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Addiction is a Mental Illness (& it Can Affect the Outcome of Your Case)

substance abuse criminal defense attorney

Deciphering the relationship between between substance abuse and mental illness is tricky business. The two can live independently of each other. But often, it’s a dual diagnosis, meaning both issues exist at the same time, which leads to questions of how the two conditions interact and feed on each other.


Substance abuse can often aggravate all forms of mental illness such as depression or anxiety, at a minimum. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that “Abusing substances can also lead to mental health problems because of the effects drugs have on a person’s moods, thoughts, brain chemistry and behavior.” In some cases, however, existing mental illnesses are exacerbated by substance abuse. And often times, addiction forms as a means of coping with a mental illness. “It is estimated that adults with a serious mental illness (e.g., major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.) are more than eight times more likely to have a co-occurring illicit drug dependence than those without mental illness.”

It’s complicated. And it’s important to understand how either diagnosis, or a dual diagnosis, plays into one’s criminal defense.


One study suggests that an estimated 80 percent of incarcerated offenders abuse drugs or alcohol regularly. “Alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes, including murder, rape, assault, child and spousal abuse.” Drugs, on the other hand, are a different story altogether. Offenders’ crimes are usually committed while either trying to fund their habit or defend their turf. But all too often, crimes are committed because the offender has lost the ability to decipher right from wrong due to the effect the substance has had on their mental state.


This is the defendant’s ability to understand right from wrong at the time the criminal act took place. Consideration should be made that a dopamine-stimulating drugs can lead to a temporary loss of judgement and decision making that reduces the ability to recognize wrongness. One particular pattern can be the recurring use of methamphetamine, which can lead to a psychotic disorder. The release of high amounts of dopamine, can bring about feelings of intense pleasure and high levels of euphoria; but the increased use of the drug can also create irreversible damage to dopamine receptors, which results in the disabling any feelings of pleasure whatsoever. This means that, over time, the individual will require more and more of the drug to be able to get any kind of effect. Chronic meth use often leads to damage of the brain, and in extreme cases leads to paranoia, anxiety, hallucinations, and potentially death. As a person in this state deteriorates, they can develop a “chronic state of vigilance”, believing themselves to be in danger and acting accordingly. Crimes committed in such an altered state of reality require thorough evaluation and assessment.

Careful consideration of the interplay of all factors that lead up to the allegations are critical in creating an effective criminal defense. In addition, recommendations for proper treatment can be made, and create a difference in the outcome of a case.

There are many questions that need to be answered, and they could mean the difference between the disposition of a case and the factors that are considered in sentencing outcomes.


The answer is, immediately. There’s no time to waste when dealing with the complexities of your defense. The experienced team at Yavitch & Palmer knows exactly how to deal with cases that involve complicated circumstances such as substance abuse and mental illness. Contact us us right away to get the counsel you require and expertise you desire.

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