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Trouble With the Law? How Addiction Can Lead to Legal Problems

Addiction can lead to run-ins with the law in a variety of unexpected ways. Rehabilitation from addiction of any kind should not be judgmental and help is available for those attempting to recover regardless of past legal problems. 

Legal Consequences Are Often Unforeseen

Addicted people are especially at risk of falling foul of the law. Addiction will try to destroy you physically, mentally and spiritually. It will also do its best to visit shocking legal problems upon your unsuspecting head.

Consider this for example: they can throw you out of a pub for being obnoxious and drunk and that’s the end of it, but they can’t throw you out of an aeroplane for similar behaviour, much as they might like to. Instead, they’ll probably take you to court and jail you, with a huge fine. Not a happy end to your Spanish stag party. You may never have fallen foul of the law before. Chronic irresponsible drinking is often a sign of addiction and that’s just one way it can get you into trouble. there are many more. But it can get worse too. There are lifers in jail for murders committed in alcoholic blackouts.  

The Gamble of Addiction

It is a hallmark of addictive behaviour, especially substance abuse, that once you start, you have no idea where it’s all going to end. You are rolling the dice with your life and the results are completely unpredictable. That in part explains why fear is so prominent in the lives of addicted people. The need to keep your addiction going and thereby trying to manage your own unacceptable behaviour means you’re likely to encounter some form of legal problem before you sober up. It is thought that at least fifty percent of all UK crimes are drug or alcohol-related in some way. 

The Law Is There for a Reason

The law is all around us. It is there to guide, protect, enforce, punish, regulate and deter as well as to deliver decisions in countless civil disputes. Hopefully, for most of us, it remains a remotely benign background presence, a welcome sign of a properly run society. But, you mess with it at your peril. The law is always painfully expensive – financially and emotionally. 

Divisions of the law 

The law is broadly split into two parts – criminal and civil. As an addict, if you’re not careful, you’ll probably encounter both. Here’s a list of typical legal problems that people with addiction of any kind can encounter. It’s a long list because the possibilities are very wide-ranging. 


  • Possession and dealing in illicit substances – although it is not a crime to possess alcohol, possession of illicit drugs above a minimal amount will get you into trouble if caught. Any form of dealing is taken seriously. A fine and prison may result. 
  • Violence – domestic and otherwise – most violence is unpremeditated but very often follows heavy drink or drug use. First offenders may get a suspended sentence, but prison may follow that. 
  • Drunk and disorderly – you have only to observe any town centre when the pubs and clubs close at night to understand the way addiction makes otherwise quite normal people behave extremely badly. It may seem relatively minor (maximum sentence £1k) but you won’t qualify for legal aid and it may cause other problems, such as putting your job at risk.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs – those who drink or take drugs and drive are playing Russian roulette with not only their lives but those of the public as well. The law quite rightly, takes a dim view and sentences can be severe, including jail.
  • Sexual offences – the law tends to pursue those profiting from prostitution rather than     people forced into it to fund an addiction habit. Addicted people tend to find themselves in more serious sexual situations where rape or abuse happens to them, because they are perceived to be exploitable through their addiction. On the other hand, a lot of men get themselves into major difficulties through drugs and alcohol which can turn their approach to sex into a rape event. The law punishes such crimes with lengthy prison sentences as well as fines.
  • Theft and fraud to support addiction habits – A lot of theft has drugs and alcohol in the background. There are also many instances of large-scale thefts inspired by the need to maintain a gambling habit.
  • Negligence – addiction amongst professionals can lead to both criminal and civil actions. In criminal cases, such as where here death has resulted, there may be prison sentences as well as expensive negligence claims in the civil courts. Around 10% of doctors are thought to have a substance abuse problem and the prevalence among lawyers, accountants and other professionals may well be the same. 


  • Actions for debt – addiction is expensive and it makes people act irresponsibly. A lot of trouble, even when the law is not involved, comes with a cost and few people are lucky enough to buy themselves out of it. Mounting debts lead to anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideation. Gamblers are especially at risk for this.  The count courts are full of people whose addiction has led them into serious debt.
  • Divorce – addiction is a great marriage-breaker and the hurt of addiction means that divorce is usually acrimonious. It is of course rich pickings for the lawyers but you as the addicted person will be likely the one made to pay.
  • Slander, libel and other disputes and damage claims – alcohol loosens the tongue and so do some other drugs. Insults or commitments spoken or written while under the influence can come back to haunt you as some have found to their cost. Being drunk at the time is not an excuse likely to save you from prosecution though it might mitigate the sentence or legal decision on damages.
  • Homelessness and property actions – the general dissipation that addiction brings can lead to ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) and evictions. Fighting such impositions through the courts can be costly in time and money.
  • Breach of contract and fraud – many are the actions for this type of case and there my often be an element of addiction in the history because it makes people unreliable, dishonest, irresponsible and sometimes just plain forgetful of their duties. 

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Other people’s legal consequences are your problem too 

If you simply think on reading this that it is ‘their problem, not yours’, then you are almost certainly wrong. Society in general bears a lot of the costs of addiction, especially the legal costs, in a variety of ways. Here are a few: 

  • Insurance – premiums for major insurances such as motor, theft, accident and life contain an element of the risk insurers bear for addiction-fuelled crimes and other misfortunes. As addiction statistics rise, so do premiums.  
  • Taxation – addiction and the results of addiction cost government huge annual sums in law enforcement, healthcare, legal aid and the prison system and rehabilitation. 
  • Housing – homelessness and social care is made a vastly greater problem through addiction and it all has to be paid for, often through local taxes. 
  • Schooling – school authorities have a duty of care and keeping a school drug free absorbs a large amount of time, energy and money. 

A person with a serious addiction is usually not a ‘giver’ to society but a ‘taker’. It is right that we should support the weak but the cost to society overall is significant. 

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Legal Consequences Can Be Long-Lasting

Your past brushes with the law may haunt you in later life when for example, applying for a job, a loan, a house or some types of insurance. There are requirements for disclosure of a criminal record and you should check the government website if in doubt. 

Legal Consequences and Recovery

The good news is that whatever your past mistakes, you can still recover from addiction using the help available. The primary purpose of all 12 step recovery groups is to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety, without judgment or discrimination. The same should be true of community addiction support services. At Smarmore Castle, we recognise that addiction inevitably comes with negative consequences, but it is how you respond that matters. We are there to advise and help you all the way as you start your recovery journey.  

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