HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

How HAMS Works

For a graphic illustration of how HAMS works please check out The HAMS Flowchart at the bottom of this page. What follows will walk you through the way that HAMS works step by step. Here we give concrete details about what to do in the contemplation, action, maintence, and termination stages of Prochaska's Stages of Change Model.

START: Ambivalence about Drinking

Change always starts with ambivalence. People who are completely happy with their drinking have no desire to change it. It is only when there are some problems connected with drinking that ambivalence arises and people begin to think about change. Prochaska refers to this as the Contemplation stage of change

Find HAMS, read, and act

When you learn about the HAMS program you can choose to either work on your own, with a therapist, or as part of a support group. If you work on your own we suggest that you do all the work in a journal. Whichever you do we suggest learning everything you can about HAMS by reading the web site or interacting with a HAMS group.

Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA)

We strongly recommend that Hamsters do a formal Cost Benefit Analysis as an aid to choosing a goal and making a plan. For information about how to do a formal cost benefit analysis and sample work sheets please see our page CBA - Cost Benefit Analysis. You are also doing an informal CBA every time that you discuss the pros and cons of drinking with other Hamsters.

Choose a goal: Alcohol Abstinence, Moderate Drinking or Harm Reduction

If alcohol abstinence is your goal of choice then you may wish to leave HAMS and join an abstinence only group. Or you may wish to supplement HAMS with another group that is supportive of abstinence. Or you may choose HAMS as your sole source of abstinence support.

The same is true with moderation

If your goal is harm reduction then you will want to decide if your goal is safer drinking, reduced drinking, or both.

Make your plan

Don't be afraid to put lots of detail into your plan. Which days you will drink, which you will abstain, which days you will moderate and which days you will get intoxicated. Which days will be beer only and which days will allow hard liquor. Choose things like "no drinking on work nights" and other practical planning. You can get some ideas for making a plan by looking at our web page Sample Plans.

Pick your tools

Here are the places where you can find the tools to help you with your HAMS plan:
The Harm Reduction Cheat Sheet
The Alcohol Abstinence Cheat Sheet
The Moderate Drinking Cheat Sheet
The Harm Reduction Toolbox
Alcohol Harm Reduction Exercises

Charting and abstinence periods are highly recommended tools.

Work on related issues

Many people who have issues with alcohol also have issues in other areas such as their financial, mental, or sexual health to name just a few. HAMS recommends that people address their life problems at the same time that they work on their alcohol issues. HAMS is not a substitute for professional counseling--however, HAMS groups can provide a sounding board for discussing your issues. It is difficult to deal with an alcohol problem when you are also struggling with issues like anxiety or depression. The better you feel the easier it will be to work on changing your drinking for the better.

Please visit our web pages
Living in the Present: Anxiety, Depression and CBT
More on Dual Diagnosis
The Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking
The Geographical Cure Can Work
Alcohol and Life Problems
The Prevalence of Co-Occurring Issues (Dual Diagnosis)
Drinking and Depression
Alcohol and Mental Health: A Harm Reduction Approach to Dual Diagnosis
for more information about this.

Put the Plan into Action

Now that you have made you plan this is the day to start doing it. Maybe you have already been doing baby steps along the way. If you chose an abstinence period as part of the plan start it now. If drink counting is one of your strategies then start that now, if the goal is no more drinking and driving start that now. And so on and so forth for whatever you have chosen. If you have chosen to work on some outside issues at the same time that you work on drinking you can start that now too. Now you are into the Action stage of change.

Record your progress

There are many different ways to track your progress at HAMS. Many Hamsters find it useful to use a formal drink chart such as you will find on our web page Drink Charting. This allows you to make both daily and weekly plans for Harm Reduction, Alcohol Abstinence, or Moderation--as well as track your actual usage and note various things such as mood or money spent on alcohol. Lots of people find that tracking their mood or other factors helps give them insight into why they drink.

