The Role Addiction Plays in America: What Focusing on the Wrong Issues Has Done

The Role Addiction Plays in America: What Focusing on the Wrong Issues Has Done

Lilia Farmanara Kneidel
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9209-0.ch003
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The purpose of this chapter is to address the impact addiction has throughout the United States among various aspects of society. This specifically includes a focus on individuals incarcerated because of the role addiction has had in their life and the role incarceration has on addiction. This chapter will also dive into the research behind who is more likely to end up with an addiction, how children and adolescents are affected by addiction, the effects of parental incarceration on children and adolescents, various treatment methods for addiction, and how addiction is portrayed in the media.
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When people think of individuals incarcerated for drug offenses, they normally limit their opinions to stereotypes such as drug dealers or drug addicts who were unlucky and got caught, placing them into correctional facilities in order to deter this behavior from happening again. However, the connection between addiction and incarceration has been increasing for several decades in the United States (U.S.). Recently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (2020) released data on prison populations across the U.S., showing that most of the U.S. prison population (an estimated 65%) has an active substance use disorder (SUD). Another 20-25% were documented as being under the influence of drugs and or alcohol at the time of their crime, but not considered to have an active SUD. However, this 20-25% also includes individuals with a history of substance abuse, individuals who committed a crime for drug money or individuals who were incarcerated for a past drug or alcohol violation (Sack, 2014). Overall, this leaves the U.S. with a shocking 85% rate of individuals incarcerated for a crime somehow related to substance use.

As drug use continues to rise in the U.S., it has become increasingly obvious that incarceration does not deter substance abuse. More than 300,000 people were held in state or federal prisons in the U.S. for drug-related crimes as recently as 2015, an approximate 12% increase since 1980, when this number was less than 25,000 (Carson & Anderson, 2016; Snell, 1995; The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2018). More so, while the number of individuals incarcerated for drug-related offenses has increased, so has their time spent behind bars. Federal prisons are managed by the federal government, housing those who have been found guilty of violating federal laws. This includes crimes which occur across state lines or against government agencies. State prisons are managed by state governments, for inmates who have been found guilty of violating state laws (Conaway & Strickler, 2018). Typically, those housed in federal prison spend more time incarcerated than those in state prison. Drug-related offenders housed in state prisons and released in 2009 had an average prison stay of 2.2 years, which jumped 36% since 1990 (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2012, 2018). For federal drug-offenders, this number increased by 153% in a 24-year period (from 1988 to 2012), with an average of two to five years spent behind bars (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2018). It is important to note that not all drug-related offenses occur by individuals suffering from an active SUD, but the statistics are important to consider regarding the abuse and/or trafficking of illegal substances as they each influence the other. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on treating addictions which keep drug trafficking in business, the U.S. have focused for decades on arresting drug traffickers and drug dealers, never facing the root of the problem. Incarcerating individuals with SUDs with the assumption that they will be deterred from returning to prison due to their drug habits is ignorant and consistently debunked in the literature. Upon completion of this chapter, readers will be able to understand not only evidence-based counseling techniques for individuals suffering from SUDs but explore the many facets of addiction and other effective methods to decrease drug abuse other than incarceration.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Trauma: Experiencing an extremely disturbing or distressing situation.

Substance Use Disorder: The medical definition for an individual suffering from a drug definition.

Incarceration: Confinement to a jail or prison; to be confined to a single space.

Rehabilitation: The act of reestablishing an individual to living a healthy, normal life through various practices including therapy and/or medication(s).

Treatment: Medical care (physical or psychological) provided to an individual (sometimes referred to as the “patient”) for an injury, infection, or illness.

Drug Addiction: A habitual and uncontrollable psychological and/or physical need for substances (i.e., heroine, nicotine, and cocaine).

War on Drugs: A government-led campaign or initiative aimed at ending illegal drug-use altogether, drastically increasing prison sentences for even minor drug offenses.

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