overcoming loneliness in recovery

The period that follows drug or alcohol rehab is the time to start building or rebuilding your social support network–sometimes, it means starting over completely. Overcoming loneliness in recovery depends upon how willing the individual is to reach out to others to make meaningful connections. This process is daunting and feelings of loneliness can creep in as you try to find the right support system, work on rebuilding relationships with family and friends, and weed out anyone who is detrimental to your hard earned addiction recovery.

But feelings of loneliness result from a lack of companionship. Simply being alone does not always equal loneliness. Many people are seemingly alone, but do not feel lonely — just as many others will endure intense loneliness in a room full of people they know. Feelings of loneliness can be a pervasive and uncomfortable emotional state that persists despite being around others. While it is common to occasionally feel lonely in recovery, it should not be overlooked.

The Danger of Loneliness in Addiction Recovery

The root of loneliness is feeling a lack of connection to those around us. It is the strong feeling that you are separate or different from others that many people in addiction recovery experience. Loneliness is a complex experience, and if we look closely, buried under feelings of loneliness is often a sense of unworthiness. We struggle to connect because deep down we do not believe we deserve to. To truly overcome loneliness in recovery we have to look within ourselves as well as to outside companionship. Having a support system is important.

Feelings of loneliness can be a powerful relapse trigger. It can lead to depression and anxiety, guilt and shame, social isolation, and ultimately relapse. In early addiction recovery, failure to make a new group of friends, combined with low self-esteem, can lead to intense loneliness which could make you question the value of life in recovery – a dangerous, slippery slope towards relapse.







Overcoming Loneliness in Addiction Recovery: Step One

The first rule in overcoming loneliness in recover is to not ignore your feelings of loneliness! Ignoring these feelings of loneliness can trigger a relapse without much warning. Instead, try these tips to overcome loneliness and strengthen your recovery:

Step Two: Grieve the loss of addiction.

It may seem counter-intuitive, once you’re solidly in recovery, you should take moment to grieve the loss of that crutch. The addiction was your escape. Understand it for what it was: a destructive attempt to hide from your troubles. Grieving the loss of that escape method should very quickly allow you to see that your future will be brighter.

Gone is your addictive behavior, along with the enablers and destructive environment from which you came. You also say goodbye to everyone you associated with during your using days. Allowing yourself to grieve this loss and to acknowledge the possibilities will help you move forward and through the resulting loneliness.

Talk to someone about your loneliness.

Overcoming loneliness in recovery requires you to do something you didn’t do while wrapped up in your addiction: talk to someone about your feelings of loneliness. One of the better ways to overcoming loneliness in recovery is to call a friend. If you’re brave enough to be frank and candid about your current feelings of loneliness, you can start to dig into why you have these feelings in the first place.

See a therapist

Let’s face it, a therapist is far more qualified to help you dig into the underlying causes of your loneliness. A therapist will help you identify thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are no longer of value in your path to recovery. They will support you and hold you accountable as you rebuild your life in recovery.

Volunteer to serve others

Many sober living and IOP programs foster self-confidence by having their participants volunteer to help others. There are many ways to volunteer services.

Volunteering will help you feel more connected to the world around you — combating your feeling of isolation – a main characteristic of loneliness. Whether it is at a local animal shelter or helping clean up the park, volunteering can help you meet new people and feel good about contributing to your community.







Join a support group.

Joining a recovery group after addiction treatment is always a great idea. It may take a little time and regular attendance before you personally connect with someone, but attending a group will remind you that you are not alone in your addiction recovery.

Join a club or take a class.

Overcoming loneliness in recovery is a lot easier when you’re surrounded by people who want to have fun. For this reason, we love the idea of taking a class or joining a club. In fact, we encourage this often.

Any form of group activity essentially becomes adventure therapy Sports and fitness clubs offer a wide variety of classes from kickboxing to weight training and each of these activities promotes wellness and awareness.

Whatever your interests may be, whether it is yoga, cooking, art, or writing — there are many classes or clubs available to help you re-discover your interests. You can even find special interest classes such as yoga specifically for people in addiction recovery!

Find support online

If you search a little bit, you can find recovery social networks online. While connections online should not replace real life social networks, they do offer an option for helping you fight your loneliness through recovery forums. Reading about other people’s stories, and pointing you in the right direction to find a support group in your area.

