Addiction in the criminal justice system has been studied for decades leaving some of the brightest minds in the field banging their proverbial heads on the wall in frustration. Addicts are some of the most difficult people to motivate and work with and then add the criminal justice system element and you’re looking at very resistant behaviors mixed with anger and confusion. Addicts in the criminal justice system have a much more difficult time staying clean and sober than an addict that has not reached the point of criminal activity or at least hasn’t been caught yet by police. Let’s take a look at some reasons why this population struggles to stay clean.

Many addicts in the system lack employable skills. A large portion of this population barely finishes high school and usually hasn’t made it into the working world. Usually, this is caused by the drug or alcohol abuse beginning at a young age and then continues to worsen as the addict becomes consumed by the substance. This consumption pushes motivation to attain any sense of maturity right out of the picture and the addict focuses solely on finding the next fix instead of legitimate work. A lack of employment means bills are not being paid, eating regularly becomes difficult, housing can be lost, and depression can rear its ugly head. It seems these days there are resources in many states that provide job training skills to the unemployed, underemployed and indigent populations.

Another reason for addicts in recovery relapse is due to a lack of positive, pro-social support from family and friends. This is probably the biggest reason why people relapse and it contributes greatly to the dropout rate treatment programs experience.  If an addict can complete treatment and enters recovery but still spends time with people that continue to use, then eventually a relapse is just around the corner. The addict must cut all ties with negative influences temporarily, if not permanently. One of the reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous-type support groups have become so popular is because it replaces the negative people with like-minded sober people.

Criminal thinking is another major reason why addicts relapse. Psychology teaches that criminals use several defense mechanisms to avoid responsibility and accountability for their behavior. A popular one that’s used quite often is the victim stance. The addict makes it seem like everyone else is to blame for the problem(s) and he’s just a victim of circumstance or something similar and so continued substance abuse is justified. Criminal thinking must be addressed in a clinical setting because it involves a fairly lengthy process of helping the addict redefine certain values and beliefs about substance abuse. Criminal thinking can only be changed if the addict is willing to work on changing deeply rooted beliefs and values.

We can’t forget about a very important consideration and this is the criminal justice system itself. Addicts convicted of crimes are either sentenced to prisons where little help is offered to support sobriety or they’re given a probation sentence where many restricting rules are imposed. The addict feels helpless and hopeless and so will give up before even attempting sobriety. Thankfully, in recent years the prison system in America and community supervision has improved dramatically in helping people receive the help they need. Help is given to addicts that need it and programming will often times utilize research-based techniques to enhance treatment outcome goals.

This outline should provide you with a basic understanding of why addicts do what they do. Furthermore, it explains specifically why addicts in the criminal justice system seem to have such difficulty staying clean and sober. There are many reasons why addicts in the system have great difficulty, some of which have been explored minimally. We must keep in mind the solution is not a one size fits all approach but a collaborative effort between agencies, professionals, addicts, and governmental bodies. Each individual must be assessed fully in order to understand what needs must be met.