Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Alcohol & Drug Counseling, Assessment and Prevention Services

Harm Reduction Approach

If you choose to party, Party Safe & Party Smart!

The primary goal of the harm reduction approach is to provide education designed to reduce risks associated with alcohol use by WSU students.

Basic principles of Harm Reduction Approach

  • Abstinence from alcohol is always an option and is emphasized and encouraged as a choice, especially if students are under 21. “Everyone chooses not to drink sometime.”
  • Illegal, underage, or high-risk use of alcohol is not encouraged. All students under 21 are encouraged not to drink.
  • Because many students choose to consume alcohol, ways to reduce associated risks are emphasized.
  • If a student receives a violation or seeks out information or help, assumptions about his/her level of use are not made.
  • The harm reduction philosophy is based on acceptance, both of those who choose not to drink and those who do.

Additional detail

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.