Alan Marlatt on Harm Reduction for Substance Abuse
by G. Alan Marlatt
This conversation with Dr. Alan Marlatt details the foundation and practice of the harm reduction method while exploring the fascinating, politically charged progression of addiction theory and treatment in the US.
Addiction treatment can be a very contentious specialty within the psychotherapy and counseling professions, and Alan Marlatt is no stranger to controversy. Owing in part to his Canadian roots, his perspective on alcoholism and drug use in the US is at odds with much of the field. Rather than adopt a moral stance or buy into the medical disease model, Marlatt takes a practical approach that views addiction as a learned habit. In this interview, he explains how this method focuses treatment and public policy on reducing harm to individuals and communities. His compassion is obvious as he explains the concept of harm reduction treatment as meeting the individual where they are rather than taking an all-or-nothing abstinence approach. “You can motivate the person who's doing whatever it is a lot more by looking at the consequences than whether [they’re] a problem drinker or not, or something that might stigmatize the person. So harm reduction, I think, is a much more humanistic, pragmatic way of dealing with people who have alcohol and drug problems that's really making a big difference in their lives.”

Marlatt describes some of the obstacles he has faced throughout his career, from being discouraged by a professor against studying alcoholism in graduate school to being attacked in the media and academic circles for his work. Taking the controversy philosophically, he depicts the evolution of different belief systems about addiction and treatment through captivating vignettes. In so doing, Marlatt lays out the rationale and therapeutic style of harm reduction in a compelling and thought-provoking way that leaves a lasting impact on the viewer.
In Depth
Alan Marlatt first learned about the public health model of addictions during a trip to Amsterdam in the 1990’s. The goals of harm reduction: empathically engaging with clients, supporting their assessment of the positive and negative consequences of substance use, and augmenting their sense of choice, are highly compatible with Motivational Interviewing, and the two are frequently used in conjunction.

By watching this video, you will:
  • Understand the utility of harm reduction treatment for addiction.
  • Discern between the three main models of addiction and treatment.
  • Appreciate the differences in social, psychological, and biological components of addictive behavior

Length of video: 1:11:14

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-415-0

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-415-4

G. Alan Marlatt, PhD spent many years as a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington. He has published over 200 articles and book chapters as well as five books, and his work on relapse prevention, assessment and harm reduction has had a wide impact on the treatment of addictions in the U.S. and abroad.

See all Alan Marlatt videos.
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