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The Personal Story Behind Why We Proudly Embrace The “Harm Reduction Model” at Red Door Life

Updated: Apr 8

One of my best friends was Danny. He was handsome, smart, funny, with impeccable interior design skills. Danny was my wife’s brother, and the three of us were addicted to heroin and cocaine. Danny got clean in 1986, my wife Berni in 1987, and myself in 1988. Danny was the person who helped Berni and me get clean. He made recovery look possible and even fun.

We all stayed clean for many years and thrived. Danny, unfortunately, relapsed in 1994 and went into sober living. While in sober living, Danny got high on heroin, and they kicked him out. The sober living was close to his mom’s house. He drove there to continue to use and died that day. I wondered why the sober living home kicked him out. Why would you throw out Danny when his chances of overdosing would be extremely high? It seemed negligent, and we were all angry at the sober living manager. Shortly after Danny’s death, we confronted the manager, who said Danny’s heroin use put all the other members of the community at risk. The manager chose to choose the community’s safety over Danny’s. I thought at the time why is it a binary choice? Isn’t there any way to protect the individual and the community? Danny was important, he mattered.

In 2006, when we opened our first treatment center, we made it our policy not to kick people out for relapsing. Instead, we came up with a protocol to keep the person safe, but away from other community members. Once we found out a person was using, a team member would stay with them, we would arrange for a safe location and do our very best to help the person stay safe even if they were using.

The traditional approach to residential substance abuse treatment is unyielding — abstinence or expulsion. Those who struggle to conform to this rigid framework risk losing their support system and autonomy. This approach, though well-intentioned, inadvertently places clients in jeopardy when they are most vulnerable. Tolerance develops when an individual requires progressively higher quantities of a substance to achieve the desired effects. During treatment, individuals undergo a gradual reduction or detoxification process, effectively lowering their tolerance levels. Upon leaving treatment, their tolerance is significantly diminished, which, particularly in the case of opioids, places them at a heightened risk of overdose and death.

At Red Door Life, we acknowledge the complexities of recovery and recognize that each individual’s journey is unique. We understand that for some, the path to abstinence starts with shortening relapse duration, increasing the time between relapses, and staying connected to a supportive community.

Our core principle revolves around an attachment-focused approach. We meet our members where they are, providing unwavering support characterized by love, compassion, and nonjudgment. This consistent and stable attachment helps them evolve and transform over time, enabling them to make better choices for themselves.

What’s often overlooked is that trauma and attachment wounds are frequently at the root of substance abuse issues. When individuals relapse, they not only grapple with the physical effects but also experience a resurgence of attachment wounds, compounding their struggles.

To be crystal clear, we do not tolerate illicit substance abuse on our premises. The only substance use we permit is doctor-prescribed medications, which we monitor carefully. The harm reduction model serves as a bridge to abstinence, a way of supporting those who are not yet ready rather than leaving them in isolation and danger.

Honesty plays a pivotal role in this model. Our members learn that they won’t be cast out for sharing their urges and relapses. This transparency dismantles the walls of shame and secrecy that often exacerbate substance abuse.

The concept of harm reduction may be jarring to those outside the realm of addiction, but we believe in meeting our members where they are. If they aren’t ready for abstinence, we work with them to reduce harm and, ideally, decrease the severity of their use.

Balancing the protection of individuals in relapse and the safety of the residential community poses challenges. We employ certified companions who stay off-site with the member in relapse round the clock. These companions ensure continuous contact with the multidisciplinary team, provide safe temporary housing, keep their team informed, and guard against overdose and accidental suicide.

At Red Door Life, we firmly believe that everyone deserves care and support regardless of where they are in their recovery journey. Our innovative, evidence-based methods save and transform lives. We are honored to witness the resilience and transformation of our members, no matter their starting point.

In a world that often sees recovery in black and white, we choose to embrace the many shades of gray that exist within the human experience. Recovery is a journey, and at Red Door Life, we are committed to walking that path alongside our members every step of the way.

Click here for a more in-depth article about the Harm Reduction Model offered at Red Door Life.

Red Door Life is a Los Angeles, California rehab, substance abuse treatment, recovery, detox, addiction & trauma healing center also featuring companion services, entrepreneurship empowerment, community & education.

Co-founded by Alex- Shohet & Berni Fried



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