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Prison Drugs and the effects it has on Returning Citizens. By: Pavlina Veljanovska

If you wonder about drugs in the prison system and how it affects returning citizens, the scale painting of this problem is not very admirable, and it is (if we can put it that way) scary.

Since 1990 an average of 590,400 prisoners have been released annually (read the records of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)). 85% of the prison population has substance use disorder (SUD), or were incarcerated for a crime involving drugs.


Many people end up in prison for reasons related to their drug use, but also some people start their drug use in prison. This situation contributes to violence, and a bad prison atmosphere, also it prevent the staff of the prison to effectively deliver the regimes.

When it comes to drugs in the prison system and how it affects returning citizens, it is very clear

that it is not possible to improve safety, and prevent reoffending without reducing the misuse of

drugs in prisons.

Drugs in the prison system and how it affects returning citizens

”Humans commit crime for many reasons, also humans stop committing crime for many reasons.”

Reintegrating into society after spending time in prison can be a difficult process for former drug addicts. Not only do they have to face the stigma associated with being a justice involved individual, but they also have to deal with the challenges of readjusting to life on the outside. Here are 6 common problems that ex-drug addicts face when trying to reintegrate into society:

●      Increased likelihood of relapse

●      Mental Health Issues

●      Lack of support

●      Difficulty finding a job

●      Difficulty in accessing housing

●      Terrible Stigma

Increased likelihood of relapse

The release of the justice involved individual from prison is a stressful event for all involved. The prisoner wants to re-enter society as quickly as possible, but justice system professionals want to make sure that the prisoner does not commit any crimes while on probation or parole.

The justice system has found that one major factor in recidivism is drug use by returning citizens. The National Institute of Justice reports that 85% of inmates who were on probation or parole upon re-entering prison tested positive for illegal drugs.

In addition, many returning citizens have an increased likelihood of committing a crime than before their incarceration. They may have developed new skills while incarcerated, such as using violence or committing fraud while in prison, which could be used to commit another crime upon release.

Finally, ex-drug addicts may be more likely to relapse because they are more likely to be targeted by gangs or other criminal organizations. These gangs may offer them drugs or money in exchange for committing crimes, and they may be less likely to resist temptation.

So, if you ask yourself about drugs in the prison system and how it affects returning citizens, you should know that former drug users are more likely to return to prison than normal justice involved individuals.

Mental Health Issues

Drug addiction is a devastating problem that can cause serious physical and mental health issues. Unfortunately, many of these issues can persist even after an addict has quit using drugs.

Ex-drug addicts often struggle with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important to understand their mental state to help the returning citizens.

Withdrawal symptoms

They might have mental health issues due to the intense withdrawal symptoms that occur when quitting drugs. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of drug used, the length of time it was used, and the amount used. These symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, making it difficult for the addict to cope with the physical and emotional pain associated with quitting. This can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.

Changes in the brain chemistry

Ex-drug addicts may experience mental health issues due to the changes in the brain caused by drug use. Drugs can cause changes in the brain’s chemistry, which can lead to changes in behavior and mood. In addition, drugs can cause damage to the brain’s reward system, making it difficult for an addict to experience pleasure without drugs. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and despair.

Stigma related mental problems

Finally, ex-drug addicts may experience mental health issues due to the stigma associated with addiction. Many people view addiction as a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower, which can lead to feelings of shame and guilt. This stigma can make it difficult for an addict to seek help or even talk about their addiction, which can further increase their mental health issues.

Lack of Support

Ex-drug addicts often lack the support they need to successfully reintegrate into society. This can include family, friends, and social services.

There are many reasons why family members of ex-drug addicts may not be as supportive as they could be. One reason may be that they are still recovering from their own addiction and may not have the energy or resources to support another person. They may also feel that the addict is not taking responsibility for their actions and is not doing enough to get better. Family members may also feel that they are not being listened to or that their concerns are being dismissed. All of these factors can lead to a lack of support for the addict.

These problems may lead them to seek out other people who share similar interests or goals, creating a larger problem for society at large.

