Harm reduction parenting

Harm reduction focuses on reducing negative consequences associated with drug misuse.

It does not attempt to minimize or ignore harm and dangers associated with drug misuse but instead accepts that drug use and addiction are conditions that are part of our culture. In short, harm reduction could be considered a shame reduction strategy because it acknowledges that the person is using and accepts that it is the way it is for now and meets drug users where they are.

The question is, could we integrate the harm-reduction ideas into a parenting style?

An example of harm reduction parenting would be encouraging your addicted child to use clean needles if he was using heroin intravenously. The goal here to keep them alive, of course, until they might find recovery.

So what about teenagers who are abusing drugs, not yet addicted? First, it’s hard to keep our heads about us when we discover our children are misusing substances. Fear takes over.

Engaging teens in a supportive process of change starts with his or her beliefs and attitudes about drug use. Not our own. We all should realize, lecture does not work.

This means listening even when every molecule of your being wants to scream, “No, stop, you can’t do that!” Meeting your teen “where they’re at” requires you to put aside your own opinions in order to hear them.

I do want to point out that some parents think that allowing their children drink in their basement is a harm-reduction strategy. It’s not. Condoning behavior is not the same as harm reduction.

We did allow Charles to present his side of the story. We did listen. The trouble was we had a hard time finding a mental health diagnosis or quality treatment to identify the reason for Charles’ drug use. Was it mental illness? Was it straight-up addiction? Was there something else going on?

I knew there was a reason and it literally took years to get a diagnosis when it should have been as simple as getting a psychological evaluation at our first appointment. In our case, by the time we did get a diagnosis, Charles had lost patience with the system all together and had become jaded.

Harm reduction and harm reduction parenting can work in our favor. But for it to work it’s best, we need to have a cultural shift in this direction.

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4 thoughts on “Harm reduction parenting”

  1. I now feel this is the best way to handle the situation with your child. Looking back, it seems that I turned it into a power struggle. Due to the shame involved. Focus should have been compassionate caring with boundaries. Hindsight with regrets.

    1. Me, too Diane. But no one was offering this kind of guidance. I did figure it out at one point but then I think I waffled in this strategy and then I was not getting support from the mental health community. I was surprised at the amount of shaming from that community.

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