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Courtroom conundrum: Can rehab help with my legal issues?

can rehab help with my legal issues?

If you have an drug or alcohol problem, and you’re scheduled to appear before a judge, you may be wondering, “Can rehab help with my legal issues?”

And, it should be pointed out, those legal issues don’t necessarily have to mean criminal charges. A great many couples divorce over drug and alcohol problems, and those who can’t seem to get a handle on those problems usually find themselves penalized for it during custody proceedings. It could be you’re not even the one with the problem -perhaps you’re a loved one, or an attorney, or simply a concerned friend or coworker who wants to see the person you care about get the help they need.

So if you’re asking, “Can rehab help with my legal issues?,” know this: The answer, generally, is yes. Why “generally?” Simply put, because there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to every single legal issue, and it’s important to distinguish what exactly you mean by “help.” What’s more, it’s important to understand that effective drug and alcohol treatment can do a whole lot more than simply lessen an individual’s legal troubles … but we’ll get to all that.

In the meantime, let’s look at some of the intricacies of this question, and how drug and alcohol rehab might be beneficial.

Who Might Need Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

can rehab help with my legal issues?Before we begin, it’s important to distinguish what, exactly, drug and alcohol treatment is, and who might need it. Not every individual arrested for driving under the influence, for example, can be considered a raging alcoholic who needs immediate transportation to the nearest treatment facility. People who drink often make poor decisions while under the influence, including deciding to get behind the wheel, but does that make them an alcoholic? Not necessarily, according to the 2016 Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health [1]:

“Mild substance use disorders can be identified quickly and reliably in many medical and social settings. These common but less severe disorders often respond to brief motivational interventions and/or supportive monitoring, referred to as guided self-change. In contrast, severe, complex, and chronic substance use disorders often require specialty substance use disorder treatment and continued post-treatment support to achieve full remission and recovery.”

So how do individuals determine whether they, or someone they love, qualify as an addict or an alcoholic? First off, you need to understand that those are colloquial terms that, while accurate, aren’t used in medicine or science. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [2], compiled by the American Psychiatric Association, is the gold standard by which mental and emotional issues like addiction and alcoholism are classified as, respectively, substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder. While the diagnostic criteria for each disorder are specific, they generally include 11 questions that ask whether an individual has:

  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking/using drugs, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or using drugs? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Wanted a drink/drug so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
  • Found that drinking or using – or being sick from drinking or using – often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink or use even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink or use?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking or using that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink or use even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink or use much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual amount of alcohol/drugs had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol or drugs were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism [3], the presence of two of these symptoms indicates an alcohol use disorder, or AUD (or, in the case of drugs, a substance use disorder, or SUD). The severity of that disorder is defined as:

  • Mild: The presence of two to three symptoms;
  • Moderate: The presence of four to five symptoms;
  • Severe: The presence of six or more symptoms.

Fortunately, there are a broad range of available treatment options for these disorders, although the intensity of each may depend on the level of severity. For example, simple behavior modifications may be all that’s necessary to course-correct a mild SUD or AUD. However, it’s important to keep in mind that both science and medicine agree: These disorders are chronic and progressive, and if something is not done, those whose disorders are considered mild can soon find themselves dealing with a moderate or severe case.

And in those circumstances, as the nonprofit addiction recovery advocacy group Shatterproof [4], “With any chronic illness, finding the right treatment is the first step toward disease-management and living life. Addiction is no exception. Research has shown that most people need at least three months of treatment to significantly address, reduce, or stop their substance use, and best outcomes are associated with longer durations of engaged treatment.”

In other words: Behavior modification often isn’t enough. And while many judicial proceedings may mandate that offenders attend self-help recovery groups – typically 12 Step organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous – even those programs, while excellent recovery and sobriety maintenance tools, aren’t enough. It’s not unusual for those whose AUD or SUD are considered severe to need a full continuum of addiction and alcoholism treatment, from medical detox to residential inpatient to intensive outpatient treatment.

Who needs drug and alcohol treatment?

