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Harm Reduction for Addictive Behaviours

If you are seeking support with addictive behaviours - including, and not limited to smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling, sex, self-harm, and eating - you may wish to see me for treatment from a harm reduction approach. I also see the significant others of those affected by addiction.

What is harm reduction?

Harm reduction is an effective, non-judgmental approach for any addictive behaviour and/or risk activity, including, and not limited to drug and/or alcohol use, smoking, gambling, sex, self-harm, and eating. 

Harm reduction (also known as harm minimisation) aims to reduce the harms and negative consequences associated with addictive behaviours, such as health factors, financial stressors, relationship breakdowns, job loss, etc. so you may lead a richer and healthier life. As a client, you may opt for reduction or abstinence-based treatment plans. I meet you at whatever stage of change you are at and collaborate with you to make effective and realistic goals that meet your individualised needs.

Denial vs. Ambivalence

Identifying and working with ambivalence is one of the primary focuses of harm reduction work. Increasing self-awareness through the exploration of ambivalence opens the door to change.

Regarding the difference between "denial" and "ambivalence" some might argue - particularly those more familiar with, and adept to, an abstinence-based model - that denial of the consequences of drug use is a primary symptom of addiction. However, it may be that the individual is aware of the consequences, but is ambivalent about doing something to change it. The destructive nature of a person's use is often not enough to negate the benefits of one’s drug of choice, nor the feelings of loss when one gives up one’s drug of choice.

​Mindfulness exercise for cravings: "Urge surfing"

Some urges are too strong to ignore.  If this happens, you can choose to stay with the urge until it passes.  Like waves, urges start small, grow to a peak, and then subside.  There are three basic steps that involve some mindfulness techniques:

  1. Take an inventory of how you experience the craving.  Sit in a comfortable chair with your feel flat on the floor and your hands in a comfortable position.  Take a few deep breaths and focus your attention inward.  Allow your attention to wander through your body.  Notice where in your body you experience the craving and what the sensations are like.  Notice each area where you experience the craving and tell yourself what you are expecting.

  2. Focus on one area where you are experiencing the urge.  Notice the sensations in that area, for example, heat, cold, tingling, numbness.  Are your muscles tense or relaxed?  Notice the sensations and describe them to yourself, e.g. “…my mouth feels dry and parched, there’s tension in my neck.  I keep swallowing.”

  3. Repeat the focus on each part of your body that experiences the craving.  Notice how the urge comes and goes.  Many people notice that after a few minutes the craving has vanished.  The purpose of this exercise, however, is not to make the craving go away but to experience the craving in a new way.  If you practice, you will become familiar with your cravings and learn how to ride them out until they go away naturally.

Recommended harm reduction resources (click on the link below):

What is harm reduction? Harm Reduction International


Harm reduction Wikipedia

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