There is a common misconception that abstinence, or refraining from any drugs or alcohol, is the only goal of treatment. In reality, there are other options beyond total abstinence. 

Setting a Goal of Total Abstinence

While the purpose of treatment is to make the change from high-risk and dangerous behaviors to more positive, healthy ones, most people enter rehab to eliminate or decrease substance use. However, research has shown that a significant number of people change their substance use patterns without committing to total abstinence. 

A national study has shown that setting goals to reduce use can involve “behavioral interventions and gradual approaches to attaining healthier behavior patterns instead of requiring abstinence.”

The Harm Reduction Perspective 

In comparison to total abstinence, the harm reduction perspective means accepting a loved one’s starting points and goals without insisting on your own. In harm reduction thinking, complete sobriety can be an unnecessary hurdle that can prevent people from seeking help.

Some people have the goal of abstinence for one substance but not another. They might want to begin making healthy life changes. 

From a harm reduction perspective, why scare this person away from getting help? Why not start where they want to start and go from there? The harm reduction perspective accepts an individual’s goals - no matter if they are total abstinence or reducing risk-taking behavior - and that makes it easier for them to get help.

Being Accountable for Moderation 

The goal may be to strive for reduction instead. As opposed to never using drugs or alcohol, moderation means we are allowing ourselves to partake in limited quantities. 

To achieve the goal of moderation, an individual must be able to fully manage urges and triggers for high-risk behaviors and be accountable for the consequences of their actions. 

When we reject abstinence as the only goal possible, we can help encourage a loved one to seek treatment that is right for them.