Friday, July 24, 2020

Harm Reduction and the Spectrum of Use

When most people think of Harm Reduction, often, they think of Supervised Consumption Sites or Opioid Agonist Therapy. While those are both important and pertinent examples of Harm Reduction, they are a small part of what Harm Reduction actually entails.

Harm Reduction is an umbrella term for measures, practices and approaches that aim to reduce the harms to persons, families and communities caused by substance use, substance use disorder and other related disorders. The more general term for Harm Reduction can be seen in things like seat belts, bike helmets, masks etc. It simply means ‘reducing harms or reducing risks’.

Substance Use Disorder is a diagnosed mental health disorder that has various classifications based on their respective criteria met in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5th edition). Substance Use Disorder does not encompass all who use substances in an unhelpful or harmful way and also does not encompass all other addiction-related disorders, it is just one of the most well known and most talked about.

There is a wide spectrum of substance use and substance use disorders. Some may have issues with their use of substances for a short time or have small issues that may not cause them harm. Others may become dependant on substances and have serious consequences because of it, up to and including death. Some may find abstinence to be the only answer that’s right for them. Others may find that reducing and/or monitoring their use works for them. It’s important to find what’s right for the individual as people may benefit from different treatments in different ways.

There is also a wide spectrum of non-substance related use, disorders, and actions including but not limited to, gambling, sex, food, internet, gaming etc. These have the same vast spectrum of variations and treatments as substance-related disorders.

If all of this seems complicated, its because it is. There is no one answer and no one approach. New evidence and research are constantly being released. This article is not exhaustive and the answers within could change over time. The Office of Student Affairs wanted to shed some light on this comprehensive and complicated topic as substance use can and does affect many people, including students and our student population.

If you need help, know that you are not alone and that there are many resources available to you. The Office of Student Affairs’ Safer Substance Use webpage has a lot of information on Carleton specific and public resources for persons who use substances, persons questioning their substance use and persons with substance use disorder. On the webpage, you can also find links to our (currently virtual) ‘All People All Pathways’ peer support meetings that have been made available through our continued partnership with the Community Addictions Peer Support Association. There are 2 weekly meetings available to both students and staff, respectively.

If you need further assistance or more information about Harm Reduction contact The Office of Student Affairs’ Harm Reduction and Conduct Manager Dillon Brady at

Friday, July 24, 2020 in ,
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