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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Criminalizing Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 5th 2008

 Too many times I hear sad stories of people arrested and jailed because of the police finding them in possession of a controlled substance. Thereafter, the courts take over and establish a program of urine analysis plus attendance in drug rehab programs. Always, these steps are taken with the condition that the individual remain free of substance abuse. Very often, these people eventually relapse, come before the judge and are imprisoned. No one seems to take into account the fact that drugs are pervasive throughout the prison system. Also, no one seems to take into account that these addicts have an illness called addiction and are not criminals. Yes, sometimes they commit criminal acts in pursuit of drugs. However, this is a symptom and result of the disease rather than being evidence of a criminal mind at work.

The medical and psychiatric communities now view addiction as a disease. There is mounting evidence that brain and neuron functioning are deeply altered by exposure to many of these substances. Even more than this, there is evidence that there are real differences between people who become addicted and those who do not. Even among those who go through a period of substance abuse, usually during adolescence and young adulthood, only some will move on to full blown disease of addiction. Evidently, there is something in the genetic make up of addicts that predisposes them to become hooked on a substance. Yet, we continue to treat these people as though they are common criminals who are irresponsible and have no morals. Because of these negative stereotypes of the drug addict, there is little available to people who are driven to seek more drugs. Insurance companies limit the coverage available for treatment and most treatment facilities limit the amount of time patients can spend in the controlled environment of full substance abuse treatment, meaning an institutional setting with full time 24 hour/day service. In most cases, this type of treatment remains limited to a maximum of thirty days after which the treatment team refers the clients to some type of safe house setting, employment and 12 step programs. the problem is that once the clients are discharged they are vulnerable to all the temptations to abuse all over again. This is why the rate of recidivism is so very high. Of course, for those clients with wealthy families, there are available full time programs lasting many months. The average American cannot afford treatment that lasts more than one month and insurance companies will not go beyond the limits set by their policies.

It needs to be stated that all of these observations are true for alcohol addiction as for the other drugs such as:

Methamphetamine
Cocaine
Crack
Angel Dust
Marijuana
Prescription pain killers
Acid
Alcohol
and all other drugs of addiction.

There is a parity bill before Congress that will put mental health treatment on an even par with traditional medical treatment for organic illnesses. However, it is doubtful that even if this bill passes that addicts will fare any better than now.

We have a serious addiction crisis in the United States that will continue to worsen unless effective preventive and treatment methods are adopted.

Your comments are encouraged.

 

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Fruit on the vine - Kevin Pfaunmiller - Sep 8th 2009

Sometime's a withering vine(addiction) can bare fruit depending on the growth & feeding process. if the fruit feast on vitamins & nutrient's it will grow ,if not it will surely die w/ no hope. It need's to be careful of what it is exposed to & influenced by. 

There is help - Kevin Pfaunmiller - Sep 4th 2009

Believe me i know what your experiencing! My wife & myself are both recovering addict's & all the more reason i try to reach my 8 year old boy early. I try to witness rather than minister.I tell him every day about the harmful effect's of drug's & alcohol. Pls try this & be sure it will shock your son's sence's. Try dressing like him to join in his style, not in a mocking way. try talking to him & not in a judging type of way . He has his own style allow him to discover his own uniqueness & worth.Try to now be a friend rather than a foe.

from experience - - Sep 4th 2009

Im married to an addicted person he passed it down to my son which is several times worse than his dads, My son keeps himself in a small basment room away from everyone. He has found it impossible to deal with life,  hes tried sucide attempts and didnt work, so the pills the alcohol,  and even changing character,  went from thuggish boy, to dyed black long hair and got into more gothic like behavior, he feels cutting himself as a way to excape,  a slow way to just shut out all aspects from life and slowly die away, and now has resulted in stealing and burning things as a way of outbreak of the pain he feels so deep, he gets so high he cant even tell whats going on around him and doesnt know what or where he is at and so far gone into theres no stopping it unless hes forced to by law now people want him locked up and thrown into prison they have no clue the deep desire to cry out for help.  People dont understand theres so much more to this than sitting behind bars,  he doesnt know how to get out of this pain i wish someone would care enough to seriously help my son be delivered from this bondage

Jail the ill? - Giorgio Cosentino - Aug 25th 2009

My dearest friend just passed away at the young age of 45.  Much of his life was spent in jail as a result of his addiction to alcohol.  He never drove while intoxicated or physically harmed anyone, but did once steal food when he was living on the street. 

He then became a prisoner of a system that refused to let him be in peace.  Example-the police checked a motel registry, saw his name on it, and discovered him drinking in his room.  This was a violation of his probation, which resulted in a return trip to jail.  He could not afford a house of an apartment to drink in.  Who was harmed by this action?

I will add that he brought beauty to the jails he was housed at as a result of his sharing his pursuits in healthy eating, fitness, and spritual development and awareness.  

Although he made the most out of a rotten situation, he never should have been treated like a criminal.  The combination of alcohol and the demoralizing penal system were a devastating attack on his self esteem.

Let's give these folks a chance.  Thanks for listening.

 

the pain and hunger - Lora - May 25th 2008

For addicts, the pain and hunger for the substance is like a dying hunger for food! Though we must understand how they become addicted to drugs or alcohol in the first place. What could we do to help them but to offer a proper drug rehab center to aid them through the addiction.

The substance is a quick getaway from the stressful dealings in life. Many find it hard to deal with and resort to drugs and alcohol.
The first crucial step is taking the step to getting treatment! Following the treatment is the commitment to receive the after care program and continuing it.

Lora

Drugs - - Apr 21st 2008
Drugs will make ANY life most definetaly miserable boring lifeless and cold. It is a heartache and a death sentence. These people need help. They need to be with thier families. If they cant restrain themselves not to buy more drugs it is thier problem. They are literal zombies. But this problem none the less is unsolvable. Restriction on drugs is being slacked off for now to make way for the war on drugs.

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