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Treating Drug Addiction: What Families and Offenders Need to Know

Revised December 2012

Why Family Support is Critical

Drug abuse leads to violence, separation of parents and children, loss of jobs, feelings of hopelessness, serious money problems, single parenthood, anxiety over childcare needs, bad relationships, and emotional and behavioral difficulties in children. Many drug abusers end up in prison or jail. Sometimes they steal property to get money for drugs. Or, often they will commit crimes while "high" on drugs. Here are some important facts:

  • Most people in State prisons and local jails have abused drugs or alcohol regularly. However, fewer than one-fifth of these offenders received treatment while incarcerated.
  • In 1999, 1.5 million children had a parent in prison. Most of these children (nearly 900,000) were younger than 10 years old.
  • Children with parents who abuse drugs and alcohol are widely considered at high risk for a range of physical and behavioral problems, including substance abuse problems.

What Should Families and Offenders Know?

Treatment can work. Good treatment can cut drug use in half, decrease criminal activity and reduce arrests. So, prison should be a place where people can get help for their drug abuse or addiction. Families and offenders should ask if treatment is available. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, has released recommendations for successful treatment for drug-abusing offenders. The recommendations include this information:

  • Drug addiction is a disease that affects behavior. It can alter the brain and body chemistry for months or even years after a person stops using, so relapse is often part of the recovery process. In other words, detox in jail or prison alone is not enough treatment. It should be treated like any other disease.
  • Drug abusers cannot alter their behavior without taking care of their addiction. Treatment that starts in prison or jail must continue after release. Treatment and recovery is hard work that must continue throughout a user's life. Without the right treatment, most drug abusers will use again once they return to their neighborhoods, even though drugs might put them right back in prison, or even kill them. Treatment should last long enough (90 days or more) to let drug-abusing people learn to manage their own drug problems.
  • Drug abusers need to be examined by a doctor. The doctor might prescribe medicine, and will look for other possible problems, such as depression and anxiety, or medical conditions such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, or HIV/AIDS.

Where To Get Information

When a drug abuser is arrested, he or she should ask if treatment is available. Also, the places listed below offer information on treatment in your local area.

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 
    Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator (searchable directory of alcohol and drug treatment programs)
    www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov
  • National TASC/Treatment Accountability for Safer Communities (Offers leadership, advocacy and policy recommendations for innovative treatment and recovery supports that result in opportunities for justice-involved individuals with behavioral health needs to achieve healthy and productive lives with their families and communities) 
    www.nationaltasc.org

This document is based on Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations: A Research-Based Guide published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health.

This page was last updated December 2012

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