Addiction is a disease with biological, psychological, behavioral, and social factors. It’s a disease that can be treated with the right kind of addiction treatment. Unfortunately, however, what we see is often the opposite of treatment — jail and other legal punishments. When you punish an addict, you are doing the opposite of helping. You’re hurting.
Addiction Treatment vs. Criminal Punishment
Addiction treatment has been demonstrated as an extremely effective way of offering addicts a way out of addiction. Here are 3 ways in which criminalizing addiction is the wrong policy.
Punishing vs. Learning
Punishing someone for their actions can be effective, but only if they learn what they’ve done wrong. If your child misbehaves, he or she will only behave better if they understand why they are being punished. Jail does not actually teach addicts why they are being punished. It’s true that they probably committed a crime and know that is the reason they are being punished. However, jail does not teach them about the nature of addiction. So it dooms them to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
The Focus on Addiction Treatment
According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, drug courts are 6x more effective in treating addiction than jail. Why is this? Drug courts offer addicts treatment as an alternative to jail. Drug rehab treatment centers have an obvious advantage over jail: a focus on addiction treatment. They are also long enough to allow addicts to recover. Ninety days in a treatment center is more effective than nine years in a jail cell.
Deterring Addicts from Seeking Help
Finally, criminalizing addiction and addiction-related issues only serves to deter addicts away from getting help. A case in point is a law passed in Tennessee recently, which outlaws cases of pregnancies where narcotic-addicted women pass on their addictions to their newborns. While this was probably a well-intentioned law, it may actually cause addicted women to not seek treatment because they fear legal consequences. Of course, the epidemic of addicted newborns is huge and must be dealt with. However, this doesn’t stop mothers from being addicted. It only stops them from treating their addiction.