When you have a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse, you would likely do almost anything to get them addiction treatment help.

Article at a Glance:  

  • A very small percentage of people who need substance abuse services actually receive help.  
  • Involuntary commitment laws make it possible for families to help their loved ones who are unwilling to be treated. 
  • However, it is usually necessary to prove that a person has inflicted harm on themselves or others to have him/her involuntarily committed to rehab.  
  • There are 37 states in the U.S. that have involuntary commitment laws for addiction treatment.  
  • Rehab seems to work just as well, if not better, for people who were involuntarily committed compared to those who chose to go to rehab. 

Involuntary Commitment Laws for Drug Rehab

When you have a loved one who is struggling with substance abuse, you would likely do almost anything to get them addiction treatment help. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that as many as 23.9 million people need substance abuse services but only 2.6 million, or about 11 percent, actually receive help.

Since fatal overdoses nearly tripled in this country between 1999 and 2014, families and regulators alike are looking at taking desperate measures to keep people affected by this crisis alive. One of the ways that they are doing this is through involuntary commitment laws.

These laws, which are now active in a majority of U.S. states, are just one more tool in the battle against addiction and its devastating effects. Even as families take every measure possible to protect the lives of those they love, there are questions about whether or not these methods will work.

States With Involuntary Commitment Laws for Addiction Treatment

There are currently 37 U.S. states (and the District of Columbia) that allow some form of involuntary commitment for addiction treatment. The process, requirements, and how long a person can be committed will vary by each state.

List of States that Permit Involuntary Commitment
  • 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

Just Montana and Rhode Island limit involuntary commitment for alcoholism only. Vermont allows this process for substance use disorder only. There is proposed legislation in New Jersey to allow these types of civil commitments, but it has not yet been approved by the legislature.

How Do Involuntary Commitment Laws Work?

If you are hoping to “force” someone you care about into rehab, this could be possible, but it is not as simple as many would hope.  Just being concerned about someone’s drug or alcohol use is not enough. As a parent, you may have more rights to “commit” a minor child to substance abuse treatment if this is permitted in your state.

If the person that you are worried about is not a minor, the bar is higher before a court will grant such an order. In most states with these laws, you will have to go to court and prove one or more things. First, there must be some proof that the individual in question has a substance use disorder. Some states allow voluntary commitment for drugs or alcohol, while others are limited to one or the other.

In typical cases, you will also need to show either that the person has inflicted harm on themselves or others or, if not committed to rehab, there is a substantial risk that they will harm themselves or someone else.  You may also be able to show that the person is so addicted to alcohol or drugs that they have become incapacitated to the point of not being able to provide for their basic needs.

There are hearings in these cases, and the person that you seek to have committed has the right to attorney representation. If the person cannot afford an attorney, the court or some other participating agency can appoint one for them.

Related Topic: Court ordered mental health treatment

Does Rehab Work If It Is Not Voluntary?

One of the common questions that arise about these programs is whether or not they work.  Unfortunately, there is not much data available about this issue.  What is known is that many people go to rehab for reasons other than wanting to find recovery.  In fact, data published by SAMHSA in 2016 reveals that as many as one-third of patients admitted to rehab from 2004-2014 were admitted through compulsory court programs.

These patients no more wanted to go to rehab than someone who is forced to go by their family. Despite this, the process seems to work just as well, if not better. The NIDA published a research-based guide concluding that individuals who are coerced into substance abuse treatment stay in rehab longer and do just as well, if not better, than their peers who were not forced to attend a program.

Can You Convince an Addict to Go to Rehab?

There is little doubt that the treatment gap, the difference between the need for treatment and its use, is massive. If everyone that needed substance abuse treatment received it, there would be a rehab crisis in this country. Sadly, this is not the reality. The best possible scenario is that loved ones are able to convince an addict to go to rehab, but this does not always work.

You may try a professional intervention, which often has positive results, but there is no guarantee that someone who is operating with an impaired brain will make the right and healthy choice. When loved ones feel at risk or are worried about the health, safety, and future of someone they care deeply about, it may be time to take drastic measures.

Involuntary commitment is available in most U.S. states, including Florida. The Sunshine State had over 10,000 requests to use their Marchman Act in both 2015 and 2016. If you are looking for a caring and compassionate rehab for your loved one, addiction treatment is available at The Recovery Village.

One of the common criticisms of involuntary commitment laws is that, even though they are a start, the length of stay they recommend is often insufficient. States vary on how long someone can be civilly committed, but the most effective addiction treatment program is tailored to the particular needs of each individual.

Related Topic: Starting Addiction Treatment through an Online Rehab

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Robert Fishman
Robert Fishman is the vice president of admissions at Advanced Recovery Systems, a position he has held since May of 2013. Read more
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.