Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Incarceration is the Wrong Way to Deal with Addiction

Incarceration is the Wrong Way to Deal with Addiction

Whenever a celebrity such as Phillip Seymour Hoffman dies from addiction, the news media, pundits, self -described experts and Face Book commenters offer opinions on the whys and how’s and what could be done to prevent such a tragedy.

Unfortunately, everyday people that surround us are dealing with addictions that garner little interest in the media, from health care providers, from elected officials or non-profit organizations. The sad truth is that law enforcement personnel are left to deal with our nation’s addicts and the system is not equipped to handle what it has been dealt.

Addicts do not find recovery in jail, prison, work release or 30-day in-patient programs.  A stint as a guest of whatever legal jurisdiction will not rehabilitate an addict, cause him or her to stop self destructive behavior, or give true solace to one who has suffered from the addict’s actions.

While I never imagined in my wildest nightmares that I would have a spouse or loved one that would serve time in a penal institution, it happened. A former significant other was arrested and convicted of driving while intoxicated. He had been to highly rated 30 day in-patient program rehab facilities twice and still relapsed. He served time in jail and relapsed. He damages his body and mind and continued to relapse. Obviously, incarceration at a penal institution does not benefit the addict, his or her family or society.

Addiction experts agree that substance abuse is for many tortured souls a disease. Incarcerating a drug or alcohol addict is not dissimilar to incarcerating someone suffering from lung cancer attributed to nicotine addiction. Diseases need treatment, not punishment.

Most addicts feel a pain that the rest of us don’t feel and tries to dull the pain with mind and body altering chemicals. I understand it is a physical and mental craving. Those of us who are not addicted do not fully appreciate what drives the addict.

I’ve spent more than 20 years attending Al-Anon meetings on a pseudo regular basis and know just how wide spread is the disease of addiction. It is a disease that affects every person who comes in contact with the sufferer. Like 2nd hand smoke, the disease of the addict adversely affects others – spouses, children, in-laws, grandchildren, employers, health care systems, penal systems, and the victims of violence, motor vehicle accidents, the 911 systems, and a host of others.

Don’t think it can’t happen to you. It is all around you. That became abundantly clear when I attended my first Al Anon meeting in Hong Kong in the autumn of 1993 and found there were several of my friends or friends of friends at the meeting. I had no idea. But I began to understand.

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