You are an addict. Perhaps you are an alcoholic. In many cases, you are both. Your self-esteem is shot to pieces. You do a lot of stupid things when you are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Does this make you a criminal? The answer is a resounding NO! Addiction and alcoholism are diseases. You are not a criminal if you have a disease.

Why have I told you the above? It is because the criminal justice system in the United States, for the most part, does not respond appropriately to addicts and alcoholics. Many attorneys and judges don’t get it despite being in a profession that has thousands of members afflicted by addiction and alcoholism. Our jails are filled with tens of thousands of people who are addicts and alcoholics. In most cases they have committed crimes, often larcenous in nature, to support their drug and/or alcohol habit. Should they be punished? In some cases, yes, but not in the manner we see today. Our legal system is missing the boat.

First, the legal system needs to understand that an addict or alcoholic who commits a crime often does so in a desperate need to support their habit. Judges and prosecutors fail to ask why the person is before them and what prompted the crime. If it is due to addiction or alcoholism, the first step should be to utilize our criminal justice system to steer the individual into treatment. The crime committed to support the disease should be dealt with at a later date. Getting the person on the path to recovery is essential and should be the priority to both the individual and our society. A person in recovery will often see the errant way employed to support their addiction. The errant way and the usual petty crime committed should be a secondary concern to the criminal justice system. The recognition should be that the system is dealing with an individual who has a disease caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

The most appalling application of the criminal justice system comes when judges utilize conditions of probation with addicts and alcoholics who commit crimes. It is common place to release a defendant on their own recognizance or on bail with a condition of no further drug or alcohol use. On the surface, this sounds fine but in reality, this condition is seriously flawed. The person may be actively in the throes of the disease. Using without being treated is a manifestation of the disease. A user not treated has an incredibly difficult time controlling themselves because the disease is in control, not the individual. Our society needs to understand that addiction is a brain disease. It is no different than a cancer patient getting further cancer in their system.

What is especially absurd is when a person on probation is hauled back to jail for violating probation for using a drug that is legal to buy over the counter. A recent case in Boston has raised this issue. It is one thing to go out and steal or commit a serious crime. However, to be sentenced to jail because of your addiction and ignored by the courts by failing to provide treatment, is the height of absurdity in our society. The issue of legally available opioids is a serious matter that our society only beginning to understand.

You are an addict. Perhaps an alcoholic. Perhaps both. You have a disease. You are not a bad person.
Seek the treatment you deserve as a human being. Find assistance from those who understand your disease and how the legal system should help you and not prosecute you.