The War on Drugs has been raging for over 40 years now. Thanks to the cunning genius of minds like Richard Nixon, substance abuse has been not only criminalized but demonized in American society. And after billions of dollars and thousands of arrests, there is still no clear winner and no end in sight. It may seem like a fairly basic and linear concept when confronted with the horrible nature of drug abuse—using and selling drugs is against the law, people who break the law should be put in jail. Easily said, yet nearly impossible to accomplish thanks to the devious nature of drug addiction.
Of course, this policy really began in 1971, when this country was a very different place. Since then, thousands of psychiatrists, physicians, and addiction counselors have begun to realize that addiction is a disease and that an addict has a much better chance of recovery if they are given the opportunity for treatment instead of simple incarceration. Many addicts have seen both sides, the jails and the rehabs. And the differences between the two are startling.
One of the main purposes of jail is punitive. In other words, it is meant to punish individuals for something they have done wrong. Addiction treatment, whether inpatient or outpatient is based on a different philosophy—one that espouses support, understanding, and rehabilitation. Studies have shown that the former method of dealing with addiction is utterly ineffective. According to the National Institute of Justice, more than two-thirds of released prisoners will be rearrested within three years of their release. And since drug-related offenses make up a majority of the incarcerated population, it is easy to see that the current war on drugs just treats jails as a revolving door for addicts to go in and out.
That is why entering into a program of recovery is so vitally important. People in rehabs don’t just learn about triggers and what makes them want to abuse drugs or alcohol. Through group and individual therapy they can actually relearn how to live their lives sober. This is about more than just isolating addicts from their drug of choice. That can be accomplished in jail, though not as easily as people might think. The real difference here is the culture of support that individuals get in treatment.
Most rehabs, along with their counseling and group services, also offer introduction to a 12-step program. There, in a safe space, addicts can begin to recognize their own individual flaws and what may have led to their addiction issues in the first place. It also creates a place where many addicts can begin to reconnect with their families and realize that they are not alone in their fight for recovery. Addiction can be a lonely way to live. So why does throwing people into a lonely cell ever sound like a good idea?