Harm Reduction for Youth in Treatment for Substance Use Disorders: One Size Does Not Fit All

Kara S. Bagot, Yifrah Kaminer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose of Review: Current interventions for adolescent substance use disorders demonstrate moderate efficacy and poor rates of long-term abstinence. As such, assessment of alternate, non-abstinence-oriented interventions is of value. We aim to examine the potential for non-abstinence goals in a harm reduction treatment framework for adolescent substance use disorders. Recent Findings: Harm reduction can include reduction of substance use and reduction of negative consequences related to substance use behaviors. Developmental factors unique to adolescence alter the trajectory of substance use, and should be addressed when tailoring interventions to this population. This may include setting a series of youth-identified proximal harm reduction goals (e.g., reducing quantity or frequency of consumption over time) to encourage continued engagement in treatment and progress to a terminal outcome such as abstinence. Harm reduction goals may lead to tension between providers and systems for youth involved in the juvenile justice system and those with comorbid psychiatric illness, and thus may require collaborative, multi-disciplinary approaches to treatment. Summary: Further research should aim to characterize outcome measures and determine measures of goal achievement within a harm reduction framework. At this time, harm reduction for adolescents should be considered mainly as a proximal outcome for poor responders to traditional interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-385
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Addiction Reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Biopsychosocial development
  • Harm reduction
  • Substance use disorders
  • Youth treatment


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