Harm Reduction Tips from the Experts
by Thaddeus Camlin, PsyD
Leading harm-reduction experts, April Smith and Kenneth Anderson, recently released an article outlining harm-reduction tips for safer drinking amidst shelter-in-place restrictions. Many are choosing to abstain entirely, others, not so much. Many, many industries are hit hard by the societal shutdowns, however, the adult beverage industry is not one of them. Alcohol sales are up, way up, during the COVID-19 crisis. Nothing like heroic doses of uncertainty and boredom to drive one to drink! For those who may be struggling to adhere to their drinking goals, Smith & Anderson offer tips to help maximize drinking safety.
Lack of structure is one of the biggest challenges many people face in the era of shelter-in-place. With external structure no longer imposed, some are letting most (if not all) daily structure go. At the risk of fanning the rumour mill, some hopefully tall-tales I’ve heard include therapists conducting sessions from bed, supervisors who passed on showering or changing out of their PJ’s for a week, and professionals approaching video-conferences more like a Sunday morning hangover than an important meeting. When external motivators are withdrawn, we are given a clear picture of our own internal level of motivation.
Smith & Anderson’s harm-reduction tips outline some key tactics to help ensure safer drinking while isolated at home. Some tried and true methods to control drinking include delaying the beginning, closely tracking consumption, and including some days with no drinking (assuming that’s safe). For someone at risk of alcohol withdrawal, stopping cold turkey is not safe and can be fatal. For many, the benefits of enduring months of social restrictions and remaining absolutely abstinent are not worth the costs.
For those who may lean on alcohol to ease the tension of the times, the scarcity of legitimate resources for safer drinking combined with the cultural groupthink that fuels the tyranny of distorted, abstinence-only thinking make for a feeble foundation of support. Smith and Anderson’s article includes many quality resources for people who seek help on safer drinking. Online recovery support meetings are bustling during this time, and some like SMART Recovery and HAMS support harm-reduction strategies. At Practical Recovery, we always have and always will fully support harm-reduction strategies. For some, psychotherapy sessions via video and phone can help provide individualized harm-reduction support without the exposure of groups.
Whatever support strategies people utilize, it is important to know that there are services available that align with safer use, not just total abstinence. Total abstinence from all psychoactive substances is not for everyone, in fact, it’s not for most. If total abstinence is not going to work while isolated at home, it is our hope that some of the resources in this article can support and encourage success in self-selected goals.