Consider a domestic relationship

By “domestic relationship,” we mean getting yourself a plant or a pet. Believe it or not, having house plants can help ward off loneliness. Keeping a plant alive puts you in touch with your greater connection to the world.

Some people really find peace and comfort from surrounding themselves with plants. We’ve seen it become very meaningful for some people, with some saying it was an important part of overcoming loneliness in recovery for them.

Pets are also great companions, but only consider getting a pet if you know you can take on the responsibility. If you are up for the responsibility, pets can offer an unconditional love that will help immensely in warding off loneliness.

Yoga, Meditation, Exercise and Adventure

An effective tool in addiction recovery, these activities allow you to recognize your feelings as temporary thoughts, which in turn, reduces their power and effect over how they make you feel. Meditation takes repeated practice, but the positive benefits are worth the time for most people recovering from drug addiction.Exercise focuses your attention on building strength and self-confidence. Adventure therapy summons your inner strength and will-power to help you realize your full potential. Any of these activities will go a long way to building a healthy body and mind.

Patch up damaged relationships

Making amends can lead to rebuilding old relationships that are positive for your recovery. Even when it doesn’t lead to that, making amends will help you gain confidence and feel connected to others. Be sure to learn the difference between an apology and making amends, and seek support from those who have made amends before you. Be cautious that you don’t fall into the trap of rekindling unhealthy relationships.

Love yourself

One important and effective method of overcoming loneliness in recovery is to learn to become your own best friend. Increasing your self-esteem and self-confidence will help you become more comfortable being alone, and will attract more positive people into your support network. And because often we feel separate from others because deep down we do not feel worthy of connection, this deep and underlying cause for loneliness can be overcome through working on building confidence and self-esteem.

Regularly using drugs and alcohol acclimatizes the user to experiencing instant gratification. Once in addiction recovery, former addicts often struggle to have patience with themselves and others. Social support is key to sustaining long term sobriety and overcoming loneliness, but also requires patience to develop.

Overcoming loneliness in recovery can means being patient enough to form close relationships. Since loneliness is a strong trigger for relapse, you should have a plan to cope with it. Take a deep breath and do something on the list above to take care of yourself.







inpatient vs. outpatient

When you’re ready to seek help for a substance abuse problem, you’ll want to weight the differences between inpatient vs outpatient treatment. Just making the choice can be stressful. Each type of program has pros and cons. Considering all aspects of recovery treatment as well as your own personal needs is necessary to be successful in your recovery.

What Is Inpatient Addiction Rehab?

A popular option for those looking for recovery from addiction is an inpatient rehab program. The distinguishing characteristic of inpatient addiction rehab is that the person resides at the facility for the duration of treatment. Most of these residential-type of treatment programs last about 30 to 90 days, depending on the specific needs and preferences of the individual.

The first step in the recovery process, participants will go through a period of inpatient detoxification (detox) prior to starting the long-term addiction treatment process. In most cases, the initial detox program will occur in a different facility from the participant’s continuing-treatment location, such as at an IOP facility or a sober living home.







Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment

Many inpatient and residential programs incorporate a structured detox program into their treatment protocol. In either type of detox setting, medications will be frequently be used to assist with the withdrawal process, especially in cases of severe dependency or addiction to more than one substance. However, medication isn’t used in all instances of detox. You’ll want to discuss this with program staff if you have questions about their detox process.

After detox is complete, treatment must continue. The focus moves from removing substances to from the body (and stabilizing the person throughout the withdrawal process) to developing the skills to stay sober long term. This is done through counseling, therapy, and education about addiction and recovery. This includes outpatient programs.

Making the right choice depends on many things, including personal preferences, severity and duration of the addiction and last but not least, the participant’s financial position.

Outpatient Programs

In contrast to inpatient rehab, some forms of outpatient programs allow participants to live at home outside of treatment hours, allowing them to continue engaging with work or school and the ability to fulfill other personal responsibilities. Recovering individuals will attend group and individual therapy sessions each week, and if needed they can meet regularly with a psychiatrist for medication to manage withdrawal, cravings, and any existing mental health issues. The treatment provided in an outpatient facility is similar to that provided in an inpatient treatment center but is somewhat less intensive.

