As we have begun to understand addiction more and more, we have realized that it is a serious mental illness rather than just a habit requiring a strong will in order to break. Because of this, addiction treatment specialists understand that proper treatment is an essential part of putting an end to chronic substance use and helping individuals create better coping mechanisms for the future. Unfortunately, though, many individuals suffering from addiction are stuck in the revolving door prison system, which does not focus on treatment or recovery to the extent that it should. Instead, it focuses more on punishment.

There is a long-held belief that individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol—and perform certain illegal acts because of this abuse—will learn from their actions based on the intense punishment of jail or prison. However, we have truly come to understand that drug addiction is not an issue of misbehavior or learning one’s lesson but of serious mental and physical changes brought on by consistent drug abuse. Therefore, this belief is no longer viable. So why are so many prisons still blindly following it?

It is approximated that 50 percent of individuals in prison suffer from an addiction. However, only 10 percent with these issues actually receive addiction treatment. In addition, those who do may only get one type of treatment (group therapy, for example), which cannot provide the kind of intensive help recovering addicts actually need to make a change. It is time for our society to begin rethinking the overlooked issue of addiction in the prison population.

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