The Long Term Legal Consequences of Substance Abuse

Studies have shown that a teen’s brain is not sufficiently developed to allow him to fully appreciate the consequences of actions he may take. Nowhere is this more critical than in a teen’s decision to use drugs or alcohol. A teen will either ignore or fail to consider the fact that underage drinking and the use of controlled substances can have serious long-term legal consequences, and those consequences will have little or no effect on keeping him from using drugs or alcohol. Nonetheless, providing them with the knowledge of those consequences is a first step toward overcoming that ignorance and in convincing teens and adolescents to pay attention to the legal problems that they might face.

The justice system is increasingly likely to treat teens as adults when they are arrested for possession or distribution of illegal drugs. If they are convicted, they will carry a felony convictions on their personal records, and that conviction will show up on every background check that is performed on them. Few employers will hire an individual who has a criminal conviction. Likewise, banks may refuse to extend home loans and lines of credit, and different states can restrict or altogether disallow driving or voting privileges. Although some jurisdictions have procedures to expunge drug-related criminal convictions, and other organizations are working to change these laws and rules, a teen should never rely on a potential expungement or the prospect that laws might change.

Teens who have a drug-related criminal record and who are unable to find suitable employment might seek public assistance to get them through a financial rough patch, but many of those assistance programs, including nutrition benefits and public housing, may not be available to individuals with felony drug conviction backgrounds. A drug-related felony conviction can send a teen to prison for an extended period of time, and even after he is released, he will be foreclosed from public programs that he might look to for assistance.

Drug-related arrests and convictions will also threaten a young person’s chances of receiving financial assistance for college or other higher education. Applications for financial aid universally ask the applicant to disclose any arrests or convictions that may be on their records for drug and alcohol violations. The denial of financial aid can substantially increase a young adult’s college expenses or even keep him from attending college altogether.

Drug habits are expensive to maintain, and a person who slides deep into the well of drug addiction will face increasing pressure to finance that habit. Addicts often steal from family members and friends or engage in other risky activity that further threatens their health and financial future. A teen or adolescent drug user who avoids legal problems directly associated with his drug use can still encounter serious legal problems if he is arrested for theft or other crimes that he engages in to support his drug use.

Social scientists and public health advocates are working to remove some of the barriers that keep former drug addicts from improving their circumstances after they have been convicted of drug-related crimes. Any changes to the status quo will be gradual and slow, however, and teens and adolescents need to be aware that they are taking extreme legal risks when they use drugs and alcohol, and when they help their friends and acquaintances procure drugs or alcohol for their own use.

Sustain Recovery Services in southern California helps adolescents and young adults who are recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism. We also help teens and adolescents to understand the legal consequences of their drug use before they might suffer the effects of those consequences. Please see our website or call us at 949-407-9052 for more information about our services or to arrange a confidential consultation with one of our counselors.