Addiction is a sticky subject.  Partly because of the nature of addiction itself in that you’re stuck doing something you know is bad for you, and partly because of the way drugs and addiction trigger emotional responses in people.  It’s often considered drug addicts are simply bad people and they deserve any suffering they bring upon themselves. Harm reduction for drug addicts is not favored by someone with this view, because a person should just stop using and they’re weak with flawed character if they don’t.

Stopping is not always an option however.  The brain of an addict has been re-wired to seek for happiness outside of itself through powerful substances.  Compassion is justified in considering how the addict gets started in the first place.  Often peer pressure, or a history of drug abuse in the family or community is what leads to those first few tries, but once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.  The issue with addiction is that you cannot stop, even though you may want to and know the habit is destroying your life.  A great definition of addiction is: the inability to stop a behaviour even though you know it’s doing you harm.

The value of harm reduction can been seen when we consider a relatively new addict, maybe addicted one or two years, versus someone who has been addicted for a decade or more.  Take for example a 20 year old, living at home, being supported by his parents, addicted to his drug for only a year or so, and he kind of loves it, there’s still romance present.  On the other-hand imagine a 35 year old woman, she’s got no usable veins left because of her IV drug use over the last 20 years.  She’s gone through the pain of withdrawal multiple times in efforts to quit, she’s lost everything again and again because of her drug use; the love-affair is over.  The difference between these two people is that while they’re both addicted, one of them is ready to quit and one of them is not.  It’s often said that you need to hit rock bottom before you get it in you to change; this may be true in that these drugs produce such powerful feelings that people will forgo everything else of value in life to access them.  Drug addiction in the long term seems to go one of two ways:  a person dies, or a person gets so sick of being an addict that they find an honest desire to change.  A life saving strategy then is to ensure the addict stays as safe as possible while using so when they are ready to quit, they won’t have bigger issues to deal with.  If the heroin user has a chance of getting clean one day, do what’s possible today to avoid any long term problems from their habit, like hepatitis or HIV.  That’s harm reduction.

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The addict who has used for many years, once they do decide to quit, still a has a daunting battle ahead of them. Simply deciding to quit and actually quitting are two very different things.  Once your body has been hardwired to get pleasure only from the drug of choice, long term well being doesn’t have a say in decision making.  Once the pain and craving associated with absence of the drug is in action, the human being is like a guided missile, honing in on the relief the drug brings.

Up until recently, the only way for an addict to change the neruochemical soup programmed for self-destruction has been through the long-game, working one day at a time to ignore, bury and act against the cravings that are ever tempting you to use again.  Once an addicts homeostasis has been altered by problematic drug use, the gravity of the addiction is always trying to sabotage a persons best efforts to heal.  It only takes one relapse to bring someone who has been sober a long time back into the full throws of drug abuse.

The power of ibogaine is that it seems to reset the addicts brain and body chemistry to a pre-addicted state, directly addressing craving and withdrawal where other treatments fall short.  It is not a magic-bullet, but it gives a person who has hit the point where they honestly want to change an unprecedented tool in helping that decision to quit become a long-term reality.

Harm reduction saves lives by seeing an addict safely through their most dangerous stages of use until they’re ready to make change, then ibogaine can leverage that honest desire by seemingly wiping the slate clean to allow for new, empowering habits to take hold.

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