Addiction treatment laws can protect confidential information of a person seeking treatment and help concerned family and friends compel someone to get treatment.

Watching a loved one struggle with addiction can be heartbreaking. Substance use disorders can affect every aspect of an individual’s life, causing problems in the family, poor work performance and contact with the criminal justice system. The goal most families and friends in this position share is helping their loved one receive substance use treatment.

Of course, getting someone to agree to treatment may be easier said than done. Many people who struggle with substance abuse initially reject advice and help from those closest to them. Due to the increasing occurrence of substance use disorders, many states have passed addiction treatment laws aimed at helping those who are unwilling or unable to help themselves.

Drug and Alcohol Treatment Laws for Adults

In some cases, individuals who live with drug or alcohol addiction are open to professional treatment options. Unfortunately, many people who struggle with drug and alcohol use disorders are opposed to treatment. For this reason, the number of states that have enacted drug and alcohol treatment laws is rising.

Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have involuntary commitment laws. Of these states, Rhode Island and Montana only provide an involuntary commitment for those suffering from alcohol misuse, and Vermont only includes those with drug addiction.

Involuntary Commitment Laws

According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, the involuntary commitment laws held by most states can be initiated by a spouse, relative, friend, guardian, health care practitioner or law enforcement officer. The petition to a county court for involuntary commitment must usually include one or more affidavits or certificates from a physician or other health care provider stating that the person was examined and emergency detention and treatment is warranted.

Emergency commitment can range from 24 hours to five days, with a provision for extensions. The maximum period for those involuntarily committed can range from 72 hours to one year, with three months being the most common timeframe.

It should be noted that individuals in every state who are seeking to be involuntarily committed have a right to an attorney to represent them during the proceedings, as well as the right to petition whether their detention is lawful after being committed.

Four main criteria are needed for a petition to be considered:

  • Proof the person is addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • Evidence that the individual has threatened, attempted or already inflicted harm on themselves or someone else
  • Proof showing that if the individual is not detained he or she will inflict physical harm to themselves or someone else
  • Evidence that the individual cannot provide for basic physical needs and no one else in their life (such as family or friends) is willing to provide for those needs

The Baker Act

The Baker Act, also known as the Florida Mental Health Act, first became effective in 1972 in the state of Florida. The Baker Act is useful in situations where an individual has a mental illness that causes significant impairment and the possibility of harm to self or others. Involuntary admission allows for an examination and access to psychiatric care. The law cannot be used as a substitute for care for other medical conditions or substance use disorders without co-occurring mental health conditions.

Related Topic: Court ordered mental health treatment

The Marchman Act

The Florida Marchman Act is intended to help those who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. A family member or friend can file a petition with the local court to obtain involuntary treatment for their loved one’s substance use disorder. Criteria needed before a petition is accepted include proof that the individual lacks self-control concerning their substance use, has the potential for harm that’s self-inflicted or aimed at others, and is unable to make reasonable decisions concerning their health.

Patient Confidentiality Laws

Although individuals who struggle with substance use disorders or mental health disorders may at some point be deemed unable to care for their own health, this does not deprive them of basic rights, including confidentiality. The importance of confidentiality in any health care setting is critical, and when dealing with substance use the consequences for indiscretion or unauthorized sharing of patient information could mean loss of employment and even arrest. Mental health confidentiality laws are necessary to protect the rights of those seeking or undergoing care for substance use.


HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was passed by Congress in 1996. Among other provisions, HIPAA sets the industry standard on protecting and keeping patient health information confidential. HIPAA requires substance abuse treatment centers, health care providers and others involved in handling patient care, such as health plans and health care clearinghouses, to protect patient information when it is transmitted or transferred electronically.

42 CFR Part 2

42 CFR Part 2 is a federal law specific to confidentiality in the field of substance abuse. This regulation outlines circumstances where information about a patient can be disclosed and protects all records relating to a patient’s identity, diagnosis, prognosis or treatment in a substance abuse program related or linked to the U.S. government. Information can be shared with written consent, or without consent under specific conditions, such as a medical emergency or crimes that occur on-site, against staff or to outside evaluators or researchers.

Can Minors Be Forced into Treatment?

Parents who have evidence or suspect drug use in their children may wonder, can you force someone into rehab. For minors aged 17 and younger with substance use disorder, parents have the legal right to request treatment for their child. Depending on the state laws and requirements, it is possible for a parent to admit their minor child to inpatient drug treatment based on parental consent. Parental consent is all that is needed in more than half of the states in the U.S. to admit a minor for inpatient drug treatment.

Family members or friends who petition for an individual to be committed to involuntary treatment in good faith are provided immunity and are not subject to criminal or civil liability. However, if it is determined that the person making the petition has done so based on fraudulent charges, they will be subject to criminal or civil penalties.

Additional Resources

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists federal laws and regulations that pertain to substance abuse and may be helpful in seeking treatment programs, prevention programs and funding for treatment:

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use and you would like to know what treatment options are available, feel free to contact The Recovery Village. One of our specialists can discuss an appropriate treatment plan for you.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Karen Vieira, PhD
Dr. Karen Vieira has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Florida College of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Read more

Gray, Heather. “State Laws Related to Involuntary Commit[…]order and Alcoholism.” National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, October 19, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2019. “2014 Baker Act User Reference Guide: The Florida Mental Health Act.” 2014. Accessed May 18, 2019. “The Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug […]tance Abuse Programs.” June 2004. Accessed May 18, 2019.

Kunkel, Tara. “Substance Abuse and Confidentiality: 42 CFR Part 2.” National Center for State Courts, 2012. Accessed May 18, 2019.

Kerwin ME, et al. “What Can Parents Do? A Review of State L[…]tal Health Treatment.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, March 6, 2015. Accessed May 18, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.