehab with abstinence-based treatment and a range of therapeutic services.

On the other hand, a person who is looking to curb a mild to moderate drinking habit may benefit from harm reduction strategies. The moderation management method is less invasive and less expensive. It does not completely close the door on social drinking. However, the person needs to be highly motivated and accountable for harm reduction therapy to be successful.

At Boca Recovery Center we offer a range of abstinence-based treatments for drug and alcohol addiction. We’re here to lead you to your second chance. Call us today on (800) 516-4357 to start your journey to a healthier, happier future.

Alcohol and Drug Rehab at Boca Recovery Center

In the United States, the overwhelming majority of addiction rehabs are abstinence-based programs. One well-known approach is the Minnesota Model.

At Boca Recovery Center, we provide abstinence-based treatment which assumes that addiction is a very powerful force. The underlying principle of MAT is that an individual cannot have a single sip of alcohol or use an illicit drug even once without risking relapse.

An abstinence-based treatment approach is sometimes combined with a faith-based approach. The principles of this model are as follows:

  • Admit powerlessness: Addicts review their drug history and admit to being powerless over their addiction.
  • Find hope: Addicts submit to a power greater than themselves and believe it will help them.
  • Individuals turn their lives over to God and stop making decisions as they did in the past.
  • Take inventory: Individuals make a moral inventory and start the process of self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.
  • Share inventory: Individuals admit the nature of their wrongs and seek forgiveness from others.
Updated July 31, 2023
Take The Next Step Now
Call Us Now Check Insurance