The Cyclical Relationship Between Addiction and Incarceration

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Addiction is not an isolated incident. It is a chronic condition that requires continuing care. Likewise, excessive substance abuse can contribute to a number of problems besides one’s own health. Addictive behavior can lead to other illegal activity, unlawful acts can lead to being arrested, and incarceration can even force individuals back into addiction.

How the cycle starts

As adolescents learn from experience and develop their decision-making skills, they will also make mistakes of judgement. Unfortunately, due to the current state of drug and addiction policy, even minor cases of offense can lead to heavy consequences. Once a person is labeled as a convict or an addict, a barrage of additional restrictions can enter his or her life:

  • A 2014 study from John Hopkins University found that out of 709 working Americans, 64 percent said that employers should have the authority to deny employment to people with a diagnosed drug addiction
  • According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), workers who have had three or more occupations in the past five years are twice as likely to use illicit drugs compared to those who have had two or fewer jobs

Even if an individual seeks out a recovery program for a substance use disorder, the treatment may not be effective. In addition, many specialized facilities are expensive without adequate insurance coverage. Due to these barriers, many people struggling to stay sober will have significant financial difficulties as well.

Those who become desperate for money may either delve deeper into abusive or illegal behaviors. This establishes a cyclical pattern of financial and legal problems that is fueled by persistent substance use. In fact, a 2004 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded that approximately 70 percent of state and 64 percent of federal inmates regularly used drugs prior to their arrest. If imprisonment was replaced with recovery-based care, the line between addictive and criminal activity would not be so blurred.

An unfortunate, yet common example

In a 2016 report, NBC News investigated the circumstances of Angel Miller and her son, Michael. Introduced to painkillers by a friend, Michael was quickly pulled into a world of constant cravings. By the time he was hooked on heroin, he also accrued multiple drug-possession charges and began serving jail time.

Although Michael’s situation is a common example of how experimental drug use can lead to a series of other life obstacles, it also highlights the positive influence family members can have. His mother, a social worker that helps addicted individuals get into rehab, declared that the system between addiction and incarceration is broken. Angel also added, “I somehow want to be a voice for mothers like me, to let them know it can come to your house. We have to do something, because 22-year-olds are dying.”






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