Explainers Harm Reduction

Beyond Addiction: The Myriad Reasons People Use Drugs


Chelsea Boyd
Resident Research Fellow, Harm Reduction
Stacey McKenna
Resident Senior Fellow, Integrated Harm Reduction

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The U.S. overdose crisis took more than 100,000 lives in 2022, leading some drug policy experts and advocates to recommend shifting from the supply-side driven “war on drugs” to an approach that addresses demand. An increasingly common proposition is thus to increase funding for treatment or to offer treatment instead of incarceration. However, treatment alone will neither end the demand for drugs nor benefit everybody who uses drugs.

This is because substance use disorder (SUD) is only one reason why people use drugs. Although it may be uncomfortable for some people to admit, no matter what interventions are available and implemented, some level of substance use, and addiction, will persist in our communities. After all, substance use has been part of human society since at least the dawn of agricultural settlements.

Understanding why people use drugs can help us understand why harm reduction is such an important complement to treatment and prevention.

Download the explainer, “Beyond Addiction: The Myriad Reasons People Use Drugs” here.

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