Abstinence Versus Harm Minimisation

4 min readFeb 17, 2021

When entering support for addiction/alcoholism the individual enters a period of confusion. The main source of confusion stems from the Individuals own brain, which is sending conflicting messages.

Substances are often a crutch for the individual and have been predominantly used to hide feelings of inadequacy and fear. So, whilst the individual might be determined to stop drinking/using, there is a significant part of them that wants to continue their using.

Many of us toy with the idea of being able to find a level of control around our substance misuse.

Often when we say, “I want to stop” we can often mean “I want a rest”.

It is important to not feel shame if during early recovery you have desires and illusions of control around substance misuse. In our experience, this is very normal, and those who succeed in long term recovery have done so because they communicate and reveal their thoughts and motives during this phase.

Two Models for Treatment

There are two main adopted treatment models regarding addiction recovery, ‘Harm Minimisation’ and ‘Abstinence’. In short, abstinence involves helping an addict permanently quit using their substance of choice. Whereby, harm minimisation allows addicts to continue using their substance of choice but helps them implement strategies to prevent their addiction from doing as much damage.

Harm minimisation is often in the form of medical prescriptions that aim to replace the substance of choice. It has been argued that this approach presents no long-term solution and often the individual can become reliant of the replacement drug prescribed. Others go further and state that some individuals are maintained in long-term harm minimising programme to reduce crime figures with no real exit strategy.

Whilst Addictions North East understand that harm minimisation can be used to help stabilise and often presents the individual with a window for abstinence recovery. We do however maintain that our personal view is that abstinence is the more successful approach, and this is the long-term aim we adopt throughout our method of service provision.

What is Abstinence?

Abstinence is by far the most successful treatment model and is favoured by many rehab and treatment facilities worldwide. In some sense, it is intuitive. If an individual recognises that using a substance is ruining his or her life, it makes sense to entirely stop.

This is the chosen approach can be found in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA was the first 12-step program to pioneer and popularise the abstinence approach on a worldwide scale. Since the inception of AA and after their success we have seen many other anonymous fellowships adopt the same approach. The success has been replicated and abstinence has helped many find the bridge to normal living and become productive members of their communities and families.

Whilst giving up altogether may at first seem frightening, it is possible. In our experience, it is almost impossible to simply give up without support. Therefore, we promote participation in anonymous fellowships like AA.

Successful substance abuse treatment generally combines both approaches to some extent. 12-step programs remain an extremely popular and effective way to get clean. However, most people attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings are not averse to more pragmatic evidence-based strategies. This is often found through support from cognitive behavioural therapists, humanistic approaches, and mental health professionals. This approach of working in tandem is very successful.

At Addictions North East, the process of achieving abstinence is built on community and human connection. Recovering addicts live with like-minded peers. Through supporting each other and by sharing a common aim. They build their lives again from the ground up so that their sober futures can be happy, joyous, and free.




We specialise in Detox at Home and Addiction Treatments. We use medically qualified staff located throughout the UK who are supported by accredited councillors.