Outpatient programs might utilize one or more of the following types of therapy:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy — helps participants become aware of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and provides strategies to change them to healthier ones.
  • Contingency management — provides specific incentives or rewards to help people develop regular behaviors such as attending therapy or maintaining sobriety.
  • Motivational interviewing — works to identify and modify any feelings that might be barriers to treatment.
  • Matrix Model — allows therapists to act as both teachers and coaches, with the focus of treatment being on empowering the addicted individual through positive self-image and confidence. Matrix therapy is a treatment intervention developed specifically for stimulant use disorders.
  • Multidimensional family therapy — works to help families function better, especially in cases involving adolescents with drug or alcohol problems.







Pros and Cons of Inpatient Rehab

No single type of treatment fits everyone’s unique needs. Looking at the inpatient vs outpatient treatment options in better detail will help participants decide which course of action is best. First, it’s helpful to understand the differences. Let’s start with inpatient rehab.


  • A stable, sober environment.
  • Medical and psychiatric monitoring is provided during withdrawal and recovery>This can be especially important for people who have long-standing or severe substance use disorders or co-occurring mental or physical health disorders. Co-occurring disorders are best treated in a rehab facility that focuses on dual diagnosis.
  • Reduced risk of relapse due to the substance-free environment and close supervision.
  • Intensive group and individual therapy sessions.
  • Intense support from staff to help facilitate sobriety.
  • Reduced exposure to stressors and relapse triggers.
  • Specialized treatment services, such as yoga, exercise, meditation, and animal-assisted therapy (depending on the facility).
  • A range of options including upscale facilities, some of which offer luxury amenities or accommodations for the needs of business executives if necessary.
  • A higher likelihood of success in recovery when treatment is longer and more intense.


Some potential drawbacks to consider before selecting an inpatient rehab include:

  • Limited access to the outside world and potentially limited visiting time from supports like family and other loved ones.
  • The need to take time off from work, school, and home responsibilities.
  • Increased cost of treatment because of the medical staff and increased amount of care and supervision required.







Pros and Cons of Outpatient Programs

Outpatient rehab programs have their own unique set of benefits and drawbacks.The term “outpatient” sounds appealing, but what does that really mean?


Some of the pros of outpatient addiction rehab can include:

  • Reduced cost due to not having to pay for room and board.
  • The ability to attend work or school while receiving care.
  • Increased access to support from friends and family members
  • The ability to practice relapse prevention techniques in the real world during the treatment process.


Cons of attending outpatient programs may include:

  • Lack of 24-hour care.
  • Easier access to substances.
  • Potentially heightened relapse risk if the home environment is unstable or stressful.

Depending on the substance being abused, an outpatient detox protocol may not be able to adequately account for and/or manage the dangerous or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms or other complications.

Inpatient vs Outpatient Treatment: Which is the Best Rehab Option for You?

Getting help for addiction is one of the most important choices you can make. The challenge of choosing a program can seem overwhelming, but it must be done only after careful consideration.

Several factors need to be considered when looking at inpatient vs outpatient treatment options. Understanding the differences and how they might affect your treatment are important considerations. Some honest introspection and self-assessment is necessary. Simply put, you should ask yourself some basic questions before committing to a rehab program:

  • Are you exposed to drugs or alcohol in your environment?
  • Is your living environment stable and supportive of sobriety?
  • Do you have family members who drink or use drugs around you?
  • Do you have a strong support network that will help motivate you to stay sober?
  • Can you leave your job, school, or home duties for a specified period of time?
  • Do you have any other medical or mental health issues that require specialized treatment for co-occurring disorders (dual diagnosis)?
  • Can you commute from your home to the facility several times a week?
  • Do you need specialized services, such as handicap-assisted or gender-specific rehab?

Financial Considerations>/h2>

It’s no secret that celebrities have greater resources at their disposal. They often opt for “celebrity-focused” rehab facilities. These facilities offer resort-like settings, usually near a beach or at a secluded mountain retreat. Interestingly, there’s zero data to support the notion that these type of facilities have any greater success than other facilities.

For most of the population, these expensive facilities aren’t an option — and that’s not a bad thing.

The reality is that any facility one chooses should be free of distractions. Participants aren’t there for a vacation, they’re there to focus solely on recovery.

Rehab, detox and sober living facilities range in services and amenities. As a result, the costs differ widely. Some types of facilities can leverage your family’s healthcare plan to help pay for services. In other cases, MediCare and MedicAid both offer limited coverage for inpatient or outpatient treatment, so you should investigate that, too. There are even companies that provide low interest loans specifically for recovery.

