There are two common methods to preventing drug abuse: harm reduction, and abstinence.
Harm reduction, in its most succinct definition, is “a public health philosophy and intervention that seeks to reduce the harms associated with drug use and ineffective drug policies.” Basically, supporters of harm reduction believe that as long as there are drugs in the world, people will likely be using (and abusing) them, so they might as well be doing so safely and intelligently. Those who believe in harm reduction also believe that friends and family of drug users should be educated on overdose prevention techniques, such as how to administer naloxone (an overdose-reversal drug).
Abstinence-only techniques are pretty much exactly what they sound like: the philosophy that drug users must refrain from using drugs. Abstinence-only techniques include abstinence-based programs (such as the 12-step program) and the Minnesota Model, which is similar to 12-step programs and often encourages its participants to take part in these programs, but focuses more on the first five steps than any others. 12-step programs and the Minnesota Model have been lauded by health professionals and recovering addicts alike for the effectiveness in their abstinence-based approaches.
The reality is that people do use drugs, and some people do become addicted to them. Some people are also more likely than others to abuse drugs, either due to availability, a history of addiction, or a mix of both. Whether or not a person becomes an addict “is influenced by a combination of factors that include individual biology, social environment, and age or stage of development.”
Things that are out of our control, such as “gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders” also impact a person’s likelihood to use and become addicted to drugs, along with their socioeconomic status, past instances of addiction and abuse, and history of trauma. The age a person starts using drugs also affects the chance of addiction; the younger the drug abuse begins, “the more likely it will progress to serious abuse.”
Since abstinence techniques aren’t always effective due to the reasons above (although they are for some), we also have harm reduction. Examples of harm reduction techniques include the distribution of naloxone, as well as education on how to administer the drug, as mentioned above. Other techniques include “needle and syringe programs (which provide intravenous drug users with safer, cleaner ways of shooting up), opioid substitution therapy,” and myriad sexual education and accessible condom programs to prevent the spread of STDs/STIS between drug users and their partners. There are also supervised injection sites (SISs), facilities where people can use intravenous drugs with sterile equipment and under the supervision of medical professionals. While these sites have yet to appear in the U.S., there has been talk about the first cropping up in Ithaca, NY (along with a host of other harm reduction methods).
Ultimately, the choice of treatment comes down to the drug user themself, and possibly their loved ones as well. Abstinence and harm reduction techniques both have their proponents and their critics, and varying levels of individual success. That’s why it’s so difficult to find reliable statistics on the efficacy of drug abuse treatment methods; each drug user has a different story, and each treatment method has a different definition of what it means to be “successful” in their plan. The goal, however, is usually the same: safety and improved quality of life for drug users, whether that’s through finding safer, cleaner ways of doing drugs, or abstaining from substances altogether.
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