What is Harm Reduction?


Quote the Raven: Seham Ali
Health Science with a concentration in Biomedical Sciences

Seham Ali

At first glance, what do you think harm reduction is? Many individuals have never come across the term or are unaware of what it encompasses. Some may think that it is ways to protect against harmful behaviours, like using seatbelts, while others see it as safe use of drugs. Harm reduction combines both interpretations and expands on them.

While harm reduction is focusing on reducing harmful behaviours, it specifically targets substance use. It includes strategies, measures and practices that are aimed to reduce negative risks and outcomes to people and communities caused by substance use and other similar disorders. It addresses the specific needs of individuals impacted by substance use to foster an inclusive and safe environment.

What Does Harm Reduction Look Like at Carleton?

Harms reduction does not look the same across the board. Different strategies, resources and assessments are used to address the unique needs of different groups and audiences. At Carleton, harm reduction is geared towards the needs of the student population. This includes focusing on safer substance use, alcohol risk and guidelines, assessment tools and student peer supports.

Safer Substance Use

Students endure a lot of stress during the term when studying for midterms, exams and completing assignments. Many may resort to substance or alcohol use to cope and deal with these circumstances. Carleton’s Office of Student Affairs provides tips for safe substance and alcohol use. These include not using substances alone, being mindful of COVID-19 spread and being aware of your own use and behaviour. These tips are available on their website.

Alcohol Risks Guidelines

Many students attend gatherings where alcohol is prominent and therefore may drink a large amount. The Carleton Mental Health and Wellbeing page provides guideline to safe alcohol consumption and provides resources for individuals to learn more and to help cope with alcohol use disorders.


Assessment tools aid in identifying specific harmful behaviours and provide resources for these issues. The resources recommended vary by individuals due to differences in their needs and helps to address them in a meaningful way. Many other resources exist within the Carleton community and can be found on the Carleton Wellness Resources website.

Student Peer Support

Carleton is partnered with the Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA) to create All People All Pathways, a weekly support group meetings for Carleton staff and students who have been impacted by substance use. The group allows for individuals to freely communicate and ask questions without any judgement or discrimination.

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