Ultimately, as you ponder the question of inpatient vs outpatient treatment, it’s best to consider all the options and all of the requirements. Recovery comes first. Choose the option that you think will have the best chance for success given your particular issues and circumstances.








Are You In Denial of a Substance Related Issue?

Denial about substance abuse is probably the single biggest impediment to recovery for those affected by drug addiction. An addict in denial of a substance related issue is playing a dangerous game, one with serious consequences. In this article, we hope to give some insight into what the denial process often looks like for the active drug addict and how he or she (or a loved one) can help overcome this obstacle.

What is Drug Addiction?

According to National Institute of Drug Abuse, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because of the way the use of drugs change the brain; drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.

While not every drug addict will suffer the most serious consequences of their addiction, the one belief that is typically universal is that the addict has no control when it comes to stopping. Addicts may be able to abstain for a day, a week, a month or even longer, but the compulsion to use again eventually resurfaces. Simply put, the likeliness of an addict relapsing without treatment is high.

Am I An Addict In Denial About Substance Abuse?

There is an old saying in the addiction recovery sphere: If you think you might be an addict, you probably are. Although there might be exceptions to this rule, it tends be true. In fact, we know for certain that as humans, even when we are presented with the hard facts, we tend to stubbornly deny the obvious. An addict will often remain in denial, steadfastly resisting an admission even when faced with dire consequences — including their own life. What could lead an addict to deny the obvious truth and stubbornly resist help? If we knew the answer to that, we might be able to cure addiction for good. The fact is that an addict in denial will continue to suffer from substance abuse without intervention and treatment of the underlying issues.







Calling the Bluff of an Addict in Denial

More often than not, an addict in denial has a natural tendency to deny the seriousness of their. Denial about substance abuse related issue is a result of changes in their brain which uses denial as a powerful survival mechanism to enable the continued substance abuse.

Denial however, is fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for. Almost always, they will resort to justifications for their substance abuse. Such justifications might include:

  • I can stop whenever I want, I just don’t want to. I’m in control!
  • My drug use is not affecting anyone but me.
  • If I were an addict, would I still have (a job, family, nice house, etc.)?
  • I’ve never been arrested.
  • I only drink/drug after 5pm and/or socially.
  • I’ve never used hard drugs.
  • My kids have never seen me high.

Rather than snapping to judgment, the only way to break this cycle of denial is to pause and consider how you might persuade the addict to reach this conclusion on their own. In order to step out of the shadow of denial, we must accept that there is no fool proof checklist of what does or does not constitute an addict. Addiction cannot always be defined based on what has or hasn’t happened to a person. As an example, many confessed alcoholics have never had a DUI, while many DUIs have been given to people who do not identify as being alcoholic. Measuring against external circumstances is just another clever way the addict is able to prop up their denial.

Breaking the Cycle of Denial

Our first goal in overcoming denial of a substance related issue is getting the addict clean and sober. Someone who is still actively using is simply incapable of making a true and honest assessment of their situation. Going to a professionally managed detox/rehab facility is typically the first step when it comes to overcoming substance abuse. Once clean, a path to sobriety can be developed. An addiction specialist is capable of recommending a proper course of action using a custom-tailored solution. Once implemented, the addict is in a better place to move toward sobriety.







Any Denial About Substance Abuse is Dangerous

To be blunt, denying the addiction of a loved one does nothing besides aiding them in their own destruction. This is called “enabling.” It’s toxic, dangerous, short-sighted and ill-advised.

By not facing the facts of the situation and refusing to deal with their addiction head on, addicts have no reason to want to seek recovery. This actually prolongs their substance abuse problem because they are not experiencing any outside forces impeding them. Eventually they will realize that you will not call them to task for their behavior and they will simply deceive you about every little thing until they start experiencing the consequences of their actions. For some people who are surrounded by loved ones who are blind or indifferent to an addict’s behavior, the substance abuse problem can continue for decades.

While it can be tremendously difficult and very uncomfortable to confront your loved one’s addiction, doing so is often the first step in helping them hit bottom. Hitting bottom is an industry term, but the truth is that each addict suffering from denial of a substance related issue has their own threshold where their addiction becomes too much for them. It a decision only they can make and each addict has their own breaking point. The point is that enabling just delays this process, often for many years. This breakthrough moment is necessary before a person will seek help for their substance abuse problem. By addressing the addiction head on as early as possible, you greatly increase the chances of this occurring.

