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Harm Reduction Theory

  • By: Emily Haas & Marifran Mattson
  • In: Encyclopedia of Health Communication
  • Edited by: Teresa L. Thompson
  • Subject:Public Health Education & Health Promotion, Health Psychology, Health Communication

Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to individual behavior change is not effective, harm reduction theory (HRT) proposes a prevention continuum to reduce negative consequences of risky health behaviors, with abstinence as one option. With origins in the field of public health, HRT was initiated to reduce harm associated with substance abuse, primarily HIV transmission from sharing infected needles. More recently, HRT has been extended in terms of conceptualization, research, and practice.

History of Harm Reduction Theory

In the 1960s, awareness of illicit drug use and its negative consequences combined with the realization that eliminating the use of these substances was unrealistic. Instead, prevention campaigns and policies incorporated harm reduction (HR) approaches. For example, in 1964, the first Surgeon General's message was placed on nicotine product labels in ...

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