Inside the Criminal Mind

Understanding the dark side of human conduct

Mind-Altering Substances Facilitate Whatever the Offender Seeks

Drugs offer excitement, not "escape"

Many offenders claim their "problem" is drug use.  They contend, if it weren't for drugs, they wouldn't be in the trouble they are in.  They offer innumerable reasons for excessive drinking or illegal drug use. They primarily emphasize the theme of escaping something undesirable. For example, drug users and alcoholics may say that they want to escape the bleakness of sordid social conditions in which they live. They may say that they seek to get away from a deteriorating family life. They may seek to escape the tedium of mind-numbing jobs. Escaping boredom is another frequent theme. In other words, the emphasis is upon seeking surcease from any aspect of life that they find oppressive or burdensome.

These explanations are offered mainly as after the fact rationalizations or excuses when others hold them accountable for their behavior. Many men, women, and young people who experience similar difficulties in life respond quite differently. They may be sad, bored, or resentful, but have no interest in drug use whatsoever. Many deal with adversity constructively, working through difficult situations and trying to improve their lives.

Drug-using offenders were irresponsible before ever using drugs.  The criminality does not reside within the substance (other than the fact of possessing it).  Mind-altering substances bring out what already resides with the individual. If ten men get drunk, all do not rape or commit other crimes. Some, if unaccustomed to drinking, may fall asleep. Some may become silly and joke around more. Some may become loud and boisterous. Some may become belligerent. And perhaps one may get into a car and drive while intoxicated.

For the criminal, mind-altering substances facilitate whatever he desires. Primarily, drugs have three facilitating effects: commission of bigger and more daring crimes, sexual conquests, or an enhanced sense of power and control. For some offenders, drugs can bring about a "religious" experience, but the ensuing thinking is likely that of being "god-like" rather than having a spiritual experience of being in touch with a supreme being. And, for an offender, already thinking about ending his life, drugs may facilitate suicidal gestures or suicide itself.

An offender is not likely to volunteer the above when he is being interviewed and held accountable. In casing out the interviewer, he is trying to figure out what will best satisfy that person in the sense of providing a plausible explanation for his behavior that will seem least incriminating and show him in the best possible light.

Stanton Samenow, Ph.D.,is a clinical psychologist practicing in Alexandria, Virginia and author of Inside the Criminal Mind.

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