Does Incarcerating Drug Users Help Addiction?

It seems to be the belief of those who have written the drug and alcohol deterrence initiatives still in place today that all you need to get over an addiction is to be confined in a jail cell. But incarceration does not necessarily lead to rehabilitation, and the data seems to indicate that the deterrence initiatives currently in place are making long-term problems worse for drug addicts.

One-fifth of incarcerated individuals were put in that situation because of drug-related charges. That’s a grand total of 456,000 people. The number flies up to 1.5 million people when it comes to the number of people on parole or probation due to drug offenses. Indiana as an example faces overcrowded prisons due to drug-related offenses.

Making a bad situation worse

Jails simply aren’t set up to help people who are dealing with the kinds of problems that people experience when they’re suddenly going off of drugs. In some cases, incarceration may actually reinforce negative behavior.

When there’s nothing else to do in your endless hours behind bars and there’s still usually one way or another to get your hands on your illegal substance of choice, it’s not complicated to understand how this may worsen a recovering addict’s situation.

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Depending on the security level of the facility the drug user is incarcerated at, acquiring drugs behind bars is just a matter of knowing where to look and who to talk to. If an imprisoned drug user knows how to play those games, it’s fairly simple to keep up their addiction in jail, and many who are dealing with drug addiction are more than willing to play.

Opioids and methamphetamine are two of the main substances at the heart of the tragic drug problem in the U.S. These drugs are extremely habit-forming and highly dangerous. In 2018, 16,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S.

It’s becoming clearer than ever that, no matter how many drug users you throw in jail, the rate of substance abuse doesn’t go down. And there’s now more evidence to the contrary, showing that this practice of going straight to incarceration for drug charges may be making the situation even worse.

What other options are there?

The solution might be to start thinking about the problem in a different way, considering what it would take for a drug abuser to find a pathway to recovery. This would be a major shift in focus from punishment to helping the individual actually get clean, seeing it in the long term. It’s a fresh look at a solution that would involve completely reconsidering how criminal prosecution fits into that picture – or if it should be involved in the process at all.

There’s a long-standing belief that if you arrest people for certain types of behavior, such behavior is deterred. But this view has been shown time and time again to be a fallacy, particularly when it comes to highly addictive substances.

Stigmas around drugs are meant to increase the cost of using these substances, both financially and socially. But drug problems don’t impact all populations equally, so this isn’t necessarily a fair solution to the problem either.

The cycle continues

If the problems haven’t already started back up while the person is incarcerated, they’ll likely be out in full force once the drug user has been released. When someone is fresh from serving their sentence, they’re often thrown back into an unfamiliar world without any support system.

This struggle only works to drive these individuals right back into the problems they had before being arrested. That’s why many continue to call for better support systems and outreach programs that drug users can rely on to keep themselves out of jail for good.