Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.

What Is drug addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.

It’s common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

What is drug use disorder?

Formerly separately called substance or drug abuse and addiction, drug use disorder, also called substance use or chemical use disorder, is an illness characterized by a destructive pattern of using a substance that leads to significant problems or distress, including tolerance to or withdrawal from the substance, as well as other problems that use of the substance can cause for the sufferer, either socially or in terms of their work or school performance. The effects of drug use disorders on society are substantial. The economic cost, including everything from lost wages to medical, legal, and mental health implications is about $215 billion. The cultivation of marijuana and production of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine has negative impact on soil and water supplies. Drug law infractions are a highly common reason for arrest in the United States, with more than 1.5 million occurring in 2016.

Teens are increasingly engaging in prescription drug abuse, particularly narcotics, also called opioids (which physicians prescribe to relieve severe pain) and stimulant medications, which treat conditions like attention-deficit disorder and narcolepsy.

The term dual diagnosis refers to the presence of both a drug use disorder and a serious mental health problem in a person. Substance use disorders, unfortunately, occur quite commonly in people who also have severe mental illness. Individuals with dual diagnosis are also at higher risk of being non compliant with treatment.

Is Drug Addiction a Defense to Some Crimes?

Generally speaking, being addicted to drugs or drug substances is not a defense to crimes. However, being under the influence of drugs can sometimes serve as a defense. This is often the case if the person is unable to form the requisite mental state for a crime due to their being under the influence of drugs. A common example of this is where a person is unable to control their volitions due to being under the influence of drugs.

Defenses involving drugs also work more in the defendant’s favor if they were consumed a drug substance without their knowledge (i.e., involuntary intoxication). This can happen for instance if the drugs were inserted into their food or drink without them being aware of it. In some crime cases, the judge may offer alternative sentencing options if drugs or alcohol played a role in the crime (such as diversion programs or rehabilitation programs). Another drug defense available to addicts is drug overdose immunity.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Drug addiction is a major community concern. Drug use and distribution is often related to other crimes and legal issues such as theft or violent crime. You may need to hire a criminal lawyer in your area if you have any legal issues, questions, or concerns regarding drug addiction. Drug addiction in itself is a serious issue, but it can also compound certain types of criminal and legal issues. Your attorney can inform you of your legal options, and can also provide you with representation if you need to attend trial in court.