Principles of Addiction and Substance Abuse Harm Reduction Ethics



See also The AAC Addiction Harm Reduction Compliancy Initiative

Harm Reduction is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of substance misuse and addictive behaviours and incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence. Harm Reduction strategies meet people "where they're at," addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because Harm Reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve this sector of individuals reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing Harm Reduction.


The AAC considers the following principles central to addiction and substance abuse Harm Reduction ethics.

  • Accepts, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
  • Understands addiction and substance abuse as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviours from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using are clearly safer than others.
  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being, not necessarily cessation of all use, as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who are addicted to substances or behaviours and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
  • Ensures that people living with addiction and those with a history of misuse routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
  • Affirms people living with addiction are themselves primary agents of reducing the harms of their use, and seeks to empower them to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people's vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with addiction elated harm.
  • Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with addiction for users and people whose lives are affected by those who are addicted.
  • Understands that while addictive products and services have the right to be a part of the free market system, it can never be alright to profit from addiction.
  • Expects from those causing harm and or who profit from addiction to measure the harm they are causing, either directly or indirectly, and become financially responsible and accountable for their actions.

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