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Can You Force Someone into Rehab? | Involuntary Commitment

Last Updated: January 29, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Can you force someone into rehab? In some cases, the answer is yes. People typically have the right to make their own healthcare decisions, including addiction treatment. Still, there are severe situations where rights to self-determination may be limited. 

No matter the situation, it’s important to approach it with empathy and encourage the person to seek help. If you’re facing a difficult situation and need guidance, it’s a good idea to talk to addiction specialists or a legal professional. They can provide personalized advice based on your situation and local laws.

Can You Force Someone into Rehab?

When it comes to making someone enter addiction treatment against their will, it can get legally complicated. It involves various laws related to personal freedoms, healthcare and mental health. They also vary based on location. Some key aspects to be considered include:

  • Age: Parents or legal guardians may hold the authority to make healthcare decisions for minors. This includes admitting them into addiction treatment. The legal age for healthcare decisions and consent can vary. Sometimes, minors might be able to refuse treatment or request a different approach.
  • Drug courts: Some jurisdictions have established drug courts. They focus on diverting people with addiction from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs. Participating in drug court programs is often voluntary. Also, when someone completes a program, the judge may reduce the legal consequences of drug-related crime. 
  • Involuntary commitment laws: Also known as civil commitment laws, these laws vary widely. They’re usually designed to protect people who are a danger to themselves or others because of mental health or a substance use disorder.
  • Eligibility for involuntary commitment: Typically, there needs to be proof that the person poses a significant risk to their safety or the safety of others. The legal process usually requires evidence from mental health professionals. Decisions are made through an administrative or court hearing.

What Is the Process for Involuntary Commitment?

The process to involuntarily commit someone differs based on local laws and regulations. However, the general steps that may apply include:

  • Threat assessment: The process usually starts with an assessment. This will help determine if the person poses a significant risk to themselves or others. Law enforcement, mental health professionals or healthcare providers may conduct this evaluation.
  • Disability or incapacitation: The assessment may look at whether the substance use disorder is so severe that the person can’t make rational decisions for themselves.
  • Neglect: The criteria may include neglect, meaning the person isn’t able to provide for their own basic needs.
  • Petitioning the court: Family members, law enforcement, mental health professionals or friends may ask the court to commit someone. To do so, they must show evidence and documentation justifying the need for involuntary commitment based on the threat assessment.
  • Medical assessment: Courts will often require a psychiatric or medical assessment. This will establish the person’s mental health condition and the need for involuntary commitment.
  • Legal proceedings: A court will review evidence and conduct legal proceedings to determine if there’s justification for involuntary commitment. The person may have the right to legal representation. Their due process rights are also considered throughout the court proceedings.
  • Court order: If the court decides there’s enough evidence the person meets the criteria for involuntary commitment, it may issue a court order. That would specify the duration of commitment and the treatment type or facility where they’ll receive care.

The specifics of this process can vary a great deal by jurisdiction.

What States Have Involuntary Commitment Laws for Substance Use?

States with involuntary commitment laws for addiction 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

Even when a state does have involuntary commitment laws for addiction, the person still has many civil rights protections. These laws are designed to balance the need for intervention with the protection of the person’s civil rights. Due process requirements vary but often include:

  • Providing notice to the person 
  • Giving them an opportunity to be heard
  • A fair and impartial review

These steps must all take place before issuing a commitment order. Many states emphasize using the least restrictive approach to address a person’s substance use or mental health needs.

People facing an involuntary commitment generally have the right to legal representation, including having a lawyer present during court proceedings. If the person can’t afford an attorney, the court may be able to appoint one to ensure their rights are protected.

Petitioners who want to begin the process typically need to provide supporting evidence. The courts play a critical role in reviewing this evidence. They ensure due process and make determinations about involuntary commitment.

What Laws Address Involuntary Rehab?

