In the past few months, New Jersey judges have been giving out “second chances” to those charged with minor drug offenses. In most of these cases, there were two defining characteristics: (1) possession of a very small amount of marijuana and (2) an admission of guilt.
Likely because there was an absence of violence and no intent to sell as well as a commitment on the part of the “offenders” to make more positive choices in the future, judges are willing to give people a second chance. Should they choose to stay clean and sober, avoid police contact, and, in some cases, get treatment, they will have the charges removed from their record.
It is important to note that a “second chance” is very different from a “free pass.” That is, rather than saying that drug use doesn’t matter, these judges are essentially saying, “We are going to support you and give you resources and accountability to stop using drugs and avoid future legal problems. If you choose to take that offer, then we will remove the charges from your record.”
It’s a bold and significant offer, but not all choose to take it. Why?
Lack of Understanding
In some cases, people who are given the opportunity to expunge their records do not fully understand the requirements needed. Some do not trust that they will receive the promised reward if they complete the tasks. Others feel that it may be too much for them to handle and prefer to take on the penalty – in these cases, most likely fines and community service – rather than deal with a year of showing up for drug tests, counseling appointments, and other legal requirements.
Fear of the Unknown
For others, possession of a small amount of marijuana may be just the tip of the iceberg. They may be living with a much larger drug use problem than is indicated by the arrest, and the thought of going through treatment and learning to live a completely new life that is not based on drug use is completely foreign. Especially for those who have been drinking and getting high since their youth, the idea of suddenly dropping everything they know in favor of undergoing some level of treatment and changing the structure of their lives is understandably intimidating. This can be a process that unfolds over time, and not necessarily a choice that can be made quickly.
The Need for Intensive Treatment
In other cases, people who agree to follow the court’s orders and directives with the goal of having their record expunged of the charges find that it is easier said than done. For those who are struggling with ongoing addiction, it may be that the treatment provided is not comprehensive or intensive enough to help them stabilize in recovery and/or stay sober for the long-term. Even with the best of intentions, this difficulty in remaining sober demonstrates the “disease factor” of addiction. That is, stopping drug and alcohol use is not simply a choice that can be made by people who are living with addiction; it is something that must be acquired through professional treatment, extensive support, and research-based therapies.
Do You Need a Second Chance?
If you have been struggling due to drug and alcohol use, a “second chance” is available to you. Whether you are having a hard time in your relationships, trouble getting or maintaining employment, or having other difficulties with the law or at home, you always have the option of enrolling in drug treatment and getting the help you need.
The good news is that comprehensive treatment has been shown to be effective in helping people to safely stop use of all substances and refocus their lives on positive pursuits. Healthy living begins with making one healthy choice, and if active addiction is a present issue, the very first step to health is connecting with professional treatment services.
It is important to note that, because everyone’s situation is different, it is necessary to choose a program that offers individualized treatment plans based on your unique needs. By addressing the challenges you face and have faced in the past, you will be more likely to see real and rapid progress in treatment and create the foundation for your new life in recovery.
Is today the day you give yourself a second chance?