Difficulty finding a job

Finding employment after being released from prison can be difficult for ex-drug addicts, as employers may be hesitant to hire someone with a criminal record.

Also a person whose mind has been affected by drugs is much less likely to perform well in an effort situation or job interview than one who has not used drugs during their incarceration period. Furthermore, a recent study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that many returning citizens are unable to hold down jobs because they have difficulty concentrating on the tasks at hand due to the mental effects of drug abuse.

Those who are able to find employment may also find that the jobs available to them are low-paying and lack benefits.

Difficulty in accessing housing

Ex-drug addicts may also face difficulty in finding housing, as many landlords are unwilling to rent to returning citizens. This means that those who are released from prison may find themselves homeless or living in substandard housing.

A criminal record can make it difficult to find a job, and without a job, it can be difficult to find housing. Another reason is that many landlords do not want to deal with the extra work that comes with renting to someone who is recovering from addiction. This can include dealing with drug-related damage to the property, dealing with late rent payments, and dealing with other issues that can come up with someone who is struggling with addiction.

Terrible Stigma

Ex-drug addicts often face stigma from society due to their criminal record. Sigma, or the Greek letter “s”, is a term used to refer to the level of stress and tension in an individual’s life. Understanding how stigma can affect an ex-drug addict’s recovery is an important part of the journey.

Sigma is not a one-size-fits-all concept, as each individual’s stressors and triggers are unique. However, the general idea is that high levels of sigma can lead to a relapse. When an ex-drug addict is feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with their stress, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. This can quickly spiral out of control, leading to a full-blown relapse.

Overall, understanding the role of sigma in an ex-drug addict’s recovery is essential. By recognizing their stressors and triggers, they can create a plan to reduce their sigma levels and stay on the path to long-term sobriety.

Does prison create drug addicts?

Those who want to find drugs will find a way to acquire it, even in prison. However, studies show that the prison is not responsible for creating drug addicts. In much research we found that only 3% of the prisoners started taking drugs at prison and not before that. The problem is the rehabilitation process of the prisoners that were taking drugs before entering prison. This problem is crucial as much for society as for prisons.

One study shows that upon release, many return to levels that they used before incarceration, not knowing that their bodies can no longer tolerate the same doses, resulting in overdose and death.

What approach should prison as an institution take?

What is the best way to treat former drug addicts in prison?

We already spoke a bit about drugs in the prison system and how it affects returning citizens. As it seems the prison staff and administration do not have the capacity to respond adequately to the situation that they are in, however, which would be the best approach to this situation? It is a variable, and each prison should have its own measures to treat its inmates.


3 Simple steps

Assist people to remain healthy

It sounds like we think it is simple right?

We are aware that this problem asks for a lot of institutions to work together and that needs money. We don’t say solve the problem like right away, we advice to start with small steps each and every day like:

● Finding the right staff, with appropriate skills and support.

● Make the prison processes clear, fair and effective.

● Make prison conditions safe, clean, and promote well-being and recovery.

● Make sure the prisoners have positive relationships and engage in constructive activities.

● Make sure all organizations contributing to achieving our aims work together effectively.

Urine controls

There are records that implementing random tests for drugs (resulting positive) didn’t improve the situation, on the contrary it made it even more unstable. However, in our opinion that is a normal result at the beginning and if continued can have a very positive outcome.

Just to note, positive urine samples should not be the sole reason for discontinuing OAT treatment.

Peer interventions

Counseling, peer support and peer-driven interventions can be defined as the process by which trained people carry out informal educational activities with individuals or small groups.

Other methods may include: Implement x-ray scanners, Cutting mobile phone and technology, Invest in drug detection dogs.


We’ve come to the end of this article and hope now you are more aware how drugs in the prison system and how it affects returning citizens. It is a fact that the drug abusers have worse health than those who don’t take drugs before going to jail, or in jail. However, maybe prisons are not therapeutic institutions, but the reintegration process should start the first day when being incarcerated.

Time in prison should not be considered lost, their withdrawal can mean profit for society. Since 1990 an average of 590,400 inmates were released, and almost 5 million returning citizens were or are on community-based supervision, imagine them paying taxes.


let us know your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

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