If you’re wondering if you qualify as an alcoholic or an addict, answer these questions. Have you:

  1. Taken more drugs/drank more alcohol than you meant to, or for longer than you meant to?
  2. Wanted to cut down or stop and been unable?
  3. Spent an inordinate amount of time getting, using or recovering from the use of drugs and alcohol?
  4. Felt cravings or urges to drink or use?
  5. Neglected work, home or school responsibilities in order to drink or use?
  6. Continued to drink or use even when it causes relationship problems?
  7. Given up important social, vocational or recreational activities in order to drink or use?
  8. Continued to use, even when/if doing so puts you in danger?
  9. Continued to drink or use, even when you know it’s likely making any physical or mental health problems worse?
  10. Having to use more drugs or alcohol to get the effects you want?
  11. Experienced withdrawal symptoms that are alleviated when you drink or use more?

If you answer “yes” to two or more of these questions, then you meet the clinical definition of alcohol use disorder (the professional diagnosis for alcoholism) or substance use disorder (addiction). But how bad is it?

  • Mild: The presence of two or more symptoms
  • Moderate: The presence of four to five symptoms
  • Severe: The presence of six or more symptoms

So what do I do?

An online test is a good starting point, but there’s no substitute for a professional diagnosis. A drug and alcohol treatment professional can help you with an assessment that is more thorough and can pinpoint precisely the help that you need. At Cornerstone of Recovery, we specialize in the evaluation of your drug and alcohol problems, so that you can determine how to get a handle on them and what sort of help you need in order to make changes before they get worse.



Criminal charges: ‘Can rehab help with my legal issues?’

There are typically two scenarios involved in individuals charged with a crime receiving drug and alcohol treatment: One, the defendant is court-ordered to receive treatment as part of the sentencing phase; and two, the individual enters treatment voluntarily before a trial or plea deal in order to potentially mitigate the severity of the sentence. Let’s look at both.

can rehab help with my legal issues?Typically, the most common criminal charge associated with alcohol and drug use is driving under the influence, or DUI. While the potential punishment for DUI varies from state to state, it might seem draconian, in some instances, to penalize someone for making the mistake of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, especially if an individual’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is barely above the legal limit. But consider the ramifications, according to the CDC [5]: “Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This is one death every 50 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.”

The legal system takes DUI offenses seriously, and those charged with one should as well. Take, for example, a DUI arrest in Knox County, the largest metropolitan area closest to Cornerstone of Recovery. A first offense DUI charge, according to the legal team at Knox Defense [6], involves:

  • Possible jail time of 11 months and 29 days, but a mandatory time of 48 hours – or seven days, if the defendant’s blood alcohol content is .20% or higher.
  • A one-year driver’s license revocation, eligible for a restricted status if certain conditions are met.
  • The installation of an “ignition interlock device” that prevents those with a registerable BAC from starting their vehicles.
  • In addition, the courts may mandate an ankle bracelet, electronic monitoring with alcohol and drug testing, GPS monitoring and more.

However, the firm adds, beginning with a second offense DUI, “the court may require completion of an in-patient alcohol rehabilitation program, with up to 28 days jail credit.” But does such mandatory rehabilitation work? Science suggests that it does: In one study [7] of 63 participants in a court-mandated intensive outpatient program (a less rigorous treatment path than inpatient treatment), “the majority of clients expressed a readiness to change their drinking and driving behaviors with 87 percent graduating from the program.” The DUI recidivism rate was 13 percent at a 21-month follow-up, which led researchers to conclude that “the results demonstrate that the treatment program is a valuable tool in the battle to reduce criminal recidivism.” Another study, conducted by the Institute for Substance Abuse Treatment Evaluation at the University of Memphis [8], “clearly demonstrates that substance abuse treatment helps DUI offenders maintain abstinence, reduces future offenses, and improves their quality of life. In addition, with each passing year more and more research shows that substance abuse treatment is more cost-effective than other punitive measures.”

In fact, for the past decade, more and more judicial systems around the country have begun to realize that treatment can be more effective courses of action for those with drug- and alcohol-related charges that punishment alone: Back in 2009, an overview of treating drug abuse and addiction in the criminal justice system, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association [9], concluded that “punishment alone is a futile and ineffective response to drug abuse, failing as a public safety intervention for offenders whose criminal behavior is directly related to drug use. Addiction is a chronic brain disease with a strong genetic component that in most instances requires treatment. The increase in the number of drug-abusing offenders highlights the urgency to institute treatments for populations involved in the criminal justice system.”

However, the article goes on to add that “only a small percentage of those requiring treatment for drug addiction seek help voluntarily” and points out that the criminal justice system can, in a sense, play an important role in addressing the nation’s addiction problem by steering afflicted individuals toward treatment rather than punishment alone.

