Harm Reduction / Relapse Prevention

What is harm reduction?

  • Harm reduction is a treatment model focused on helping people to make healthy choices to decrease the risk for harm. It refers to policies, programs, and practices that reduce the harm associated with substance use in people who are unwilling or unable to stop using substances. It is an alternative to an abstinence-only approach to substance abuse treatment.

What are the goals of a harm reduction approach to treating substance use?

  • Harm reduction interventions focus on meeting substance users “where they’re at,” promoting safer use practices, decreasing use, and addressing the conditions of use along with substance use itself.
  • There are three main goals of harm reduction:
    1. To provide an alternative to zero-tolerance approaches by incorporating substance use goals that are compatible with the needs of the individual.
    2. To reduce harmful consequences associated with substance use.
    3. To promote access to services by offering alternatives to traditional substance abuse prevention and treatment.

What are some examples of harm reduction interventions?

  • Some forms of harm reduction programs include:
    • Needle exchange/distribution programs
    • Opioid replacement therapies (e.g., methadone, buprenorphine)
    • Naloxone programs
    • Supervised consumption facilities that help prevent overdose deaths by providing a safer, supervised environment for people using substances
    • Outreach and education services
    • Peer support programs
    • School-based substance use prevention programs

Where can I learn more about harm reduction programs in New Mexico?

Where can I learn more about harm reduction?
To learn more about harm reduction, click on the below links:

What is relapse prevention?

  • Relapse following a period of abstinence or moderate use occurs in many substance users who have undergone treatment. Abstinence-based treatment programs view relapse as a step back. This means they view a person as either abstinent (not using drugs) or relapsed (using drugs).  On the other hand, relapse prevention views a return to using substances following a period of abstinence as a series of events that occur over time.   In this model, relapse is considered a normal part of recovery and should be understood to be a step on the path, and not as the end of the road.

What is relapse prevention therapy?

  • Relapse prevention therapy is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy developed by Marlatt and Gordon (1985). It was designed to teach clients who are trying to maintain changes in their behavior how to anticipate and cope with problems relapse when it occurs. It has been effectively used to treat a range of substance use disorders. 

What are the components of relapse prevention therapy?

  • Relapse prevention therapy begins with an assessment of a person’s triggers that could be connected to relapse. This could include things in the environment and in their emotional world. Then the therapist and client analyze the individual’s response to these triggers (including relapse), and work together to identify strategies reduce the risk of future relapses.
  • This includes interventions focused on:
    • Understanding one’s triggers for relapse (e.g., positive and negative emotions, social pressures, interpersonal conflicts, etc.).
    • Identifying and coping with high-risk situations (situations that put a person at risk to use drugs or alcohol).
    • Learning urge-management techniques to help them cope when urges to use come up.
    • Learning about how lifestyle factors influence use.
    • Designing a relapse prevention plan to use to prevent relapse, but also for when a relapse occurs.

Where can I learn more about relapse prevention therapy?
To learn more about relapse prevention therapy, click on the below links: