Toward a Psychology of Harm Reduction

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Abstract

This article discusses 3 different strategies for dealing with the harmful consequences of drug use and other risky behaviors: We can discourage people from engaging in the behavior (prevalence reduction), we can encourage people to reduce the frequency or extent of the behavior (quantity reduction), or we can try to reduce the harmful consequences of the behavior when it occurs (harm reduction). These strategies are not mutually exclusive; this article offers a framework for integrating them. The framework is useful for examining frequent claims that harm reduction “sends the wrong message.” Opposition to harm reduction is based in part on a recognition of potential trade-offs among the strategies, but it is also fueled by several more symbolic psychological factors. Strategies for successfully integrating prevalence reduction, quantity reduction, and harm reduction are explored.

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