Women in Jail Because of Drug Use

Woman scared behind the bars

There is no doubt that drug abuse and alcoholism is having serious effects all across the United States. This is now an all-encompassing problem, a problem that has pretty dismal effects on tens of millions of people. If we were to zoom in on just one of these issues, we could look at the effect that the drug epidemic is having on women who are now being incarcerated into the prison systems for non-violent drug offenses. Across the country and in every state it seems, women of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, geographics, and income levels are being torn away from their families and forced into jails and prison systems for minor, non-violent drug offenses.

This is not necessarily the right thing to do. Not by a long shot. Let’s take a very close and personal look at what exactly happens when women get put into jail cells for minor drug addiction-related offenses.

Increasing Incarceration is Not a Solution

Did you know that women in jail are the fastest-growing demographic in correctional populations in the United States? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the numbers of women in correctional facilities rose from thirteen-thousand two-hundred to over one-hundred and ten-thousand in just thirty-five years. From 1980 to 2009, the arrest rate tripled for women whereas it only doubled for men.

According to more in-depth research, opioid abuse is the biggest factor in increasing incarcerations for women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked more closely at this problem. Their research revealed that geographic areas that had above-average drug problems coincidentally were also areas that had above-average incarceration rates amongst women. The state of Tennessee, for example, has the highest incarceration rate for women and also one of the highest opioid drug abuse rates in the country.

Mary-Linden Salter, the director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services, said:

“Women are the caregivers of their families. They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery…”
Woman having hard time, drinking alcohol

“It’s unrealistic for people to travel seven hundred miles for treatment because that’s where there’s an open bed. Women are the caregivers of their families. They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It’s a horrible choice.”

This is just a glimpse at the crippling problems that women who struggle with a substance abuse habit have to face. Now let’s take a look at some of the solutions and potential resolutions that we could innovate in helping addicted women versus incarcerating them.

Drug Addiction Treatment is the Solution

What we can’t stress enough is that drug addiction treatment is the answer for women who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. This is not a problem that just goes away because a woman is put into jail and denied access to their drug of choice. In fact, since drug abuse has been proven time and time again to be more of a personal, mental, spiritual, and behavioral problem than it is a physical one, women who are thrown in jail are just as likely to go right back to drug use after their prison sentence as a jail cell is not a rehabilitation program.

While women are historically not as likely to become addicted to drugs as men are, this has all begun to change with the advent of pharmaceutical drugging and the problems that prescription medicines have brought with them. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drug addiction has risen by two-hundred and sixty percent for men since 2001 but has risen by three-hundred and forty percent amongst women. Women need addiction treatment. That’s the simple truth of the matter.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.