Harm Reduction: HAMS Harm Reduction for Alcohol & Drugs

HAMS harm reduction is effective in reducing alcohol and drug problems. This is important. Many people find AA, NA, and other 12-step meetings to be embarrassing. They’re also time-consuming and, worst of all, generally ineffective.

The good news is that there are effective alternatives. One that is based on both scientific and practical evidence is the HAMS Harm Reduction Network. It is a free peer-led support and information group. It’s for anyone who wants to change their drinking behaviors for the better.

What is HAMS Harm Reduction?

The name HAMS stands for Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support. Harm reduction consists of practical, effective strategies to reduce the harm from any high risk behaviors. These include heavy drinking or drug use. The approach is nonjudgmental and helps people regardless of the extent of their risky behavior.

Harm reduction doesn’t try to force people into abstinence or any other behavior. It accepts the harm reduction goals people set for themselves and supports them in achieving their goals. The approach is humane and compassionate. It doesn’t condemn people for their choices but helps them improve their well-being.

The approach is based on the fact that high risk behaviors have always and will continue to exist. Instead of unrealistically attempting to prevent these behaviors, harm reduction works to minimize their harmful effects. Harm reduction recognizes that it is easier for people to make small changes than to make big ones.

HAMS believes that ‘simple and sane harm reduction approaches ranging from seatbelts in automobiles to condoms for safe sex save countless lives every day of the week. This is because many people who would never consider giving up activities like driving or sex are willing to take simple steps to make these activities safer.”

HAMS harm reduction is a new approach to alcohol problems. It  offers a realistic program to help people who choose not to, or can’t, abstain from alcohol. Harm reduction saves lives when abstinence-only programs fail. Scientific research proves that harm reduction works.

Mission 0f HAMS Harm Reduction

The HAMS mission statement emphasizes that

‘The HAMS Harm Reduction Network provides information and support for people who wish to reduce the harm in their lives cause by the use of alcohol or drugs. It neither encourages nor condemns alcohol use or alcohol intoxication. HAMS recognizes recreational intoxication as a reality and seeks to reduce harms associated with it. The group believes in the autonomy of the individual and supports each individual’s choice of a goal vis-a-vis alcohol – whether the goal is safer drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting. HAMS supports every positive change. The focus of HAMS is alcohol harm reduction, but users of any substance are welcome. HAMS offers support via live and online groups and offers information via the web and printed page. Its support groups are lay-led and free-of charge.’

HAMS Harm Reduction Guidelines

All HAMS support group meetings, whether live, in a chat room, or by email, follow simple guidelines that are easily summarized:

  1. HAMS encourages people to choose and pursue their own drinking goals.
  2. It supports any and every  positive change in drinking behavior.
  3. HAMS is non-ideological and non-coercive. We know that people change in their own unique ways. We respect each person’s right to select their own ways to reach their goals. This may or may not include medications, nutritional supplements, psychotherapy, or or any of a large number of other techniques. HAMS takes no position on the specifics members choose for themselves.
  4. Drinking alcohol always entails some degree of risk. You may be successfully abstaining from alcohol. If so, we urge you to think very carefully before trying to resume drinking. HAMS is not magic but a set of strategies to help reduce the risks to those who don’t want to abstain. But if you want to try moderate drinking, you are most welcome at HAMS. It’s much safer to experiment with HAMS than on your own. The decision to drink or to abstain is always yours.  And you are always responsible for your own choices.
  5. HAMS members are welcome to participate in other groups such as SMART, SOS, WFS, AA, or LifeRing. They are also welcome to discuss any ways they find this helpful. HAMS members are also welcome to discuss any books, ideas or actions they find helpful. This includes activities such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture that they find useful. But acts such as proselytizing, criticizing people for not following the teachings of outside groups, or attacking HAMS for taking a harm reduction approach  are unacceptable.
  6. HAMS welcomes verbal interaction. Members are free to respond to what others have said. No one is forced to speak and observers are welcome. We strive to make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk if they wish and that no one monopolizes the floor.
  7. Group participants are always expected to treat each other with mutual respect and never to engage in name-calling or labeling.
  8. We avoid confrontation and members share as little or as much information about themselves as they wish. People choose how to use the group in a manner most beneficial to themselves.
  9. Arguing with people is ineffective. The best way to help people change is to elicit their own reasons for wanting to change. Sometimes people simply need sympathetic listeners.
  10. Telling other people what they ought to do is generally not so effective as sharing how you solved a problem. In most cases it is better to use the first person pronoun “I” and share experiences.  Using the second person pronoun “you” and giving advice is less effective. Of course there are exceptions such as when advice is requested. However, even when a person directly solicits advice it can often be helpful to suggest they do a cost-benefits analysis about the question.
  11. Sexual harassment and promoting financial investments or transactions is forbidden. Nor do we tolerate flame wars, trolls, or hurting the feelings of others. Any complaints should be made to a core officers.
  12. Members may be intoxicated in HAMS groups. But all members must be well-behaved. People who are disruptive at HAMS meetings may be asked to leave whether intoxicated or not. In the case of live HAMS meetings, we encourage members to insure that intoxicated members don’t drive while impaired and are able get home safely.
  13. HAMS has no sponsors. People are welcome to be abstinence buddies or moderation buddies if they mutually agree.
  14. HAMS does not require lifelong meetings. It does not believe that a drinking problem is a “lifelong disease that can only be arrested and never cured”. HAMS believes that alcohol problems are maladaptive coping strategies. Dwelling on your old bad habits after they have gotten better is counterproductive. The longer you practice healthy habits the less pull old habits will have. People can attend HAMS meetings when they need help or want to help others. They can also get on with life after they achieve their alcohol goals.
  15. Members are welcome to raise issues about their local group to the group facilitator. They may  raise issues concerning HAMS policies to core officers of HAMS.
  16. Flexibility is a basic part of harm reduction. It may be necessary to adopt new strategies to deal with changing circumstances. That is why HAMS has guidelines rather than absolute rules. Each HAMS group develops its own traditions and as it grows.

About the founder of HAMS

Kenneth Anderson, M.A., is identified as an alcoholism expert by Psychology Today, which describes him as

‘the founder and CEO of HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol, a support group for people who want to make any positive change in their drinking habits from safer drinking to reduced drinking to quitting alcohol altogether. He is also the author of the book How to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol. Anderson has served as Online Director for Moderation Management and worked in the trenches of harm reduction doing needle exchange in Minneapolis. He is a regular presenter at the National Harm Reduction Conference and also works as the Director of Development at the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center.’

harm reductionHow to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol received the Self-Help Seal of Merit from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

To learn more, visit the Hams website.  Or contact HAMS at PO Box 498, New York, NY 10012, Tel 347-678-5671, or hams@hamshrn.org

NOTE: Official HAMS guidelines can be found on the HAMS website listed above. Neither this website nor your host receives any compensation from  describing it.