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There are many counterproductive stigmas surrounding the disease of addiction and how addicts are treated in society. Lawmakers, law enforcement, city officials, members of the community, and the people we rely on to enforce laws tend to have a jaded perception of addicts. Generally, our society tends to be harsh on crime and punishment – which ultimately leaves no room for rehabilitation and healing for individuals struggling with substance abuse disorder.

The Problem: Punishing Addicts in the U.S. and Also Offering Treatment

If we take a look at the bigger picture, if you are addicted to illegal drugs – you are considered a criminal in the United States. We have numerous classifications and laws against the use of all illicit substances. If you are caught with these drugs in your possession, you are at risk of landing a hefty prison sentence. Whether you are injecting heroin or buying Adderall on the street – you are breaking the law.

The ultimate question is: Does punishment work for addiction? Many medical professionals and addiction specialists would argue – no, punishment does not eliminate the addiction crisis we are currently facing. These experts have concluded that addiction is a disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes addiction 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.”

In other words, the initial decision to use an illegal substance may have been voluntary, but once changes in the addict’s brain have occurred, the individual often finds themselves unable to stop using on his/her own. The most common societal misconception is that addiction comes down to a matter of willpower. According to statistics released by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2013, 9.4% of the US population (24.6 million people) used an illicit drug within the past month. 

Unfortunately, none of these statistics have stopped local sheriffs from rounding up the usual suspects for being addicted. However, there are also thousands of substance abuse treatment centers, life coaches, and luxury aftercare programs available to addicts in the U.S. The growing numbers of both addicts incarcerated and available treatment options for addicts show how divided America is on this issue. Some believe in crime and punishment, while others believe in treatment, therapy, and rehabilitation. Here at Parallax, we believe that substance abuse disorders should be treated through an evidence-based treatment program, custom concierge aftercare, therapy, and establishing a solid support system.  

America’s War on Drugs and the Addicts That Use Them

The longest-running war in the United States, for almost fifty years, has been the ongoing War on Drugs. Costing the U.S. trillions of dollars, this war has been fought on American soil since 1971. Tens of thousands of men and women have lost their lives at the expense of this cause each year. Former President Richard Nixon deemed drugs “public enemy number one.” This is how the infamous War on Drugs began. Taking office in the 1980s, Ronald Regan implemented a strict drug policy that made incarceration mandatory in the case of illegal drug possession. These harsh penalties influx prisons with low-level drug offenders. This approach continues to be proven ineffective by not treating addiction as a disease. 

This losing battle continues to propel the drug epidemic in America today. Throughout the last few decades, drug experimentation was on the rise and full-blown addiction continues to rise as well. U.S. citizens continue to be incarcerated for their disease, yet the number of Americans addicted to drugs and alcohol continues to rise. If incarcerating addicts were an effective treatment for the problem of addiction, prisons would be empty. 

Here are some surprising statistics about the War on Drugs:

  • Most individuals who are arrested for a drug-related charge will be arrested again.
  • At least 80% of individuals of all criminal offenders (whether their charge was drug-related or not) have a substance abuse disorder.
  • In 2016, more than 1.5 million people were arrested for a drug-related crime.
  • The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
  • Two arrests take place for drug possession every minute in the U.S.
  • In 2017, 68,000 Americans died from an accidental drug overdose.
  • In 2018 1,654,282 Americans were arrested for drug law violations
  • More than $51 billion is spent every year to fund the War on Drugs rather than the treatment of addiction.

Addiction is a Disease, Not a Moral Matter

Despite the federal government’s position on illegal drugs, addiction has been classified as a disease – not a moral failing. If you are personally struggling with addiction, you are not a bad person. In fact, you are a sick person. Yes, the punishment for drug possession could be a trip to jail. However, it is important for you to know that if you are struggling with substance abuse disorder you need treatment – not a jail sentence. Addiction is a complex disease of the brain. Once you are addicted to drugs, you lose the ability to tap into the higher functioning processes of the brain. Reasoning skills are no longer optional and you are powerless. No one decides they want to grow up to be an addict. This disease is not a matter of willpower, but rather a mental illness that requires proper treatment, therapy, and other individualized treatment services.

Treating Addiction as a Disease and Compassionate Care for the Addict

It would be fair to say that we would never incarcerate a diabetic without their insulin and expect them to get better. The same goes for the addict. We cannot incarcerate an individual struggling with addiction and expect them to recover. Treatment for addiction includes abstinence, a proven program of recovery like the 12-Steps, addiction education, concierge aftercare, a healthy lifestyle, and maybe even medication. 

Approaching addiction as a criminal issue is not a successful approach. The only way to effectively treat the disease of addiction is with compassionate care. Addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease that does not discriminate. No one dreams of becoming a full-blown addict. The iron fist of justice is not an appropriate method of treating addiction. Every addicted individual deserves the beautiful gift of recovery. 


The individualized approach to abstinence and recovery can be defined according to the individual’s choice and what will be effective for them, and our team at Parallax will meet the client where they are.  The personal choice towards a life of abstinence or recovery from various behaviors does not have to fit into a box! And, the commitment and willingness to trust a process with our team, and your individual recovery coach and sober companion are known to yield the most effective results in long term recovery. Parallax creates a safe space for you to see that you are a good person despite past behaviors which brought you negative consequences and hurt others. If you are struggling with addiction, give Parallax a call today!

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