Other Hamsters might track their alcohol use in a more informal manner. One of our members has a plan to drink only on Sunday and Wednesday nights and to always drink a fifth of gin on those nights. This member simply counts the number of bottles he buys per week. Other members track by posting to our email group. We encourage all of our members to learn what a standard drink is and to measure and track standard drinks.

Many Hamsters also find it useful to track their progress in other areas of life which they are working on such as finances or mental health. This can be done by keeping a journal or by posting your progress to the HAMS email list.

There are many different ways to track progress in many different areas. HAMS strongly recommends that at a minimum Hamster use at least one method of tracking their alcohol usage. It is essential to track your progress in order to evaluate it.

Evaluate your progress

You should keep evaluating the progress you are making with your plan frequently. If you are doing HAMS on your own you might want to do your evaluations in a journal. If you don't feel that your progress is satisfactory then you might want to change your plan. Sometimes people try to change too much at once and need a less ambitious plan. For some people baby steps is best. Others may want to change their goal entirely. If moderation or harm reduction don't eliminate enough problems then one might want to switch totally to a goal of abstinence. Or if you are finding abstinence impossible to stick to then you might want to switch to a less ambitious goal of harm reduction.

Practice Damage Control

If you find that you are slipping and having trouble sticking to your HAMS plan then always be sure to practice damage control to minimize any harmful impact to yourself or others. See our web page Damage Control for more information about this.

Consolidate Your Progress

Once your plan starts working the way you would like it to, you don't want to leave HAMS immediately. It is important to stick around for a while to consolidate your changes until they start to become second nature. How long should you stick around? You can stay for as long as you like--even for life if you wish. Based on work by Prochaska et al we recommend that most people stick around for at least six months or perhaps a year after reaching their HAMS goal to consolidate progress. Everyone is of course welcome to stick around for as long as they personally feel that it is beneificial.

Successful Termination

Unlike AA which expects lifelong meeting attendance, HAMS believes that many people can successfully terminate their change process. We base this on work done by Prochaska et al which found that many--although not all--people reached a termination stage where they no longer had a bad habit nor were they in any danger of returning to it. They referred to this as the Termination stage of change. At HAMS when you successfully reach the termination stage you are welcome to either stick around to help others or to move on with your life--it is your choice.

Pick a New Goal?

You can always come back to HAMS for a refresher course even after you graduate.

Sometimes people who successfully terminate at HAMS decide to come back either for a tune up of their goal or because they have decided to work on a new goal. Other people decide that they like where they are at and that is that. As we say at HAMS "different strokes for different folks". Let us look at some examples where people come back for more HAMS.

Say that you have successfully HAMS with a goal of Harm Reduction several years ago. Now you are several years older and have decided that alcohol has no real payoff for you and you want to quit. HAMS will be happy to support you in this new goal.

Say that you left HAMS with a moderate drinking program and remained successful with moderation for some years thereafter. Now your drinking has started to creep back up to levels you are not happy with and you want to come back to HAMS for a tune up. This is great! Or maybe you have been successfully abstaining with HAMS for several years and now would like to try moderate drinking. HAMS will support you in this too. Maybe you are doing fine with alcohol and now want to use HAMS to work on your tobacco habit. This works too.

At HAMS your goals and your values and your plans are always your own.


Miller, W., & Heather, N. (1998). Treating Addictive Behaviors, (2nd Edition). New York: Plenum

Prochaska J. O., Norcross J. C., DiClemente C. C. (1994). Changing for good. New York: Morrow.

harm reduction flowchart

More About HAMS
HAMS in the News Media
HAMS Corporate Information
HAMS Harm Reduction Professionals Google Group
HAMS Articles
Donate to HAMS

HAMS: Where Better is Better!

© 2015 The HAMS Harm Reduction Network, Inc.
HAMS is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit incorporated in the state of New York
Under 21? Please visit Students for Safe Drinking