Ready to get help? Call (855)972-9760 Request a call

Call Us | 1-855-972-9760
AddictionAddiction Treatment

Addiction Treatment and the Legal System

Trafalgar addiction treatment centres

Many people struggling with addiction find themselves in complicated legal situations. Addiction can cause people to act irresponsibly, without considering the consequences of their behaviour.

It can also put people in situations where they feel they have no choice but to commit a crime. Due to this connection between addiction and illegal behaviour, the legal system sometimes factors addiction treatment into sentencing.

Courts usually provide sentences which involve addiction treatment for crimes that are related, directly or indirectly, to addictive behaviour. The person being sentenced will often be given the opportunity to complete an addiction treatment program. If they do so, the court will reduce other legal penalties, such as prison time, accordingly.

Addiction and the Legal System

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, “70% of the federal offender population in Canada has an identifiable substance use problem.” They state that members of this population with serious substance abuse problems “report that about 90% of their criminal activity is related to substance use in some way.”

These statistics demonstrate the correlation between addiction and illegal behaviour. They also demonstrate the benefits of sentences involving addiction treatment for both individuals and society. Individuals who are given the opportunity to address their addiction problems are far more likely to achieve recovery. They are far more likely to live balanced, rewarding lives after completing their sentences. They are also far less likely to engage in criminal activity after completing their sentences.

Direct Impact

An evaluation of the Drug Treatment Court of Vancouver found that 23% of graduates received new charges within six months of graduation. 50% of those who did not complete sentenced treatment received charges within the same time frame. This demonstrates the immediate positive impacts of court-ordered treatment. Longer prison sentences that do not involve addiction treatment, on the other hand, are more likely to push an individual further into criminality.

Sentences involving addiction treatment therefore benefit the individual and society. Addiction treatment also costs the taxpayer less in the long-term. A client who is in recovery will be healthier and more employable upon completing their sentence if they are in recovery. This helps them to be productive in their society, to earn more taxable income, and to be less dependent on welfare and public health infrastructure

In contrast to this, prison sentences involving no addiction treatment can cause an addicted person’s physical and mental health to decline. They are also far more likely to continue their addictive behaviour upon release. In most cases, addiction is rooted in underlying mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety disorder. If the individual does not identify and address these underlying problems, their symptoms are likely to become more severe. This will make the addicted person more likely to continue self-medicating upon release. If they participate in treatment for their concurrent disorders, however, they are much more likely to achieve lasting recovery. This system provides necessary, evidence-based treatment for addicted people that they would otherwise never receive.

A Compassionate System

While some of those who receive such sentences may initially accept them purely to reduce prison time, committing to treatment offers a terrific opportunity. If addiction has caused someone to commit a crime, this is clear evidence that it has become unmanageable. Addiction can take over an individual’s life and cause them to behave in ways they never would if they were not addicted. Sentences involving addiction treatment recognize this.

These sentences offer individuals the opportunity to truly address their addiction problems and to take back control of their lives once they have completed their sentence. It is a compassionate form of sentencing that offers people the chance to fully rehabilitate themselves, rather than simply paying a debt to society.

True Motivation

There are various factors for a court to consider when deciding upon offering addiction treatment as part of a sentence. Primary among these is the perceived motivation of the person receiving the sentence. The court must be satisfied that this person is truly motivated to address their addiction problems. The person receiving the sentence must convince the sentencing judge that they are not simply accepting treatment in order to avoid or reduce jail time. The treatment provider will also make their own judgment on a potential client’s suitability. They will consider numerous relevant factors in assessing the person’s suitability for a program. This policy makes sense, as an individual must be truly motivated for addiction treatment to be successful. If the person receiving the sentence does not complete their treatment and ends up back in court, the system may not provide them with another opportunity.

It is also worth noting that the U.S. organization National Institute on Drug Abuse found that mandatory addiction treatment has proven to be similarly effective to voluntary treatment among the sample of people they surveyed. Those who underwent mandatory treatment reported lower levels of motivation at the beginning of the treatment program. However, five years later, their rates of unemployment, re-arrest and abstinence were at a similar level to those who had participated in treatment voluntarily. This demonstrates that treatment can help even reluctant clients to find the motivation they need to achieve real change.


