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Subst Use Misuse. 2011;46(9):1151-61. doi: 10.3109/10826084.2010.548435. Epub 2011 Mar 11.

Harm reduction and 12 steps: complementary, oppositional, or something in-between?

Author information

1
1University of Illinois at Chicago, School of Public Health, Chicago, IL, USA. hsophialee@uchicago.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Initially born of the desire to prevent the transmission of HIV among injection drug users, harm reduction presents a relatively new option for assisting individuals who struggle with drug and alcohol use. Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are widely recognized as being a representative example of abstinence-based treatment and are often seen as oppositional to harm reduction.

METHODS:

The purpose of this study is to examine the ways in which harm reduction workers interpret the relationship between harm reduction and 12-step approaches to treatment. The study draws upon qualitative interviews with 18 staff members from two harm reduction-based substance use treatment programs. (1)

RESULTS:

Two central themes emerge from the qualitative data: (1) harm reduction and 12-step approaches can be complementary; and (2) 12-step approaches in high-threshold treatment settings may differ significantly from their original philosophy and intent. A third, much less prominent theme reflects some respondents' skepticism about the capacity of the two approaches to work together given the resistance to harm reduction by some in the 12-step community.

CONCLUSION:

Complementary conceptualizations of harm reduction and 12-step approaches have the potential to broaden the range of options available to people experiencing substance use problems.

PMID:
21391893
DOI:
10.3109/10826084.2010.548435
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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