So, you’re still wondering, can rehab help with my legal issues? Simply put, it certainly can’t hurt … and if you’re facing serious charges over and over again, it may be time to consider that drug and alcohol treatment can do a lot more for you instead of just helping you avoid legal consequences. Which is where voluntary drug and alcohol treatment comes into play – because many times, those who suffer from a drug and alcohol problem realize that petitioning the courts for treatment as part of their sentencing is a step that will save their lives. If it also helps them get out of, or reduce the time spent in, jail, then all the better.

“When they come here and try to self-petition, it’s because they’re asking for me to use that process to force them into a situation where they can’t just walk out of treatment,” Massachusetts Judge William Mazanec told radio station WBUR-FM in 2016 [10]. “It brings people to that point. And you understand that you have a window of opportunity where they’re recognizing this. It is a physical compulsion they’re experiencing. You have to act quickly.”

Divorce: ‘Can rehab help with my legal issues?’

can rehab help with my legal issues?If you have drug and alcohol problems, chances are good they’ve interfered with your personal relationships. Few loved ones of addicts and alcoholics suffer more than spouses, and while effective treatment includes a family therapy component that can mend those relationships, sometimes the individual with the problem refuses to get help until the relationship is over.

And by that point, they’re at a distinct disadvantage, according to Divorce Magazine [11]: “Generally, the spouse who is sober has more control as to what happens during the divorce. They are often more likely to have things go their way without taking things to court. The addicted spouse generally won’t want to have their name smudged due to their substance abuse, so they may not argue what the sober spouse wants.”

And if children are involved, the spouse who’s addicted to alcohol and drugs may see their custody rights severely limited, if not taken away completely, until certain conditions are met, the article continues: “The judge wants to make sure they aren’t being put in the middle or being mistreated during the divorce process or at all. This is why the judge takes substance abuse and addiction seriously. They want to be sure the children are in the most stable and loving environment. As a parent, you also want to make sure the addicted spouse is going to take care of your children. Generally, splitting time with both parents would be ideal, but that isn’t always the case with addiction being present.”

However, judicial custody orders mandating drug and alcohol treatment aren’t designed to be punitive. In fact, according to the alcohol monitoring website SoberLink [12], “courts tend to look favorably on parents in rehab; often, a parent’s love for their child is a large enough incentive to motivate them to change their lifestyle. Because of this, it’s fairly typical for parents in rehab to be granted supervised visitation, or for parents who’ve had visitation suspended to see their rights reinstated once they enter rehab. On the other hand, the court may terminate all parental rights for a parent with a history of addiction or substance abuse who completely refuses to get treatment.”

If you’re struggling with an alcohol and drug problem, going through a divorce and wondering, “can rehab help with my legal issues?,” then know this: Consideration of drug and alcohol treatment shouldn’t be viewed as a chess move in order to better position yourself for victory. If drugs and alcohol have led to the point that your marriage is at an end, and especially if there are children involved, it’s important to keep in mind that rehab will help you become a better person – one who isn’t dependent on substances, which means you’ll be a better parent.

And that’s something everybody – your family, your ex (despite whatever bitterness may be involved in your divorce), and even the court system ultimately wants: for you to be a better parent than one who is dependent on drugs and alcohol. Because while it may be too late to save your marriage, it’s not too late to save the relationship you have with your children … or yourself. As family law expert Henry Gornbein tells Huffington Post [13], “In my many years of practicing, I have seen a lot of problems involving addiction in divorce. There are clearly no winners. Unless someone receives help, not only is the marriage beyond repair but so are lives. The first step is admitting that you have a problem, and the next step is dealing with it. I have seen too many people in denial with tragic consequences.”

Can you force someone to go to rehab?

can rehab help with my legal issues?Perhaps you’re not the one asking, “Can rehab help with my legal issues?” Maybe it’s a loved one who has a drug and alcohol problem that you’re concerned about, and this individual refuses to even consider they have a problem. There are, of course, methods that can be used to coerce an individual to go to treatment – interventions, sometimes carried out with the aid of a trained intervention specialist who can advise on the do’s and don’ts of the process, can be incredibly helpful. But you also may be wondering about the legal recourses you might have for forcing that individual’s hands.

This is known as involuntary civil commitment, which – according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) [14], “is a legal intervention by which a judge, or someone acting in a judicial capacity, may order that a person with symptoms of a serious mental disorder, and meeting other specified criteria, be confined in a psychiatric hospital or receive supervised outpatient treatment for some period of time.”