Some of the specific laws addressing involuntary rehab include:

  • The Marchman Act is a Florida law designed for involuntary evaluation, stabilization and treatment of people struggling with substance misuse. It allows law enforcement, family members or healthcare professionals to request a court order for involuntary commitment. If issued, this can involve assessment, stabilization or treatment for up to 90 days.
  • Casey’s Law in Kentucky is also known as the Matthew Casey Wethington Act for Substance Abuse Intervention. The law allows family members, friends or healthcare professionals to petition the court for involuntary addiction treatment. However, the person must be in danger of death or serious harm because of their addiction. The court can order involuntary treatment for up to 360 days.
  • Ricky’s Law in Washington state allows designated mental health professionals, law enforcement and family members to begin treatment proceedings. The person must pose a likelihood of serious harm.
  • Minnesota’s Substance Use Emergency Commitment Law allows for temporary involuntary commitment if someone is facing a substance use emergency. The person has to be in imminent danger because of substance misuse. The emergency commitment is limited in duration.
  • Massachusetts General Law Chapter 123, Section 35 permits family, law enforcement and healthcare professionals to petition the court for commitment if serious harm is likely.

What Is the Typical Length of Rehab in These Cases?

As mentioned in the examples above, the typical length of rehab per involuntary commitment laws varies widely. For example, in Florida, treatment can last up to 90 days, while in Kentucky, it can last up to 360 days. Some states have more ambiguous guidelines for the maximum length of treatment.

In some jurisdictions, there’s the potential for recommitment if it’s found to be necessary to address recurring issues. Recommitment might include a legal process similar to the initial involuntary commitment. This includes reviewing the person’s condition and the necessity for continued treatment.

Does Involuntary Commitment Work?

The effectiveness of involuntary commitment for substance misuse or addiction is complicated. Factors like limited data and varied use across states make assessing how well involuntary commitment works difficult. It’s also hard to measure outcomes like relapse rates.

Studies assessing the effectiveness of involuntary commitment frequently yield mixed results. Some studies show positive outcomes, such as improved functioning and reduced substance use. Other reports find no significant difference in outcomes in voluntary vs. involuntary treatment.

Still, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) concludes that involuntary treatment can yield higher treatment retention. However, it acknowledges it may not be successful universally.

How to Get Someone Into Rehab?

Whenever possible, getting someone to seek treatment on their own without legal proceedings is the better option. A compassionate and supportive approach is essential. It helps to learn about treatment options like inpatient and outpatient programs. You can also educate yourself about the benefits of seeking professional addiction treatment.

From there, talk with the person with empathy. Express that you’re concerned about their well-being rather than placing blame or judgment. Share resources and help research facilities.

You might want to work with a professional interventionist to guide the process. Interventionists can facilitate open communication and encourage the person to consider treatment.

The decision to seek treatment is ultimately up to the person. However, offering understanding, information and ongoing support can create an encouraging environment. If they’re hesitant, mental health professionals and addiction specialists can provide more guidance.

Sources

Kerwin, M. E., Kirby, K. C., Speziali, D., Duggan, M., Mellitz, C., Versek, B., & McNamara, A. “What Can Parents Do? A Review of State Laws Regarding Decision Making for Adolescent Drug Abuse and Mental Health Treatment.” NIH National Library of Medicine, March 6, 2015. Accessed January 23, 2024.

Office of National Drug Control Policy. “Drug Courts.” Accessed January 23, 2024.

Salmassi, Mithra. “Many States Allow Involuntary Commitment for Addiction Treatment.” Partnership To End Addiction, September 2016. Accessed January 23, 2024.

National Judicial Opioid Task Force. “Involuntary Commitment and Guardianship Laws for Persons with a Substance Use Disorder.” Accessed January 23, 2024.

Congressional Research Service. “Involuntary Commitment: Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Protections.” May 24, 2023. Accessed January 23, 2024.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Civil Commitment and the Mental Health Care Continuum: Historical Trends and Principles for Law and Practice.” 2019. Accessed January 23, 2024. 

Florida Department of Children and Families. “Marchman Act.” Accessed January 23, 2024.

Casey’s Law. “About Casey’s Law.” Accessed January 23, 2024. 

Colorado Behavioral Health Administration. “Substance Use Commitment.” Accessed January 23, 2024. 

Washington State Health Care Authority. “Ricky’s Law: Involuntary Treatment Act.” 2023. Accessed January 23, 2024. 

National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota. “Understanding the Minnesota Civil Commitment Process.” Accessed January 23, 2024.

The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “Section 35: Commitment of alcoholics or substance abusers.” 2023. Accessed January 23, 2024. 

Jain, Abhishek MD et al. “Civil Commitment for Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders: Does It Work?” April 2, 2018. Accessed January 23, 2024.

Werb, D. et al. “The effectiveness of Compulsory Drug Treatment: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Drug Policy, February 2016. Accessed January 26, 2024.