Not everyone that drinks alcohol or uses drugs becomes dependent on them. Not everyone ends up in the gutter, isn’t that a relief. The more people I work with the clearer that’s becoming to me. What I am finding in my work is that many people are self-medicating due to something that is going on in their lives. It might be past trauma, anxiety, depression, or a combination of all. They may not have developed the skills to express themselves or to process what they are feeling. They use alcohol or drugs to cope. It’s the only way they know to deal with things. So when they go to a counsellor who tells them they have to stop they bolt. Why? Because you are taking away the only coping mechanism they have and leaving nothing in its place.

Giving Space

But what happens when we give someone a safe space to talk about what is going on with them? What happens when we work with someone to develop coping skills other than using alcohol or drugs? This is why I like the harm reduction model of treatment so much. This way of working allows me to meet the person where they are at. Not ready to stop drinking or using drugs, that’s ok. Let’s look at how we can reduce the harm caused by it, how does that sound? More achievable I bet.

By understanding and accepting that alcohol and drugs are a part of our society we can look at ways to reduce and minimise the harm they can cause. We are dealing with a complex phenomenon and need to take into consideration the biological, psychological and social aspects of each individual when we support them. By empowering people to honestly look at how alcohol and drugs are affecting their life they can begin to make changes to reduce that harm.

So how can you reduce your drinking or drug use?

  • Eat a meal before you start, it does make a difference to how much you drink.
  • Set a time before you start drinking/using, for example, decide you won’t start until the evening or after a certain time of the day.
  • Buy less, don’t buy in bulk as you are more likely to end up consuming everything simply because it’s available to you.
  • Plan out alcohol and drug-free days. Have a plan on how you are going to spend your time on these days.
  • Stay out of drinking rounds and don’t feel pressured to keep up to other people’s pace.
  • Tell your close friends and relatives what you are trying to do so they can support you. (ignore the ones that don’t support you!)
  • Use the acronym H.A.L.T.
    • If you are hungry, eat
    • If you are angry, express it, vent, punch a pillow.
    • If you are lonely, reach out to a friend.
    • If you are tired, sleep, take 5 minutes and rest


  • Recognise if you are using alcohol or drugs to cope with stress or emotional pain, this increases the risk of using alcohol and drugs as a crutch to cope.

What happens if you can’t control your alcohol or drug use with these techniques?

If you find that after trying these practices for a period of time it’s not working more often than not then you may need to have a deeper look at what is going on. If you are alcohol or drug dependent you will not be able to maintain the reduction long term and you may have to consider abstinence. Either way, you are the expert in your life and have choices so choose wisely!