3. Harm Reduction



Harm reduction is a term that many parents had never heard before parenting a young person with a substance use disorder, and if they had, it certainly wouldn’t apply to them.

Harm reduction really boils down to this:

Keeping a person alive so that they can receive the help they need and eventually find a path to recovery that works for them.

The media mostly talks about harm reduction in the form of safe injection sites, also known as supervised consumption sites. These sites are saving lives, but from our experience, our young people are not using substances there. Instead, they are using with their friends or alone. Alone usually means in alleys, in parks, in bathrooms, or in their bedrooms. Harm reduction is the foundation of everything that we. It can be divided into two main categories:

  1. Harm reduction for yourself and the other people in your home (see Family Dynamics)
  2. Harm reduction for your young person who is using illicit substances
At times, probably most of the time, these two things are in opposition of each other. As you are trying to care for your young person who is using substances, you sacrifice yourself, and your other family members get hurt too.

Harm reduction can be a tool to build relationships.


In this section, we’ve collected some harm reduction tips that we, as parents, have used with our young people who have substance use disorder.

Harm reduction for your young person who is using illicit substances:

The quicker that you give up the fight against your young person and focus on reducing their substance use, the quicker you can get on the same side and work towards their health. All these harm reduction ideas may be pushing you way out of your comfort zone. Some of them could look like falling into that parent shaming term of enabling. However, compromising with harm reduction is not giving up, it’s fighting to save your young person from addiction.

Not all young people may feel comfortable speaking to their parents about their substance use. In that case, parents should encourage their child / loved one to speak to another adult that they trust.

Harm reduction tips for parents / caregivers themselves may include:

  • Staying current / up-to-date on the drug situation in Canada through ongoing learning.
  • Tools to monitor / assess their own substance use, gambling:

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction: To reduce your risk of experiencing harms from gambling, follow all three of the Lower-Risk Gambling Guidelines.

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction: Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health provides people living in Canada with the information they need to make well-informed and responsible decisions about their alcohol consumption

Communication Guide for Youth Allies

Below is an excerpt from A Cannabis Communication Guide for Youth Allies* refer to the guide for more information.

Any New Opportunity Can Be a Building Block...

Figure 6 Coming Back to Life (Artist L. Foggia)