By Nara Schoenberg
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “Harm reduction” or controlled drinking, in which problem drinkers reduce their alcohol intake but don’t necessarily embrace abstinence, remains rare and controversial in a nation with a strong tradition of alcohol-free 12-step recovery.
She no longer drinks seven days a week. She doesn’t lose entire Saturdays to hangovers.
She doesn’t have to worry that her kids always see her with a wine glass in her hand.
But Adrienne, an Indiana therapist who asked to be identified by only her first name, does drink.
With the help of an Evanston, Ill., “harm reduction” support group for people who want to reduce their alcohol intake, as well as private therapy with the social worker who runs the group, she’s cut her drinking to about half of what it was a before she sought help. She drinks socially and enjoys an occasional drink or two with her partner.
“I feel like I’m on the right track,” she said. “I needed the help, and I’m getting the help, so I feel good.”
Harm reduction or controlled drinking, in which problem drinkers reduce their alcohol intake but don’t necessarily embrace abstinence, remains rare and controversial in a nation with a strong tradition of alcohol-free 12-step recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). But a growing body of research indicates that harm reduction works.
A 2013 review of previous studies in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that treatment focused on reducing drinking is “probably just as effective as abstinence-oriented approaches” for at least a subset of problem drinkers. And a January article in Alcohol, Clinical and Experimental Research found that problem drinkers who reduced their alcohol intake during treatment experienced significantly fewer alcohol-related consequences, as well as better mental health.
“Harm reduction is an effective way to tackle problem drinking,” said Katie Witkiewitz, the lead author of the 2017 study and an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. “It’s as effective as other approaches, in some cases more effective, especially when you consider most people don’t want to quit drinking, and so if we offer them tools to reduce their drinking, then that’s going to reduce harm, and that’s a good thing.”