Abstinence vs Harm Reduction – Difference and Comparison

What is Abstinence?

The full discontinuation of substance abuse usage is referred to as abstinence. This method has long been hailed as the most integrated and coordinated technique to overcome addiction. Abstinence has long been the standard way of breaking drug or alcohol addictions, well before addiction was diagnosed as a medical problem.

The fundamental principle is that addiction is a sickness that is both unintentional and primary. It can be described and diagnosed. Addiction is a chronic and progressive condition. While there is no treatment for this condition, it may be controlled.

While some persons are more or less driven to seek addiction treatment for addiction, this has no bearing on the therapy’s success.

Because addiction encompasses a wide range of a person’s life, comprehensive treatment that addresses the physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual components is the most successful. The addict should be protected as part of a great drug rehabilitation strategy.

A multidisciplinary team of experts should deal with addiction. Among the most important aspects of treatment is indeed the core psychologist. They also said they would ideally share the patient’s demographic and maybe be a former drug addict as well. Self-disclosure, mutual identity, group solidarity, and shared culture would all benefit from this.

According to research, the most appropriate treatment for addiction combines a twelve-step approach and supportive social.

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction strives to reduce the harm caused by people’s opioid use to themselves and others. Harm reduction began in the United Kingdom in the 1980s in reaction to an alarming rise in HIV incidence among drug injectors. The key goals of the UK’s 2017 Strategic Plan are also to reduce illegal and other hazardous drug usages while also increasing recovery rates.

Its goal is to avoid drug-related fatalities, invasive illnesses, comorbidity, and other negative health outcomes. The method encourages the use of needle and syringe systems (NSPs) to assist lessen the negative consequences of drug addiction.

Scotland, Wales, and Ireland each have national drug plans, each with several harm reduction goals. Medicinal therapies can also be used to help in harm reduction. There’s a whole variety of medications that can assist lessen the desire to use and, as a result, total usage.

Education on possible dangers and how to mitigate them may influence on these habits. It’s essential to recognize that interventions aiming at preventive care of a particular habit must have a different focus than those focused on prevention and treatment in groups of teenagers who have already developed the behavioral.

This necessitates thorough consideration of the approach’s intended target group as well as the environment in which it is implemented.

Difference Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

  1. The main difference between abstinence and harm reduction is that abstinence works on eliminating the addiction whereas harm reduction works on reducing the harms caused by addiction.
  2. Abstinence is a separate process whereas harm reduction is an integrated process.
  3. Abstinence can completely diminish the addiction whereas, in the case of Harm Reduction, only harms are reduced, the chances for it to come back are still there.
  4. Abstinence reflects deny and deter whereas Harm Reduction reflects freedom and responsibility.
  5. The abstinence working unit is stigmatized whereas the harm reduction working unit is normalized.

Comparison Between Abstinence and Harm Reduction

Parameters of
AbstinenceHarm Reduction
Focuses OnEliminate the root
Works on harms and
Treatment TypeCriminalizationDecriminalization
Working UnitStigmatizationNormalization
EffectEliminates the causeReduces the harm
ReflectsDeny and deter
Freedom and
Believes InComplete problematicPartial Problematic


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09687630410001723229
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955395910001337
  3. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11414-013-9318-2