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The Legal Consequences of Addiction

Substance abuse and delinquency often go hand-in-hand. The legal consequences of drug abuse are almost always overlooked next to the detrimental impact addiction has on a person’s mental and physical health (and rightfully so), but the fact is, legal infractions can also damage a young adult’s future.  Adolescent users often forget that drug abuse can land them in jail, give them a record, and inhibit their professional and familial aspirations. As a result, adolescents and young adults today are increasingly (and ruthlessly) entering a world of drugs and alcohol without understanding the full scope of its risks. 

crime and drug addictionThe adolescent brain, even prior to drug and alcohol use, naturally makes youth inclined to delinquent behavior. In our pre-teen years, the brain develops significantly—including the part of the brain most responsible for reasoning and making practical decisions. But as we approach young adulthood, this part (the pre-frontal cortex) is pruned back and becomes less active as the rest of the brain continues to grow. This activity, and lack-there-of, makes teens especially prone to risk-taking, and impulsive behaviors. They are more likely to experiment with drugs, and more likely to act out against once-established boundaries. When you add drugs and alcohol into this mischievousness, you have a recipe for trouble. 

Because youth are more prone to act out, they are also more inclined to experiment with illicit drugs or drink underage. Statistics show that they constantly have opportunities to do so. In 2013, about one in eight youths aged 12 to 17 had been approached by someone selling drugs in the past month. In 2014, 88 percent of high school seniors claimed that alcohol would be easy to obtain. All the while, drugs and alcohol remain a factor in at least 80 percent of domestic violence incidents. This isn’t solely related to adults, either. Each year, approximately 696,000 students between 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. 

It can be hard to imagine your son ever acting violent, or getting angry, or harming another. Perhaps he never will. But there are many risks involved in substance abuse. Drug and alcohol addiction, in time, can change a person—especially at a young age. 

Drug addiction can irreparably damage your son’s future, even if he is not intentionally acting out. Individuals who are addicted to drugs will compulsively seek out a substance at any means, regardless of what laws or penalties are in place. He may seek out drugs illegally on the street. He may obtain a fake ID to buy a bottle, for his friends or for himself. He may start selling drugs himself, or bringing substances onto school grounds. 

Every state across the country has a school-zone provision in which drugs and alcohol are prohibited. If a teen possessing these substances comes within 1,500 feet of a school, he will be sentenced to prison. The legal risks of teen substance abuse stretch beyond school territories, too. Connecticut law, for example, prohibits the possession of alcohol by a minor, even in private, and can result in a fine anywhere from $181 to $500 and a 150-day suspension of motor vehicle license. Currently in Connecticut, the use of a fake identification card can land a young adult in prison for up to 30 days. Driving under the influence can put a teen behind bars for up to six months, and that is in the first offense alone. It doesn’t stop there. If your teen is addicted to prescription pills, or consequently in possession of any narcotics, he is at risk of facing anywhere from seven to 25 years in prison. 

There is no denying the risks of teen substance use, and how dark a path it can lead down. Crime and drug addiction often intertwine. The  U.S. Department of Justice found that 70 percent of State and 64 percent of Federal prisoners regularly used drugs prior to incarceration. The majority of these inmates tested positive for illicit drugs upon their arrest, and are found more likely to return to drug abuse upon their release from prison.

Many people today believe that alcohol use by minors is simply a phase. Many feel that drug possession is a minor offense, if a true offense at all. Many states are decriminalizing marijuana for recreational use, as they feel it does not pose a risk to users or their surrounding community. Yet as we lessen the risks of substance abuse in young adults, we also downplay the seriousness of drug and alcohol addiction. We lose sight of the fact that, punished by the law or not, young users are at serious risk of throwing their lives away in the face of drugs and alcohol. They are the most vulnerable to addiction and they are the most susceptible to change.  

Substance abuse in adolescents and young adults bears the burden of many legal ramifications, but it is never too late to turn a person’s life around and get back on the right track. If your teen or someone you love is letting drugs take over his life, or getting in with the wrong crowd, or constantly tangled up with the law as a result, it is time to intervene. You can help put him on a new path, one towards a brighter future, by getting him the help he deserves. To learn more about drug addiction treatment for young men, the risks of teen substance abuse, or the specific drug penalties of your state, read our recent infographic called Choose Your Path: Substance vs. Success, or call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793.