Get Tough and Be Dumb Approaches To Addiction Don’t Work

August 9, 2014


By Terence T. gorski, Author

Originally Published: 9/16/2010 ·

The abuse and addiction to alcohol and other drugs are primarily and health problems, not criminal problems. Alcoholics and Drug Addicts are sick people who need to get well, not bad people who need to be punished. More investment should be made in early intervention and treatment. Enforcement should once again focus upon major producers and dealers. Individual who break the law while using alcohol and other drugs should be punished for the crime they committed and referred to treatment for the related alcohol or drug use disorder. Treatment has proven to be less expensive and more effective than criminal justice interventions. Imprisonment for drug status offenses is the most expensive and least effective way to deal with the nation’s alcohol and drug problems. A primary focus on enforcement at the expense of treatment is a GET TOUGH – BE DUMB policy that has not, cannot, and will not work.

People should be prosecuted for crimes committed under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, the only exception being drug status offenses (i.e. personal possession and use). Drunk driving, for example, is a crime and people should be responsible for putting others in harm’s way. Mandatory drunk driving programs that include treatment have much lower recidivism rates than just legal punishment of the drunk driving. Drunk driving is and should be a crime. Public intoxication is not a crime in most states. Separating the symptoms of addiction from other criminal behaviors makes it easier to see when treatment vs. punishment is most appropriate.

We need to separate the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction from criminal behavior. This is hard to do under two conditions:

(1) When people attempt to excuse all criminal behavior as a symptom of addiction and use treatment to avoid punishment; and

(2) When all alcohol and drug use is viewed as a crime to be severely punished under the mistaken belief that punishment will somehow cure addiction.

To make these distinctions we need to carefully think about our drug laws, the war on drugs, and the diagnostic standards used for both addiction and antisocial personality disorder.

Getting convicted of a drug felony can be a real buz-killer when looking for a job in a a crumbling economy. It seems like in America today no one can ever repay their debt to society. I know addicts with over 20 years of sobriety who were arrested and convicted on drug status offenses for personal possession and use who still find it to be a problem when trying to get a job or a security clearance.

“Only alcoholics or addicts can make themselves sober responsible people. The only thing the legal system can do is make them miserable if they refuse to try.” — Judge Dennis Challeen


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