The science of drug abuse and alcoholism is clear: Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. Many victims of addiction start down that road because they get hooked on painkillers after an accident or during a course of treatment for some kind of chronic illness. Others use drugs or alcohol to cope with emotional pain. Some self-medicate their own psychological problems. 

In a desperate bid to feed their addiction, many drug addicts and alcoholics turn to crime. (Other addicts also end up committing crimes of opportunity while they’re under the mind-altering influence of the drugs or alcohol they use.) Consider these telling statistics: Only 11.2 % of men in the general population of the United States are drug addicts, but 70% of men in the nation’s prisons are addicted.

People with a substance abuse disorder are more likely to have trouble staying employed — if they can get a job in the first place. Others resort to smuggling, theft, prostitution or selling drugs themselves to stay afloat.  

New Jersey is among the states that have responded to the addiction crisis in this country by creating special drug courts. Designed to funnel criminal defendants whose crimes were motivated by addiction into treatment (instead of prison) Drug Court allows eligible defendants to exchange a guilty plea for an “alternative” sentence that involves completing a treatment program. Once successfully completed, they may be able to have their record expunged.

Geared toward non-violent offenders, Drug Court is not for everyone. Many people find the probationary program too restrictive. For some, however, Drug Court can be a welcome break — one that will allow them a chance to start over.

If addiction led to your criminal behavior, find out what can be done to protect your legal rights and help you get back to your life.