Addiction’s a disease of the brain. It’s chronic, often requiring a lifetime of treatment to manage, and relapses are common. For some, calling it a disease can sound like a cliché or a way to dodge responsibility, especially if living with an addict in the family has caused frustration and fear — but it’s the truth. When abused for a period of time – sometimes years, sometimes much shorter – drugs rewire the brain in ways that damage self-control and resistance, which drives the addict to take more drugs. Treating this disease is tough but it’s possible and many former addicts go on to live sober, productive lives.
Having established that addiction is a disease, it’s also unique in a lot of ways from other diseases. Cancer and diabetes are chronic diseases, too. Like addiction, treating cancer is difficult, time-consuming and sometimes involves relapses. Like addiction, diabetes requires lifestyle changes and management to treat effectively.
The difference is nobody gets an arrest record or thrown in jail for having cancer or diabetes. Addicts, sick as they are, often wind up there. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t take into consideration that addicts have a disease – sick or not, breaking the law is breaking the law. This is particularly dangerous for teens battling addiction.
Zero tolerance policies a powerful trap for troubled teens
Violating a school’s zero tolerance policy on drugs is likely to be a young addict’s first run-in with the authorities. Although the efficacy of zero tolerance programs is certainly debatable, these policies often result in a student being suspended or expelled.
In fairness to schools, the disruption, crime and violence associated with drugs makes for a legitimate security concern. Some studies have shown that policies like this often do more harm than good.
A study published in the “American Journal of Public Health” earlier in 2015, examined the results of data taken from seventh and ninth-graders in Washington state and Victoria, Australia. The schools in Washington frequently took zero-tolerance approaches to drug policies, like expulsion and notifying the police. In general, the Australian schools took less harsh measures like referring the offending student to a counselor.
The study found that students at zero tolerance schools were 1.6 times more likely to use marijuana in the next year as the students in schools without those policies. Additionally, the study also found that suspensions and expulsions resulted in the students becoming disengaged from school and engaging in other antisocial behavior like further drug use and delinquency.
Outside of school, there’s further penalties to consider. In many states, drug possession and sale are serious crimes with penalties involving jail time. Driving under the influence of drugs is prosecuted as harshly as driving while drunk – with possible additional charges for possession.
Finally, obtaining drugs can be dangerous in and of itself, potentially exposing an addict to robbery, assault and even murder. Young people often have trouble making clear, good decisions even without the effects of drugs clouding their judgement.
The next step
The Sovereign Health adolescent program in Rancho San Diego offers effective, research-backed treatment to boys and girls aged 12 to 17. We treat addiction, mental health and co-occurring conditions with treatment programs customized to their individual needs. Our residential program is staffed with compassionate experts in the fields of treatment and therapy who are trained to work with adolescents and will be with them every step of the way. For more information, referrals and treatment options, please contact us at our 24/7 helpline
Written by Brian Moore, Sovereign Health Group writer