The Harm Reduction Approach acknowledges that college students may choose to drink and, rather than try to impose abstinence, acknowledges that any steps toward reduced risk are steps in the right direction. Harm Reduction is a conceptual umbrella under which many approaches to addictive behavior fall. The model has two central tenets:
- Excessive behaviors occur along a continuum of risk ranging from minimal to extreme. Harm Reductionists uphold that addictive behaviors are not all-or-nothing phenomena but that people vary in terms of the severity of their habits. For example, a moderate drinker is risking less short and long term harm than a chronic binge drinker.
- Changing addictive behavior is a stepwise process, complete abstinence being the final step. Those who embrace the harm reduction model believe that any movement in the direction of reduced harm and enhanced well-being, no matter how small, is positive in and of itself–even if this movement does not result in the elimination of the problem behavior.
Harm Reductionists advocate abstinence from addictive behaviors as the most sure fire way to reduce harm and enhance well-being. However, it is understood that people vary considerably in terms of how much or are willing or able to change at a given time. Further, it is accepted that many individuals simply will not give up addictive habits. As opposed to viewing ambivalence or unwillingness to change in pejorative terms (like “denial,” “resistance” or “addictive personality”) Harm Reductionists respect people’s drive for coping and unique change agendas. Rather than mandating complete change, attempts are made to “connect” and get addicted individuals moving in the right direction.
Harm Reductionists advocate a “low threshold” approach to addiction service provision (Marlatt & Tapert, 1993), in that individuals are not required to adopt extreme change goals or incorporate treatment philosophies which are not commensurate to existing values Unconditional regard for people’s capacity to change for the better without requiring black and white change agendas initiates a relationship with individuals who haven’t even considered entering treatment. This connection makes further aid more likely because trust has been established.