You’ve probably heard many stories about family members who are enablers. They usually go something like this: A family member is using opiates and while you are semi-aware that there is an issue, you choose to say nothing and attempt to convince yourself that nothing is the matter. This individual, being an addict in denial, is fully aware of this and so he will attempt to exploit your denial of addiction and use it as a means to continue his addiction. Over time, the individual becomes emboldened. It may start with stealing money or jewelry out of your home, residential burglary scandals, DUIs, or any number of legal, career or relationship problems that become more serious with each event.

Imagine that same scenario, but this time you are fully accepting of the fact that your family member is an addict and you give him and his disease no quarter. You offer him no excuses and you hold him accountable for his actions. At each step of the way, you address the fact that he is suffering from addiction and you do not pretend otherwise.

In this second scenario, it would be incredibly difficult for your family member to continue his substance abuse. He will be aware that he’s being closely monitored and because of this, he may be more receptive to seeking help.

Dealing with an addict in denial can be frightening and it can be very difficult. It can feel like it is just easier to keep your head in the sand about the whole thing and hope that it goes away on its own, but the consequences are simply too dangerous too risk. In order to help a person seek help for their substance abuse issue, an addict needs to be shown the right direction and by addressing their addiction. By dispensing of your own denial of a substance related issue, you can help them find their way sooner rather than later.







Sober Living & Halfway Houses: What You Should Know

One of the most often asked questions we receive is “what’s the difference between a sober living home and a halfway house?’ There are distinct differences between the two, so let’s dig into some sober living home facts.

One of the most confusing sober living home facts is that they’re sometimes referred to as halfway houses. The term ‘halfway house’ has come to mean different things in different parts of the country – in some parts of the country, a halfway house is generally a structured residential treatment center, whereas in other parts of the country, it might be a transitional residence that follows after detox. Whatever the definition your prefer, the term “halfway house” still brings with it a sort of stigma – largely because there has the media is quick to pounce on stories about disreputable facilities and overdoses at halfway houses.

Adding to the confusion is that halfway houses sometimes refer to ex-convicts/parolees who are transitioning back into society. The sober living houses and these type of parolee halfway houses are totally unrelated and have nothing to do with each other.

The good news is the industry has evolved to become far more professional and intentional in its language, primarily through the efforts of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR). What was once known as a halfway house, three-quarter house, transitional house or sober living home now falls under the heading of recovery residence.

To understand the differences, we have to dig in to the various level of what’s called “aftercare.” It also helps to know the differences between sober living and rehab.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) are two options for people who have either completed residential (inpatient) treatment or for various reasons, others who personally or professionally, require an outpatient setting.

Unlike residential or inpatient treatment where patients spend 30 days or more at the facility, those in an outpatient program are not required to spend the night. Treatment sessions in both PHP and IOP are administered during the day, with the difference being the number of hours and days spent at the facility.








Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A Partial Hospitalization Program is good for individuals who left residential treatment but understand that while they have still have a ways to go in their path to addiction recovery, a 24-hour setting is no longer necessary.

It’s fairly common for patients to move on to PHP after inpatient treatment and sometimes again to IOP. For others, PHP might be a powerful resource after a relapse after a period f remission. Though programs vary, PHP is generally 6 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

In an Intensive Outpatient Program, therapy sessions typically run about 3-4 hours a day, and are run about 3 days per week. While IOP can involve one-on-one counseling, the focus is on group therapy.

These sessions work to help patients develop relapse prevention methods that work for them, as well as learn helpful techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy or behavior therapy, depending on the person’s needs. IOP programs vary from person to person as patient moves toward a successful recovery from addiction.

In both PHP and IOP, patients will receive individual treatment plans tailored specifically to their needs. Treatment is usually administered by physicians, psychologists, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Both PHP and IOP programs can be more affordable than a residential recovery program, largely because many health insurance programs will usually cover the costs. While they all share the same goal of sobriety and relapse prevention, each individual must honestly assess what their true needs are.







Sober Living Homes

There are several different levels and approaches to sober living houses and the lines rapidly become blurred between what is a sober living home and what is a halfway house. State laws play a big role in how they are classified.

The easiest way to explain this is to remember that a halfway house, no matter where you live, is essentially a transitional living facility. There are various levels of supervision and care so it helps to understand these first.

