How Can Substance Use Education Prevent Incarceration?

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Many people who struggle with substance use disorder (SUD) symptoms also struggle with other psychological, physical, sociological, or economical problems. Along with mental health and other chronic disorders, SUD is highly correlated with minority groups struggling sociologically and economically. This includes individuals with histories of incarceration. Fortunately, substance use education can help.

Incarceration May Increase Risk of Relapse

Incarcerated individuals may be more susceptible to relapse if they don't receive the proper treatment or substance use education. After all, present or past incarceration makes life more stressful in many ways. Without healthy coping skills, they are more likely to turn to substances to escape stress or trauma.

Unless they can access the right resources, incarcerated individuals won't have the appropriate mental health and substance use management tools they need to prevent relapse or re-incarceration.

The Need for Substance Use Education During Incarceration

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 65% of the U.S. prison population struggles with SUD. Individuals who do not receive SUD treatment during their time in prison are more likely to overdose or be re-incarcerated.

Recovery is a lifelong journey, however, and there is no effective one-and-done solution. To effectively curb crime and drug use, inmates with SUD need continuing treatment and support. Incarcerated people with SUD also need time during treatment programs to build their emotional management skills. This will help them avoid criminal and substance use relapse.

Without understanding the underlying causes of SUD, it is nearly impossible to avoid relapse. Often, SUD develops out of an attempt to self-medicate another mental or physical health problem. If those mental or physical health problems go unattended and no healthier coping mechanisms are put in place, the person is highly likely to relapse. To increase relapse prevention, incarcerated individuals must be educated on SUD symptoms, emotional management tools, and relapse prevention techniques.

Preventing Incarceration With Substance Use Education

Many people do not understand the recovery treatment process. They may be unaware of available treatment options or precautionary measures they can take to reduce the risk of relapse or overdose. Worst of all, they might feel trapped in their addiction like they have no way out.

This combination of ignorance and hopelessness can cause them to repeat the process of relapse and re-incarceration over and over again. After all, trying to break bad habits can feel futile when you don't have the proper knowledge or resources to do so.

Substance use education should be about not only the dangers of substances but also the recovery process. This can help people feel less trapped by past decisions. It will also make people more likely to seek treatment and continue care. Understanding the emotional management techniques necessary for a successful recovery can reduce incarceration in cases of drug use, possession, or impulsive illegal behaviors caused by intoxication.

Combatting Stigma With Substance Use Education

Education on substance use must include the destigmatization of addiction. Stigmatization of SUD is known to cause damaging thoughts that can prevent people from seeking treatment. This leaves people vulnerable to continued substance use and future incarceration.

Addiction stigma includes many false and harmful beliefs. It often minimizes the problems that people with SUD face. Additionally, it frequently dehumanizes the people affected. To avoid this, NIDA cautions medical professionals to avoid using terms such as “user,” “junkie,” or “addict.” This reinforces to people with SUD and the general public that addiction does not define people, which is a necessary mindset for recovery.

The Science of Addiction

There are also scientific reasons not to use these terms. By definition, people with SUD aren't simply making the cognitive choice to use substances. The reward system in their brain has been chemically altered to seek substances.

Therefore, terms like “user” and “junkie” put impractical expectations for people with SUD to simply stop using substances. This is not how recovery is achieved. For sustained sobriety, people with SUD need to receive appropriate care. This care should include some combination of supervised detoxification, psychotherapy, and aftercare.

Recovering With Substance Use Education

The benefits of substance use education are numerous and include increased SUD prevention and successful recoveries. SUD education should include tools for emotional management, trauma processing, and relapse prevention.

Learning materials such as those provided by the Getting Out by Going In (GOGI) program can be very helpful. It can give people the tools they need to stay sober, make healthy decisions, and have a happy, healthy, and successful recovery.

Getting Out by Going In

According to the “Teach Me How to GOGI” study guide, the foundation of GOGI was built in 2002 when a group of prisoners joined a relaxation class led by Coach Mara L. Taylor, the founder of GOGI. After years of working and listening to prisoners' inspiring stories, Coach Taylor founded a non-profit program.

GOGI is a program that teaches tools for positive decision-making. These tools are created by prisoners for prisoners or anyone who is looking for a guide to healthy decision-making. Coach Taylor turned the tools she learned from prisoners into informational books and programs that can be used as a guide for learning how to make healthy decisions.

The GOGI toolbox consists of four sections with a total of twelve tools.

  • Tools of the Body include “Boss of My Brain,” “Belly Breathing,” and “Five Second Light Switch.” These tools empower you to take control of how you act in reaction to challenging situations or circumstances.
  • Tools of Choice include “Positive Thoughts,” “Positive Words,” and “Positive Actions.” These tools direct your thoughts and words into positive behavior.
  • Tools of Moving Forward include “Claim Responsibility,” “Let GO,” and “For-Give.” These tools focus on accepting, taking responsibility, and moving on from the past to create new opportunities.
  • Tools of Creation include “What If,” “Reality Check,” and “Ultimate Freedom.” These tools focus on creating your life in a way that fosters long-lasting joy, contentment, and purpose.

Education about SUD and recovery is important to decrease recidivism after incarceration and get people the appropriate treatment they need. Pathways Recovery began as a sober living facility for the formerly incarcerated. In 2005, our founder, Tim Evans dreamed of creating a safe space to get and stay sober. Since then, Pathways Recovery Center has expanded to include various levels of treatment such as residential and outpatient programs. However, we have not forgotten our roots and can create treatment plans that work with the GOGI program. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (888) 771-0966 to learn more about how we can help you have a successful recovery by meeting you where you're at.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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