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How Does a Drug User Get Clean if They Are in Prison?

How Does a Drug User Get Clean if They Are in Prison?

Since the war on drugs began in the early 1970s, prisons have been filled with nonviolent drug offenders with addiction problems. Many of them are victims of themselves and their families.

The sad truth is that prisons often do not help people with addiction problems. Problems tend to persist unless the prisoner has a strong desire to change his life and get clean. The real reason for putting people in jail and not addressing their addiction is the path society chooses, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

I don’t have an addiction problem, but I contacted a friend of mine who is currently serving 20 years in prison. I asked her about today’s blog topic so I could get an answer to this question: How do drug addicts get clean if they’re in jail?

This blog post will cover the following topics:

  • get clean like a street
  • Drug use is a bigger problem
  • incarceration can be cured
  • Prison programming can help

get clean like a street

Rehab is a struggle no matter where you are. It needs to make decisions and do whatever it takes to follow through. Whether in prison or on the street, something needs to change in your life that enables you to use or allows you to experience the desire to use.

Substance abuse is a behavioral problem that stems from a breakdown in the user. This means that when an addict stops taking drugs, it is only treating symptoms of a deeper problem. In order to find true and lasting freedom from drugs or alcohol, a person must explore the underlying issues that lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Drug use is a bigger problem

According to my friend Mistie, a former drug addict who is currently in prison, her first addiction was self-harm.

“My first addiction was self-harm in the form of cutting and starving myself until I developed anorexia nervosa. These were my coping with the pain of living in a psychologically and sexually abusive home, being adopted leading to abandonment issues and coping mechanisms for being bullied at school,” Mistie explained. “I was isolated for most of my childhood without anyone to help me listen and understand, so I found solace in unhealthy behavior.”

Misty said that when she grew up, she went through the revolving door of foster care and experimented with alcohol and drugs for the first time. Her life turned into a series of abusive relationships, unhealthy behaviors and various addictions. At 32, she found herself serving a 20-year sentence for manslaughter and armed crimes.

incarceration can be cured

Misty recovered during her incarceration. It started with her choosing to live differently and making decisions that reflected that choice. It requires a complete overhaul mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Learning balance is essential in her quest to break free from drug addiction, she says, as is learning to function in community rather than feeling the need to isolate from everyone.

Prison can be a life-altering experience for drug users if they take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Prison is a setting where you can choose who you associate with and who you exclude from your life. In order to be emotionally healthy, you have to surround yourself with positive people and avoid those who make you feel bad about yourself.

For many addicts, this is difficult to do outside of prison because it means excluding unhealthy friends and family. Sometimes love has to happen from a distance, and that’s okay.

Prison programming can help

There are many opportunities for growth in prison due to the abundance of programs available. The institution has a chapel, offers various services, books, Bible studies and other literature useful for spiritual growth.

Educational opportunities are offered through GED classes and vo-tech classes, mental health services to address the underlying emotional issues that lead to addictive personalities, and a gym and outdoor recreational courtyard to aid in physical well-being.

By utilizing these resources, addicts can find a healthy balance in their lives and gain the confidence necessary to remain addiction-free on the outside.

Regardless of the physical state of an addict, what matters is their mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Prisons have ways of forcing addicts to give up their drug of choice, but prisoners can also gain access to drugs if they know where to look.

Addicts suffer horrific physical withdrawal and undergo a detox when they are first locked up, but by the end of their incarceration they will be physically free of their dependence on their substance of choice.

However, if they are not properly supported and treated, and if the inmate returns to their old environment (including toxic friends and family), their chances of success plummet.

Mistie has had success, but she hasn’t had a chance to relapse outside. Unfortunately, many inmates come clean once locked up, only to start using them again when they are released.

For more than forty years, the United States has focused on weaning off the drug supply by arresting dealers and squeezing supply chains. Another perspective involves focusing on the need for drugs, and the reasons why people turn to substances and become addicted. There may be more success in this regard.

Do you have any success stories of drug addicts getting clean in prison? Let us know in the comments below.


I did a personal interview with inmate Mistie Vance