Level 1 recovery residences offer supportive housing in a community-based peer environment. These recovery residences are usually classified as sober living houses, and are most often found in single family residences. Oversight of residents is peer-based within the home; residents are self-monitoring and accountable to each other. The primary criterion for this living environment is a willingness to be abstinent of mood altering substances. Self-help (i.e. 12 step) meetings and outside recovery support services are encouraged or required. Weekly house meetings are a standard component, where chores and overall house functioning is processed within the community.

While there is no paid staff at this level of support, there is often an overseeing operator who facilitates admissions and discharges to the home, and is available if there are house issues that cannot be resolved internally. There are no in-house services offered at this level, except the benefit of living in a supportive community.

These peer-run facilities are best utilized by the individual who has physically and psychologically stabilized for a period of time from substance use, and would benefit from a sober living environment that enables them to implement personal recovery in a safe community. They are appropriate for a more mature individual who has established adult living skills, is able to self-regulate, and is committed to recovery.

This level of support is desirable in that it tends to be cost contained. Length of stay varies and is open- ended – generally from 90 days to several years. Although technically they’re called halfway houses in some states, they’re sober living houses in California.







Level 2: Shared Sober Living Houses

Level 2: These types of homes are still largely classified as sober living homes. These types of residences generally utilize a community-based environment supervised by a senior resident, house manager, or staff member. This staff member monitors operations and residents, and enforces structure that is implemented in the form of house rules or standards. There is an emphasis on community and accountability that manifests in a culture of peer support.

The living environment can be any type of dwelling, but most commonly is a single family residence with shared bedrooms. Like level 1, this setting often proves to be quite cost effective; length of stay varies and is open-ended. At level 2 some degree of ‘programming’ is offered in-house and often in collaboration with outside service providers such as outpatient programs. Support groups may be offered in-house.

The approach for the level 2 residence can best be summarized as a community-based model. This level is appropriate for the individual with some intrinsic motivation who would benefit from a nominal level of structure and support. The model is desirable in that it allows for an increased ability to access services over a longer period of time due to the affordability of the service models.

Some sober living homes go a step further and while working to build a sense of community among its residents, they apply other forms of behavioral stimulation including adventure therapy.







Why Rehab Is Better for Addicts Than Jail

The way addicts are treated in society almost seems counter intuitive. Most people believe that jail time is the best option, but studies show that imprisonment does nothing to cure drug addiction. Let’s take a closer look at the rehab vs. prison issue to determine why rehab is better for heroin addicts than jail.

It’s a Disease

A number of experts have concluded that drug addiction and abuse are a disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes it as a “chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.”

The addiction treatment establishment, the public, lawmakers and the people we rely on to enforce laws tend to view addicts in a different light, and ignoring the core reasons for drug addiction makes it difficult for addicts to receive the treatment they need. Our society needs to be tough on crime, but current measures to punish and rehabilitate addicts simply haven’t worked.

From research, we now understand that the initial decision to use heroin may have been voluntary, but changes in an addicted person’s brain take place over time. These changes make it extremely difficult for them to end their drug addiction on their own.

The common misconception is that if addicts had more willpower, they would be able to stop using. This is pure fantasy and doesn’t take into account the powerful hold that an addiction can have on an individual.

In 2013, nearly 10 percent of the US population (24.6 million people) had reported using an illicit drug within the past month (this doesn’t take into account people who didn’t report their usage and this of course means the real number is likely much higher), according to statistics released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The survey results indicated that 596,000 people had a dependence or abuse issue with heroin.







Rehab vs. Prison: The Issue of Sending Addicts to Jail

No one would reasonably argue that people who are found guilty of opiate trafficking do not deserve prison time. There are plenty of existing laws that provide strict punishments for those found guilty of these crimes. What most people don’t know is that most offenders sent to jail are not found guilty of trafficking. In fact, 80% of convictions related to drug related crimes are for possession.

In many instances, mandatory sentences are used, which means the judge has no flexibility when determining how to sentence a person accused of this type of crime. A guilty verdict means the judge is required to sentence an offender to a minimum stay in jail or prison — depending on the state.

A stigma exists around drug addiction, and politicians and law enforcement officials want to ensure that people who break the law are punished — and tough punishments are often preferred. Some opiates like Heroin are classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, meaning it has no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

It’s easy to argue that there is no legitimate reason for someone to use heroin, so they deserve the consequences imposed under the law. Sending addicts to jail will supposedly teach them a lesson and require them to detox from drugs by forcing abstinence upon them. People who hold this opinion believe the addict will emerge from their time behind bars cured of their drug addiction, ready to live a life of sobriety. With fewer customers for drug dealers to target, drugs consumers are eliminated and the market will dry up. Unfortunately, the data conclusively proves otherwise.

