Better is Better: Stories of Alcohol Harm Reduction

By Kenneth Anderson, April Wilson Smith, MPH 12/27/19

Unlike most recovery groups, abstinence (sobriety) is not a requirement for HAMS. HAMS encourages all positive change, from abstinence to moderation to safer drinking.

Woman with arms outstretched on a beach.
The support in HAMS has made it possible for me to become alcohol-free. Photo by Irene Dávila on Unsplash

The following is an excerpt from HAMS’ (Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support) new book, in which members tell their stories of success and struggles along the way. Find more information about HAMS at the end of this excerpt.

Jessica’s Story

I had been a heavy drinker for 10 - 20 years. The increase in my drinking happened gradually, but then one day I became very ill after drinking and realized I could have been going through withdrawal. Yet it didn't sink in and I continued on my path to destruction.

I work in drug addiction so I wasn't oblivious to harm reduction, but the consensus where I live is that it doesn't work, and everyone pushes AA. I didn't want to go to AA and felt I couldn't because I am in a very public position in my career in the addiction field. So I started to Google around and came across the HAMS website, but I didn't join yet. 

Then in December of 2016 I took a bad turn. I had been binge-drinking on a public holiday, and I was very sick, but I had to go into work on Monday. That's when I finally joined HAMS. It was the first time I ever expressed to anyone, even myself, that alcohol had become a problem. Being able to do that in a safe environment was very important to me. There were so many people on so many different paths, including many who had been abstinent for years or moderating successfully, as well as those who had serious problems. 

I was a member of HAMS for several months before I embarked on a taper. It had its limitations because I work long hours and I don't drink during work so obviously with the consumption of alcohol I used to have during my hours off work it was very difficult to taper while not drinking for 12 hours a day. But tapering works. I did a long taper - perhaps it was more psychological than physical, but I live alone and I didn't want to risk DTs.

I tried moderating, but it didn't work for me. Once I start to drink, there is no stop button. So I made the decision last year to be alcohol-free. Once I tried moderation again, but drank way too much. It wasn't even stress or trauma: I just thought I deserved a treat so I tried it again, but once I started I kept going. I contacted a doctor I knew from Facebook who was a specialist in addictions and who I knew would keep my confidence, and he prescribed an at-home detox with Ativan. Unfortunately, I still had to go to work, and I don't know how I managed but I did. So I came to the conclusion last year that I need to be alcohol free because this moderation thing does not work for me. 

I found the HAMS Facebook group very helpful because sleeping has always been a problem for me, and it was especially acute when I first stopped drinking. I am in Central Europe, so when I couldn't sleep at night, everyone in the US was up. When I couldn't sleep at 2 or 3 am my time, there was always someone in the group I could talk to. I've made a lot of good friends in HAMS, and we usually don't even talk about alcohol. We talk about other things in our lives. My mantra has always been that I am much more than my alcohol problem, so talking with HAMS friends about things other than alcohol keeps me focused on the life I have beyond alcohol. 

Another thing I like about HAMS is how many members are female. Women have a very different experience with alcohol than men do, and I feel that most treatment is geared to men. Women often have more at stake: a woman I know went to the ER because she was in withdrawal, and they called child protection services on her. I didn't want to join AA because as a female, I didn't want to be preyed upon by the men there. Women are so vulnerable, especially when we first stop drinking. I know of many women who have been taken advantage of by men in AA. That doesn't happen in HAMS. I've never felt pounced upon or been contacted in any inappropriate way. 

The support in HAMS has made it possible for me to become alcohol-free. The fact that it is international, I can get support any time day or night, and I don't have to worry about my identity being exposed in the country where I work, have all been important. I want us to continue to grow and help people all over the world see that changing your drinking really is possible. With HAMS, no matter who you are or where you live, you are never alone. 


HAMS - Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support - is an over 5,000-member group of people worldwide who are working to change their drinking. Unlike most such groups, abstinence (sobriety) is not a requirement for HAMS. HAMS encourages all positive change, from abstinence to moderation to safer drinking. Members are encouraged to set their own goals and make a plan for achieving them. HAMS provides confidential, 24/7 online support through closed Facebook groups, including a 1,000-member group for women only. Members interact with each other from the privacy of their own homes, and no judgement is allowed - just support and encouragement. HAMS provides support for those who want to set their own goals, think for themselves, and improve their drinking.

HAMS' original book, a science-based, step-by-step guide to changing your drinking, can be found at How to Change Your Drinking by Kenneth Anderson. HAMS website is and Facebook groups include HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol, HAMS for Women, Alcohol Harm Reduction, and Alcohol Free Hamsters, a group for those who choose abstinence.

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Kenneth Anderson is the founder and CEO of HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol and the author of How to Change Your Drinking: A Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol as well as the book series The Untold History of Addiction Treatment in the United States. He is a regular presenter at the National Harm Reduction Conference and holds a master's degree in addiction psychology from the New School for Social Research as well as a master's degree in linguistics from the University of Minnesota. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter.


April Wilson Smith, MPH, is the Director of Organizational Development for HAMS (Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support). She holds a Master of Public Health from Thomas Jefferson University, where she focused on harm reduction approaches to problems with substances and mental health. She presented Masters' thesis work on the experience of LGBT individuals in traditional 12 Step rehab at the 2016 Harm Reduction Coalition national conference. She teaches in urban public schools in Pennsylvania.