Addiction Treatment

Understanding the Legal Consequences of Substance Abuse

Written By:

Becky Babb

Understanding the Legal Consequences of Substance Abuse

Drug related offenses can have legal consequences in the present and future. Four federal legal principles can get in the way of recovery from substance use. Learn how to navigate the legal issues which can arise and what can be done if an individual gets caught in the system.

Criminal Record

Tens of thousands of legal and regulatory barriers exist which burden people with a criminal record. The laws and policies exist in Federal, state and local laws. A person’s ability to live with family, build a safety net, be gainfully employed or advance education can be impacted by a criminal record.


Substance abuse is punishable by law which includes individuals with substance use disorder who need treatment and support. Unfortunately these individuals are singled out with drug-related convictions or histories of drug or alcohol misuse. The offenses which exist under Federal law can severely hinder a person’s ability to function normally in society by denial of benefits and restrictions on housing. Some of the following may occur if a person is convicted by the law for substance abuse and receives a criminal record.Denial of nutrition assistance and public benefitsFederal law prohibits a person convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving nutrition assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which was formerly known as food stamps. This also applies to cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The law creates a lifetime ban for persons with drug felony convictions which can include simple possession of marijuana or other drugs. Some states have opted out of the ban so it is important to check the state in which an individual resides.Restrictions on public housingAccess to public and federally assisted housing is limited for people with drug convictions or histories of drug or alcohol misuse. These policies include a three-year ban on admitting any person evicted from public housing due to substance misuse and the family. Housing authorities and landlords may also opt to deny people housing after engaging in drug use.Employment Individuals with convictions for drug-related offenses are barred by federal law from working in the healthcare industry. Permanent exclusions from employment include Medicare, Medicaid and State Block Grant programs. Maintenance jobs can also be limited for individuals with convictions. Many other barriers to employment exist which can make it difficult for persons seeking gainful work to do so effectively.Financial aid banThe Higher Education Act in 1998 was amended to prohibit individuals with a drug conviction from receiving federal financial aid for college. Since this time, the ban is limited to only those convictions for conduct which occurred while a student was receiving financial aid. Education is thusly interrupted for thousands of students even if they complete or are actively working through addiction treatment.

Last Resort offers therapeutic support for individuals struggling with addiction. If you or a loved one need help, call us at 512.750.6750 to discuss how our trained support staff can assist you.

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