An individual receiving a sentence must plead guilty in order to accept a sentence involving addiction treatment. However, in some cases, should they decide within thirty days that the program is not suitable for them, they can reverse their plea. The court and treatment provider must also collaborate on the details of the treatment. The treatment provider will also carry out an interview with the prospective client to assess whether the program is suitable. Potential reasons for refusal include the person not believing or admitting that they have a substance abuse problem, being in active psychosis, or being at minimum risk of recidivism.

Clear Treatment Objectives

Some courts have established relationships with treatment providers. In other cases, a court may require the person receiving a sentence and their legal support to arrange treatment. In either case, the court will usually require the person to spend a specific amount of time in treatment. This is often a year or more. The court will also require the person receiving the sentence to meet certain treatment objectives, such as abstinence for a particular amount of time and continued participation in treatment. The court will also maintain contact with the treatment provider throughout treatment. They will require verification of abstinence for a set period, usually three months, before the end of treatment.

In some cases, the individual will not be punished for testing positive for a drug if they have reported their use in advance. If they have not, the sentencing judge and treatment provider identify the appropriate response, which might be an extension of treatment or removal from the program. In cases where a treatment provider removes the client, they will usually face a prison sentence. After completing their sentence, the individual may also have to pass periodical drug tests as part of their probation.

A Better Future

Many addicted people struggle to see a better future for themselves. This has been proven to be a leading cause of addiction. This perception of a lack of prospects will also affect an addicted person’s motivation to seek treatment for addiction. For a person to truly commit to addiction treatment, they must see a viable alternative to their addictive behaviour. For someone who has committed a crime as a result of their addiction, treatment may help them to see these alternatives and work towards recovery and a better future.

Completing an addiction treatment program will also have direct, positive effects on a person’s prospects after completing their sentence. Completing a treatment program improves a person’s employability upon release. It demonstrates to prospective employers that the person has sought to address the underlying causes of their past criminal behaviour. This is strong evidence of a true commitment to change and a decreased likelihood of recidivism. Completing a program may also help a person to find suitable accommodation upon their release. They may also repair relationships that were damaged by addictive behaviour. As society’s understanding of addiction increases, attitudes are becoming more compassionate towards people who have made mistakes related to addiction.


Alongside the motivation of the individual receiving the sentence, there are a number of other factors for a court to consider before offering addiction treatment as part of a sentence. This kind of sentencing usually assumes that the individual committed the crime due to circumstances related to their addiction, or that they have committed it while under the influence of addictive substances.

If a crime is clearly connected to substance abuse, a court is more likely to include treatment in sentencing. For example, if someone crashes their car while drunk, or steals something while high, a court may offer treatment as part of their sentence. If a person has committed a premeditated crime, it is less likely that a court will offer addiction treatment in its sentence. The crime must also have been non-violent. A sentencing judge is less likely to order treatment for someone who has committed a crime such as assault.

Strong Support Network

If a person can demonstrate to the court that they have a strong support network in place, this will also make the court more likely to offer addition treatment. This is in recognition of the importance of support from others in achieving lasting recovery. If an individual’s family or friends can demonstrate motivation to help their loved one, this will make the court more likely to include addiction treatment in sentencing.

Failure to Complete Treatment

If an individual accepts treatment as part of their sentencing, failure to complete their program will have certain consequences. The court will usually deliver an alternative sentence involving prison time or community service. A court will probably not offer court-ordered treatment again to a person who has previously failed to complete a program.

The Adjustment Back to Ordinary Life

Many people who have served time in prison find the subsequent adjustment to ordinary life very challenging. The more time someone has spent in prison, the more difficult this adjustment will be. Many people who have previously struggled with addiction continue using or relapse after their release. This also makes them more likely to commit another crime after their release. People who have participated in treatment for addiction will be much better prepared for the adjustment back to ordinary life. They will be considerably less likely to relapse or to commit another crime.

Evidence-Based Treatment

Evidence-based treatment methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy and individual therapy help participants to manage impulses. They help them to fundamentally alter the way they think and approach challenges. This can help immensely in avoiding negative behaviours in the future. These methods also help them to treat the mental health issues underlying their addiction problems and to develop progressive coping methods.

Some treatment providers also provide peer-support workers for participants. These workers can help participants to find housing and employment during their treatment. They can help them to build a support network by rebuilding relationships. In some cases, evidence of stable accommodation and employment is necessary to graduate from a treatment program.

The website for the Toronto Drug Treatment Court provides useful information on how the system works in Ontario. For more information on addiction treatment, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres Today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Leave a Reply