Gabor Maté

“Harm reduction is often perceived as being inimical to the ultimate purpose of “curing” addiction—that is, of helping addicts transcend their habits and to heal. People regard it as “coddling” addicts, as enabling them to continue their destructive ways. It’s also considered to be the opposite of abstinence, which many regard as the only legitimate goal of addiction treatment. Such a distinction is artificial. The issue in medical practice is always how best to help a patient. If a cure is possible and probable without doing greater harm, then cure is the objective. When it isn’t — and in most chronic medical conditions cure is not the expected outcome — the physician’s role is to help the patient with the symptoms and to reduce the harm done by the disease process.

In rheumatoid arthritis, for example, one aims to prevent joint inflammation and bone destruction and, in all events, to reduce pain. In incurable cancers we aim to prolong life, if that can be achieved without a loss of life quality, and also to control symptoms. In other words, harm reduction means making the lives of afflicted human beings more bearable, more worth living. That is also the goal of harm reduction in the context of addiction. Although hardcore drug addiction is much more than a disease, the harm reduction model is essential to its treatment. Given our lack of a systematic, evidencebased approach to addiction, in many cases it’s futile to dream of a cure.

So long as society ostracizes the addict and the legal system does everything it can to heighten the drug problem, the welfare and medical systems can aim only to mitigate some of its effects. Sad to say, in our context harm reduction means reducing not only the harm caused by the disease of addiction, but also the harm caused by the social assault on drug addicts.”


Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
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