Imposing harsher sentences on people convicted of crimes seemed like a good strategy many years ago. From the1960s through the 1980s, there was an increase in crime rates. As a result, imposing harsher penalties for drug related offenses — including imposing mandatory sentences — seemed to lower crime rates and deter others from committing similar crimes.

Next came the “three strikes” laws, which allowed states to impose mandatory life sentences for a convicted felon who has two or more previous convictions, one of which is a violent crime and the other a serious drug offense. This quickly added to the growth in prison populations. These provisions also mandated that people convicted of a crime must serve more of their sentence and would be less likely to be released early for good behavior.

The policy of mandatory jail time for addicts underscores the presumption that these people did something horribly wrong and deserved to be punished severely.







How Does Imprisonment Affect the Addict?

Just because addicts are sentenced to prison and are forced to temporarily give up drugs, that doesn’t mean they’re cured. In fact, the evidence suggests otherwise. It’s important to remember that drug addiction is a long-term, chronic disease of the brain. Removing a user’s drug of choice doesn’t make the urge to use go away — it only means that the urge cannot be fulfilled.

Another thing to remember is that a stint in prison doesn’t always mean abstinence. In many prison facilities, drugs are being smuggled in, so there’s no guarantee a prison sentence will result in abstinence. Prison doesn’t do anything to treat the underlying issues plaguing a heroin addict, and it surely doesn’t help to encourage sobriety.

Further, an unexpected consequence that politicians and law enforcement officials likely did not anticipate when they envisioned stiffer penalties for all drug crimes: Placing non-violent and violent offenders in the same facility means that the addicts will learn how to become better criminals from their fellow inmates. An addict may not be a violent person before spending time in prison, but the incarcerated environment is not conducive to teaching anyone how to be soft and non-aggressive. Putting addicts in prison for what can be several years does not teach them how to behave well in society when they are released.

When inmates are released from prison, they haven’t learned any coping skills to deal with the underlying causes of their drug addiction. When you couple that with the stresses of adjusting to life after being incarcerated and the difficulties that parolees face with finding suitable employment and housing, it’s not surprising that addicts who have not had addiction treatment relapse. Once they do, they are risk for being arrested for not only drug-related offenses, but other crimes as well.

Addicts looking to feed a habit are known to commit property crimes — such as theft, break-ins, shoplifting and robberies — in order to get money to buy drugs. If they are unable to find a job or hold onto one because of their drug addiction — and either scenario is probable due to their record of incarceration and the fact they are using drugs — the likelihood of coming into contact with the justice system after being released from prison increases.

Prison vs. Rehab for Addicts

Offering addicts a chance to deal with their illness and heal makes more sense. If we accept the argument that addiction is a disease, why spend so much time, energy and money punishing people who are sick after they’re arrested for only possession? We should treat them for their disease instead. We don’t penalize people living with other medical conditions in the same way. Repeat offenders and people caught distributing and trafficking heroin should be punished accordingly, but an offender caught with a small amount of the drug for personal use is probably a good candidate for treatment, not prison. Most current laws don’t offer anyone that opportunity, so the system doesn’t work well for anyone convicted of a non-violent type of crime involving possession without intent to traffic.

An inpatient rehab facility is a far better environment for addicts in recovery. In rehab, patients operate on a highly structured schedule, yet still have much more personal freedom than would inmates in prison. The day will be divided into set times for meals, counseling sessions, 12-step program meetings, recreation and free time. There will be a set time when clients are expected to be in their rooms at night.

Unlike prison, the focus is not on punishment — the focus is on rehabilitation. People in rehab acquire the skills and habits they need to resist cravings. They also rebuild their self-esteem after being at the mercy of their addiction.

Family counseling is available to help loved ones deal with their own pain and to educate them about drug addiction. Their help and support is an important part of the heroin addict’s plan for achieving long-term sobriety after leaving the residential addiction treatment program.

Steering addicts to a rehab program gives them the chance to get clean and have a fresh start. A court-ordered program puts them in a position to decide to get help or go to prison. This situation makes them face the seriousness of the matter in a way that family and friends may not have been able to make clear to them. And this option is much less expensive to taxpayers than putting drug offenders in prison.