Most people act on the heels of a crisis when it comes to addiction. Very seldom are people proactive and so, very often, there are legal entanglements. What does one do when the dreaded call comes that your teen has had a DUI, possession, or distribution charge? The first thing to do is breathe, try to frame it as an opportunity, not an end. Many people have had a legal consequence as their portal to recovery so, in the long run, it can work to their favor. Panic solves nothing so here are some practical steps:
- You will need legal counsel for sure but lawyers are experts at ‘law’ not family functionality or adolescent development. In addition to legal counsel seek help from a family therapist and someone who can help with this issue, where law intersects with pathology.
- Think of the court as a collaborator, not the enemy. What most DAs and judges want is for the person in question to move through the system and not come back. Most are willing to give someone, especially a young person, a chance. Remember they see drug issues all day and they very likely know that, if the person can find recovery, they won’t be back in a courtroom.
- Present the judge with a plan when going to court. Do not say what “could” happen, say what is happening. “Your honor we have sought treatment for our son/daughter and ask for your help with that experience”. A judge can order continued treatment and continued urine screens which can take some of the pressure off the family system. After years of seeing these cases, nobody is more motivated than someone facing a legal consequence, so use that to your advantage. “You don’t like the treatment group or being urine screened? I guess you’ll love Jail then”.
- Lawyers are looking for ways to get their clients off. That is NOT the thing to do. When someone with addictive behaviors internalizes that they did not pay the piper, it is almost assured they will do the behavior again. There are kids who can hear and understand “the stove is hot, do not touch it” and then there are addicts, they absolutely must feel the pain of their actions, it is a loving act to let them feel the consequences of the choices they have made. If a lawyer says “we can get them off” that is the wrong lawyer from a clinical perspective. Do not seek to “get them out of it” seek to help them work to that end.
- Residential care is a great option and it can open doors to a conversation with the DA and judge. “Your honor my client is currently in residential treatment, here is information about the treatment center, a letter from the doctors and social workers” can go a long way with a court appearance.
We all talk about addiction as a disease; diseases require treatment, not incarceration. The benefit of a legal entanglement is structuring a treatment plan so it can hold the addict long enough for their recovery to take root. Be sure to get help from someone who knows addiction, knows courts, and can advise on how best to proceed.