How Prisoners Deal with Addiction

Addiction is a condition wherein a person finds it hard to stop using a substance. In the US, it is very common and widespread.

Statistics show about 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. Whether it’s alcohol, heroin, or any other substances, only 10% of them receive treatment.

An inmate dealing with drug addiction.

The majority of the people in prison are men between 19 to 35 years old. Most of their cases have something to do with drugs-both possession and drug use.

Usually, even before the inmates’ incarceration, they were already addicted to alcohol or drugs, or both. Most of the time, these behaviors are the reason for their imprisonment. But what happens to an addict once they’re sent out to jail?

Any addict who stops taking the substance in abrupt will lead to withdrawal. This sudden withdrawal will only make their cravings go up. Worst case scenario, death can happen to addicts who have severe withdrawal symptoms.

Prisoners Addicted to Alcohol

There are a lot of inmates that have an alcohol addiction. This is often the reason that leads to their incarceration. (e.g. domestic abuse and violence due to the effect of excessive drinking of alcohol)

Alcohol is not allowed in prison. So, if a person gets locked up, it’s either they have to suffer from withdrawal symptoms or improvise.

The problem with alcohol withdrawal symptoms is that it can be deadly. One can experience anxiety, mood swings, high fever, seizures, and hallucinations.

So can you imagine having these symptoms while being inside the jail? Given the environment that’s built with violence and fear, how can a prisoner survive this?

Another fatal and most severe alcohol withdrawal symptom is Delirium Tremens (DT). This is a serious medical emergency for it has symptoms of irritability and agitation, mental confusion, and psychosis.

Prisoners Addicted to Opioids and Illicit Drugs

Addiction to opioids and illicit drugs is not new to some of the inmates. Like alcohol addiction, opioid and illicit drug addiction have withdrawal symptoms too. And locking up someone who’s addicted to drugs might be catastrophic.

There are different types of withdrawal symptoms. It actually depends on what type of drug a person is addicted to. But the most common symptoms are agitation, nausea, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Imagine having a communal toilet, manifesting those symptoms for everyone to see. With no means to manage the symptoms in the right way.

Not to mention, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and worst, death.

Because of these, inmates often choose to get-or create-drugs while inside the jail. You’ll be surprised how inmates can improvise drugs to sustain their cravings. So much of “when there’s a will, there’s a way”, right?


As portrayed in the documentary series, “60 Days In“, some prisoners create alternative drugs. Using pain relievers, mixing it with candy or coffee, inmates are often satisfied with it.

This is what happens when authorities locked addicts up without considering rehabilitation.

Prisoners don’t have much of a choice on how to manage their addiction. They have to either give in to the cravings and stay addicted or die. Which of these two do you think inmates would choose?

How Can We Help Inmates with Addiction?

Study shows that treatment for addiction while serving jail time is very effective. It can also save the lives of convicts who receive proper treatment during imprisonment.

While it can lower the chances of having a relapse, and/or death to drugs such as overdosing. It also reduces the recidivism-an act where inmates tend to repeat the same offense.

However, only 5 penitentiaries in the US offer medication-assistance for substance addicts. Not all prisoners receive proper treatment for substance abuse. As a result, they will need to endure the unimaginable pain of withdrawal symptoms.

Study shows that rehabilitation is much more effective than sending an addict to jail. Yet, most authorities think that addicts should get punishment instead of rehabilitation. They also think it isn’t cost-effective.

But the National Drug Intelligence Center [NDIC] begs to differ. According to them, treatment and rehabilitation to addicts are worth the cost. Moreover, rehabilitation and counseling result in a lower crime rate and incarceration.

Therapies, counseling, and gradual sobering up helps inmates with addiction avoid withdrawal symptoms. With these, nightmare and unreasonable pain that they endure will have an end.

Support from family and friends also matters a lot to an inmate struggling with addiction. It gives them comfort and encouragement knowing that someone from the outside still cares. This is what JailAid hopes to do.

We help inmates and their families cope with incarceration. Our extensive resources on how to make cheap jail calls and send jail mail postcards allow inmates to communicate with their loved ones more often without worrying about the huge financial burden that comes with it. We also have a database of prison support groups that you can use to find one near you.

About Franchette Jardin

Agatha has done some extensive research in the past about prison and life inside one. Now she writes prison-related articles to help inmates cope and begin a better life after.

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