However, substance abuse and/or alcoholism often falls outside the boundaries of the legal definition, at least, of “a serious mental disorder.” And even when there are co-occurring disorders – i.e., mental health problems that co-present alongside substance abuse issues – standard drug and alcohol treatment facilities, unless they have a designated psychiatric services program, are ill-equipped to offer comprehensive dual diagnosis care. As the AMA Journal of Ethics points out [15], “patients with medical or psychiatric comorbidities can be challenging for substance-abuse commitment facilities, which may not have staff with the necessary expertise to manage these additional concerns.”

According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, there are currently 37 states that allow for involuntary civil commitments due to drug and alcohol problems, but the standard of proof to obtain such a commitment is understandably high. According to the nonprofit Partnership to End Addiction, “In order for a person to be involuntarily committed for addiction treatment, it first has to be proven the person is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Typically, there must also be evidence that the individual has threatened, attempted, or inflicted physical harm on himself or another person, or proof that if the person is not detained, he will inflict physical harm on himself or another person. Or the person must be so incapacitated by drugs or alcohol that he cannot provide for his basic needs, including food, shelter, and clothing, and there is no suitable adult (such as a family member or friend) willing to provide for such needs.”

However, the whole idea behind involuntary civil commitments misses a larger point, according to an in-depth report on the issue by The Daily Beast [16]: “Most states don’t have enough treatment beds even for the people who want them.” For example, the article continues, “Massachusetts – which has permitted courts to force drug users into treatment for more than two decades – has so little bed space for drug addicts seeking help that those compelled into treatment are often sent to one of two state correctional facilities instead. (In 2016), the state actually had to pass a law to ensure that women who are involuntarily detained for drug abuse go to an actual treatment facility instead of jail.”

Forcing someone to go to rehab, physicians interviewed by the publication pointed out, means that a treatment bed for someone who wants it is instead being given to someone forced into it against their will.

“There are waiting lists for treatment right now,” Dr. Raymond Bobb, an addiction doctor in Philadelphia, told the publication. “Plenty of people are seeking treatment and waiting for spots to open up, do these people supersede them?”

So can an individual be forced into drug and alcohol treatment? In certain limited circumstances, and with a lot of evidence that demonstrates the overwhelming need for it … perhaps. But is it a good idea? Not necessarily, particularly when there are other methods and avenues that can be used to coerce someone into agreeing to treatment, even if they do so begrudgingly.

‘Can rehab help with my legal issues?’ Why stop there?

Obviously, no one enjoys the thought of legal consequences for any reason, but when it’s because of a drug and alcohol problem, it may seem like treatment is a quick and easy solution. There’s merit to that thinking, according to legal analyst and blogger Cassandra Hearn [17] – “the overarching goal in any of these cases is that the prosecutor sees you taking the steps to get services or help for your problems.”

And getting help for a drug and alcohol problem can pay handsome dividends when it comes to legal issues: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) [18], “a large percentage of those admitted to drug abuse treatment cite legal pressure as an important reason for seeking treatment. Most studies suggest that outcomes for those who are legally pressured to enter treatment are as good as or better than outcomes for those who entered treatment without legal pressure. Individuals under legal pressure also tend to have higher attendance rates and remain in treatment for longer periods, which can also have a positive impact on treatment outcomes.”

If you’re facing criminal charges or at a custody disadvantage when it comes to divorce, that’s great news, and the answer to your question – “can rehab help with my legal issues?” – is an affirmative one. However, it should be noted that drug and alcohol treatment can do more than just spin your circumstances into a positive light for a court appearance: It can, if your life is chaotic and unmanageable and uncomfortable because of addiction or alcoholism, change everything.

As the NIDA points out [19], “In addition to stopping drug abuse, the goal of treatment is to return people to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and community.” How? As a chronic, progressive and fatal disease with very real biological implications, addiction has caused long-term effects to the brains of those who suffer. Treatment allows those people to counteract those effects through therapeutic emotional and mental tools that not only stop the process of getting and using and finding ways and means to get more, but subdue the obsession and compulsion of doing so.

The end result? “According to research that tracks individuals in treatment over extended periods, most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning,” the NIDA points out.

What does that mean? It means that while getting out of legal consequences by going to drug and alcohol rehab might be a reactionary response, it can be one that provides a much greater reward than you might think. If you’re truly dealing with an addiction to alcohol and drugs, you may just discover that treatment can be the reset button you need for everything – your life, your family, your career and your standing before a judge.

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