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Photo of Joshua Nielsen
Photo of Joshua Nielsen

Can drug addiction be used as a legal defense?

On Behalf of | Oct 10, 2023 | criminal defense

Nobody ever plans to be a drug addict. Still, it does happen and can have a devastating impact on a person’s life.

Drug addiction can cause some people to engage in criminal activities they may not have committed otherwise. Knowing this, can a person be held entirely responsible for their illegal act?

How some drugs change brain chemistry

Drugs interact with certain receptors in the brain to cause a surge of dopamine, a type of hormone and neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This is the same type of pleasure we naturally get from doing things we enjoy. However, the drugs may cause a stronger surge, and eventually, the brain becomes more sensitive to the drugs’s effects and less sensitive to the natural rewards.

This can lead to craving the pleasure received from the drug, along with withdrawal symptoms when the drug isn’t available. In addition, as the brain adapts to the drugs, it needs more to achieve the same level of euphoria.

Addiction can lead to criminal behavior in a few ways. First, to obtain the money needed to buy the drug, a person may steal, deal drugs or engage in other illegal activities.

Additionally, drug use can impair judgment and increase impulsivity, making a person more likely to engage in risky or criminal behaviors.

Addiction does not excuse a crime

While a court may accept that someone’s addiction led them to commit a crime they would not otherwise have done it is unlikely to excuse their behavior. So, no — addiction probably won’t serve as a legal defense. A judge may, however, consider it a mitigating factor and might be willing to offer you treatment instead of a prison sentence through the recovery court system.

If you or a loved one is accused of committing a crime while under the influence of drugs, it’s crucial to learn about all of your legal options.