Can Drug Rehab Be Forced?

Watching a friend or loved one struggle with addiction is extremely difficult. It can be especially hard for parents. Compelled by the innate desire to protect their children from harm, most parents jump into action, doing whatever they can to make the addiction “go away.” For some parents, this can include pushing their children to get help at an addiction treatment program.

But can drug rehab be forced? Can concerned loved ones legally require a family member or friend to seek out addiction treatment? If they can, is this step frequently successful? What risks are involved?

Here at Solution Based Treatment & Detox, we pride ourselves on helping our clients achieve their highest potential. A key component of that mission is helping family members and friends both understand addiction and ways they can help their loved ones struggling with substance use disorder. To that end, here’s what parents, family members, and friends need to know about compulsory addiction treatment.

Involuntary Addiction Treatment: What You Need to Know

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, only 11% of people who need substance use treatment actually receive professional care. In addition to that, fatal overdoses in the United States have almost tripled since 1999. With such alarming substance use disorder statistics, it’s no wonder that families, friends, and legislators are looking to involuntary treatment as a possible solution to slow the crisis.

In its simplest form, involuntary treatment means forcing someone to go to rehab against their will. Because of the compulsory nature of the order, it’s been difficult for legislators to decide whether or not this kind of action can and should be considered legal. But that hasn’t stopped anxious parents from calling treatment facilities and local, state and federal agencies asking if they can force their child to go to rehab.

In response to this outcry, the advocacy group National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL) helped pass laws in 37 of 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, making it legal for parents and friends to involuntary commit a loved one into alcohol or drug rehab treatment facilities.

While this legislation might feel like a sigh of relief for many parents, there are specific requirements they must meet before taking this kind of action. They are:

  • First, parents or friends must prove that their loved one is, in fact, addicted to drugs or alcohol. Generally, this also includes evidence that the loved one has threatened, attempted, or inflicted actual harm on themselves or others, or proof that they will harm others. Courts often accept proof that the person is so debilitated by drugs that they can’t provide for their own basic needs.
  • After this proof is received, the court schedules a hearing. As a result of due process, individuals that are in the process of being committed against their will do have the right to attorney representation. If they don’t have an attorney, the court or a third-party agency can appoint legal representation on their behalf.

After the judge grants approval, parents, family members, and friends are then allowed to proceed with involuntary commitment.

What States Can You Force Someone into Rehab

While specific aspects of the process and requirements, as well as how long a person can be committed, varies from state to state, all states with involuntary commitment laws allow individuals the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus after being committed.

States with involuntary commitment laws for substance use disorder and alcoholism are:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Rhode Island and Montana only permit involuntary commitment for alcoholism, while Vermont only allows commitment for substance use disorder.

Does Forcing Rehab Work?

Though legal, the effectiveness of involuntary commitment depends on whether facilities have the space and capacity to treat these individuals, as well as whether or not individuals forced into treatment actually recover.

“How well this works really does depend on having treatment capacity available,” Jessica Hulsey Nickel, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Addiction Policy Forum, told Behavioral Healthcare Executive.

The more concerning issue plaguing today’s experts is whether or not individuals forced into rehab actually benefit from forced treatment. Research on that point, much of which is still being gathered, is mixed and somewhat conflicting.

According to data published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2016, as many as 33% of patients admitted to rehab between 2004 and 2014 were admitted through court programs. Though these particular individuals were not forced into rehab by family or friends, they were still forced into treatment against their will.

Most seemed to benefit from the process, according to the findings. Because individuals coerced into treatment are committed for specific, generally longer lengths of time than the average person, they tend to do well, if not better, than those who aren’t compelled to attend a treatment program.

While the length of time in rehab can certainly increase its effectiveness, some experts are concerned that the long-term results of involuntary commitment are less successful.

Recent data published by Harvard Medical School suggests involuntary commitment under Section 35 of Massachusetts’ Care Act is especially ineffective. For example, the treatment provided under Section 35 offers counseling and classes to learn more about addiction but rarely mandates evidence-based treatment.

In fact, the state, which is known for having one of the highest percentages of opioid use nationwide, published a report proving that people who were committed against their will there were more than twice as likely to overdose than those who enrolled in treatment on their own.

As in the case of Massachusetts, different states commit individuals to different programs, some being more effective and having better treatment options than others. Additionally, many times involuntary commitment does not include help for the physical and mental health issues which may have triggered substance abuse in the first place.

Here at Solution Based Treatment & Detox, we provide comprehensive, customized treatment plans for all of our clients, regardless of how they are enrolled in our programs.

Is Forcing Rehab Worth the Risks?

Deciding to force someone into rehab can be an uncertain decision.

Here at Solution Based Treatment & Detox, we recommend family and friends receive advice and instruction from a professional intervention program before making this kind of decision. Parents like Louise Vincent, who lost her 19-year-old daughter to an overdose after forcing her into rehab, regret not taking advantage of a professional intervention program which could have helped her think more holistically about the kind of treatment her daughter needed.

“Parents going through these situations are terrified their children are going to die,” Louise Vincent told The Fix. “I get it. I’ve been there. But the conversation shouldn’t be just about getting a person into treatment as if that were a golden ticket to make people well. We need to talk about real solutions. Listen to our loved ones. What do they actually want and need? Often people using drugs chaotically have much deeper problems that need to be addressed. Grief. Joblessness. Homelessness. No sense of purpose. They are using to cope with those things. Taking away their coping mechanism – the drugs – won’t help them get better.”

Whether or not parents, family or friends are able to involuntary commit their loved one is ultimately up to the decision of a court. We understand the pain and desperation that comes from seeing a loved one struggle with addiction — we’ve been there.

Our expert staff is ready and willing to help your loved one overcome drug or alcohol addiction. If you’ve considered involuntary treatment because of a family member’s or friend’s struggle with addiction, call us first. We are available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week at (877) 309-4311. It’s not an easy journey, but recovery is possible.

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