Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Is Harm Reduction an Appropriate Choice in Managing Teen Drug Abuse?

The result of lax parenting when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse in teens is obvious and obviously harmful to the child. But overprotective parenting can be damaging as well, and some experts are pointing to harm reduction as an option for some drug abusing teens – at least, initially. Will harm reduction efforts help you to reach your child?

What Is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is any response to addiction or addiction behaviors that mitigates the harm caused by ongoing drug and alcohol abuse. It can come in many forms depending upon the drug of choice and the patient’s level of readiness. For example, intravenous drug users who take advantage of needle exchanges that provide them clean needles are taking part in harm reduction. The transfer of blood borne diseases and infections is less likely, and thus the harm caused by intravenous drug use is mitigated with the use of clean needles.

For teens, harm reduction is a little different. It doesn’t mean enabling drug or alcohol use on any level. Rather, it means starting with the why and how of addiction before jumping forward to how to stop the behavior.

What Are the Benefits of Harm Reduction?

One of the first principles of harm reduction is to recognize that most people use drugs for a reason. Some of the reasons that your son may be getting high include:

  • To fit in with friends
  • Deal with issues of depression
  • Experiment and find out what it’s like
  • To deal with anger at other issues in his life (e.g., bullying, parent’s divorce, learning difficulties)
  • Get your attention

If you start by finding out what need he is filling through drug use, it can help you to help him find more effective ways of addressing the issue. Getting help that addresses his personal needs can limit his desire to drink or get high, and this is the first benefit of harm reduction.

Next, meeting teens where they are in terms of their views of drug abuse is another tenet of harm reduction. This allows them to work slowly on rebuilding their relationship with their parents at their pace. Parents do their part by avoiding lectures or condemnation. Instead, they work together to address issues through therapy and remain open-minded; this can be hugely beneficial for both parent and son.

What Are the Possible Pitfalls of Harm Reduction for Teenagers?

A number of things can go wrong when parents attempt harm reduction tactics. The worst of these happen when parents don’t fully understand harm reduction and try to be too permissive. Allowing teens to drink or smoke marijuana at home, or making other choices that in any way excuse teen drug use and abuse, is not effective. The risks of doing so include:

  • Damage to the developing teen brain that negatively impacts emotional and cognitive development
  • Arrest of parents for allowing children to use drugs at home
  • Arrest of son for being under the influence of or in possession of illegal substances
  • Accident under the influence
  • Accidental overdose

Get Help

If your son is abusing drugs or alcohol and you’re ready to be proactive in dealing with the situation, learn more about how we can help you here at Muir Wood.