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Can You Force Someone into Rehab? | Involuntary Commitment

Last Updated: January 25, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

If you love a person who’s dealing with addiction, you may feel like you’d do anything to get them treatment and help. In some cases, talking with the person openly and honestly about their substance issues can encourage them to seek treatment. In other circumstances, if the person refuses to get help or denies their condition, it could leave you wondering: can you force someone into rehab?

Can You Force Someone Into Rehab?

There are particular scenarios where you might be able to “force” someone into rehab. For example, many states allow parents with children under 18 to force them to attend treatment without the consent of the child. For adults who are 18 and older, it can be different. There are a lot of states, however, that do have involuntary commitment laws for adults.

You could be able to take a few paths to force someone into rehab. One option is through a drug court, where nonviolent offenders are diverted from the prison system and into treatment. The goal of a diversion program isn’t punishment — it’s instead to help with treating the substance use disorder. For eligibility to make someone go to rehab through a drug court, they would need to have been arrested, plead guilty to the offense they’re charged with and then agree to participate in the program ordered by the court.

Another option would be the use of involuntary commitment laws. Presently, 35 states and the District of Columbia have laws for involuntary commitment related to addiction treatment. States vary in the specifics of their laws, but certain criteria must be met.

What Is the Process for Involuntary Commitment?

There are varied processes for involuntary commitment among the different states. While there are differences between states, there are broadly similar criteria in most cases. Some common processes related to involuntary addiction treatment include:

  • The person presents a danger to themselves or the people around them.
  • An individual is mentally or physically disabled because of their substance use disorder.
  • The person is incapacitated, meaning unable to make decisions.
  • There’s neglect in the sense that the person isn’t able to fulfill their own basic needs because of addiction.
  • Complete loss of control.

There are limitations regarding who’s allowed to petition the court for involuntary commitment, and the person needing treatment has to undergo a medical assessment. The medical professional conducting the assessment must certify the need for addiction treatment, with the certification submitted to the court in writing.

What States Have Involuntary Commitment Laws for Substance Use?

The states with laws related to involuntary commitment because of addiction and the need for substance misuse treatment include:

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

Petitioning for involuntary commitment ensures the civil rights of the person with the substance use disorder are maintained. A person has a right to an attorney throughout the process. The individual can also petition for a written order of habeas corpus, which allows them to go before a judge.

The goal is to honor an individual’s right to personal freedom and prevent arbitrarily detaining them. Suppose a writ of habeas corpus is filed. In that case, the individual is asking the court to examine the legality of their situation, and the court is left to determine if the person is being held in a way that violates their rights or the law.

What Laws Address Involuntary Rehab?

Examples of laws in different states addressing involuntary addiction treatment include:

  • The Marchman Act, which is in Florida, allows concerned parties to petition the court for an involuntary assessment of substance misuse. The assessment can be used to decide whether the person meets the requirements and criteria for involuntary treatment, which can then be court-ordered. Treatment under the Marchman Act might include detoxification, acute stabilization and rehab.
  • The parents of Matthew Wethington started Casey’s Law in Kentucky following his death from an overdose in 2002. After going into effect in 2004, the law allows parents and relatives, as well as friends, to intervene and petition for treatment on behalf of someone impaired by substance use.
  • In Colorado, there’s a provision for involuntary commitment related to a substance use disorder as part of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment Act or ASATA. Under the law, there’s a framework for anyone who could be dangerous to themselves or others because of misuse of substances.
  •  In 2018, Ricky’s Law went into effect in Washington, saying that young people and adults can be involuntarily detained if they’re deemed a danger to themselves, others or other people’s property or if they can’t take care of themselves because of substance use.
  • In Massachusetts General Law Chapter 123, Section 35, police officers, spouses, blood relatives, physicians and court officials may petition the court to commit someone to treatment.

What is the Typical Length of Rehab in These Cases?

How long someone can be required to stay in an involuntary treatment program depends on the state. It ranges throughout the country from three days to up to a year. Always seek legal consultation and be aware of the laws in your state.

Does Involuntary Commitment Work?

It’s often possible to force someone to go to rehab under current laws, but the effectiveness of involuntary treatment can be debatable. It’s a challenging question because most people aren’t going to enter into recovery until they’re ready. Even if you can force someone to go, a treatment program requires hard work and compliance with a treatment plan. If an individual is forced into rehab, they might not be willing to participate in their treatment plan.

There’s limited data on involuntary rehab outcomes, so it’s hard to generalize the approach’s effectiveness. Current research shows mixed results, with some experiencing positive outcomes and others not.

How to Get Someone to Go to Rehab

Getting someone to go to rehab voluntarily is often the best path, even if you have legal alternatives. If you force someone into treatment, there may be adverse outcomes, and it should always be the last resort. Instead, you can play a positive role by researching treatment centers. You can look into payment options if the financial component is an obstacle. Several public assistance programs and nonprofit organizations can also help someone get the treatment they need.

Another approach is an intervention, where you approach the conversation with your loved one in the best possible way, usually with professional guidance. The goal is to encourage them to make the decision to seek treatment.

It’s time to get your life back.

Sources

National Judicial Opioid Task Force. “Involuntary Commitment and Guardianship Laws for Persons with a Substance Use Disorder.” Accessed January 16, 2024. 

Kerwin, MaryLouise, et al. “What Can Parents Do? A Review of State Laws Regarding Decision Making for Adolescent Drug Abuse and Mental Health Treatment.” Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, March 6, 2015. Accessed January 16, 2024. 

US Marshals Service. “Writ of Habeas Corpus.” Accessed January 16, 2024. 

Florida Department of Children and Families. “Marchman Act.” Accessed January 16, 2024.

Casey’s Law. “About Casey’s Law.” Accessed January 16, 2024. 

Colorado Behavioral Health Administration. “Substance Use Commitment.” Accessed January 16, 2024. 

Washington State Health Care Authority. “Ricky’s Law: Involuntary Treatment Act.” 2023. Accessed January 16, 2024. 

The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “Section 35: Commitment of alcoholics or substance abusers.” 2023. Accessed January 16, 2024. 

Werb, D. et al. “The effectiveness of Compulsory Drug Treatment: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Drug Policy, February 2016. Accessed January 16, 2024.