You know how hard it can be to watch a close friend or loved one struggle with addiction. You want to help them. You want them to get better. You want them to stop. But addiction doesn’t work that way. It’s not something people can turn on or off when they feel like it. It’s a disease. It’s a complex condition that involves the brain. And it is a chronic condition, meaning addictive behaviors can last for a long time, can be difficult to overcome, and can flare up often.
Yet, when you love someone whose life has been crippled by addiction, your gut reaction is to get them the help they need as soon as you can. Unfortunately, that’s not easy to do if your loved one refuses help. When that happens, you might feel like your only choice is to compel them to seek treatment. Addiction experts, lawmakers, and therapists call this specific kind of action an involuntary commitment. In this article, we’ll explore how involuntary commitment works and if it’s the right step for your loved one.
Involuntary Commitment into Rehab
Involuntary commitment is the process of enrolling a loved one into long-term treatment when they aren’t actively seeking treatment. In practice, though, it’s a little more complicated than that. You can’t simply put your relative in the car and drive them to the nearest rehab center. Involuntary commitment is a legal process that takes place in court, requires evidence, and has several different steps.
Note: We’re not lawyers and this is not legal advice. If you have specific questions about the involuntary commitment process in your local jurisdiction, please contact an attorney.
The first thing you’ll need to do is prove that your loved one or friend has a substance abuse problem. You can do this in several ways. Some common examples of proof include:
- Witness testimony. This often comes from family members and friends that have seen the person using illegal drugs, abusing alcohol, or misusing prescription drugs. Make sure the majority of your witnesses have seen the substance abuse firsthand. Courts generally consider testimonies from third-party witnesses as hearsay.
- Photo evidence. The photos can be from your phone, your loved one’s phone, or even one of their coworker’s phones. But you do need to make sure that you can prove that the photos are legitimate. One easy way to do that is to take screenshots of the image metadata, which usually shows the date, time, and year the photo was taken. You should also know that a photo of your loved one surrounded by empty bottles or illegal accessories doesn’t actually prove to the courts that your loved one used the substance.
- Drug or alcohol test. Results from drug and alcohol screening tests are effective ways to prove substance abuse. Testing is especially helpful for concerned parents dealing with minor children. You may be able to gather results from a failed drug test from an employer or a doctor’s office if requested.
- DUIs and arrest records. Courts typically look for a pattern of substance abuse before they approve involuntary commitment. Records that show a history of driving under the influence of alcohol or being arrested for drug use are examples of documentation that help establish a substance abuse issue.
- Hospitalization records of drug or alcohol-related issues. Like DUIs and arrest records, paperwork showing your loved one has been hospitalized for misusing drugs or alcohol helps provide additional proof of a substance use disorder.
- Screenshots of social media and/or texts showing excessive use. Today’s phones document everything. You can use text messages, social media images, and even live broadcast videos that show excessive use of alcohol or illegal substances to help your loved one get the help they need.
In addition to showing proof of substance abuse, you may also need to show intent to harm. Basically, the judge will want to see that the person you are looking to help has or will inflict harm on themselves or someone else due to their addiction. Any evidence of incapacitation to the point of being unable to provide for their basic needs such as food, shelter, or employment should suffice. As you present your case before the judge, they’ll consider your evidence and make a ruling based upon the involuntary commitment laws in your state.
Is Involuntary Commitment Legal?
Out of 50 states in the U.S, only 37 and the District of Columbia have involuntary commitment laws. But all these laws are not the same. States that permit involuntary commitment may allow court-ordered rehab for one or more of the following:
- Substance use disorder
- Substance abuse and alcoholism
This means some states will allow involuntary commitment for a diagnosable substance use disorder only, while other states only involuntary commit people living with alcohol addiction. Most of the 37 states allow involuntary commitment for drug and alcohol abuse. Massachusetts, for example, is one of those states.
Most judges, however, are less likely to rule in favor of involuntary commitment after your loved one has turned 18 years old. Even though you have their best intentions in mind, your loved one has the right to an attorney. If they can’t afford one, the court or a third party agency will provide one.
The Pros and Cons of Involuntary Commitment
There are advantages and disadvantages that come with involuntary commitment.
The good that comes out of compelling a loved one to attend treatment include:
- Professional treatment. This is what you’ve waited, hoped, and wished for your loved one.
- Long-term recovery and/or sobriety. This is the end goal. As you know, addiction is a chronic condition, so your loved one may relapse. Nonetheless, rehabilitation does, in fact, increase their chances of long-term recovery. Section 35 of Massachusetts’ involuntary commitment law mandates up to 90 days of forced rehab. Generally, longer treatment times help increase an individual’s chance of successful recovery.
Some problems which involuntary commitment can lead to include:
- States not having enough facilities to properly treat residents. With the courts approving more and more involuntary commitment cases, some states are finding it difficult to keep up with demand.
- Increased risk of physical harm. If your loved one is upset at attending rehab through the court system, they may attempt to harm themselves physically.
- Severed family relationships. Patients may choose to break off ties with you due to the involuntary commitment process. This can be temporary or long-lasting. Luckily, most rehabilitation programs also offer family counseling and therapy.
Does Involuntary Commitment Work?
While involuntary commitment is not the right choice for everyone, it’s important to consider the following statistics:
- 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, but only about 10% of people get the help they need.
- 33% of patients admitted to rehab from 2004 to 2014 were admitted through court orders. Without involuntary commitment, those people might have never received treatment.
- The same study reveals people compelled to attend rehab tend to stay in treatment longer and do just as well or even better than those who were not involuntarily committed.
- A 2016 study found that people in Massachusetts that entered court-ordered rehab were twice as likely to complete treatment compared to people who sought out rehab on their own.
As you can see, research is mixed on the efficacy of involuntary commitment. So before you decide to interact with the court system, consider professional intervention services.
Professional Intervention Can Help
We understand how difficult it is to watch your loved one battle addiction. We know how frustrating it is to see their quality of life slip away. We understand how tiring and exhausting it is to watch them relapse. But involuntary commitment can be risky. That’s why we suggest you look into having a professional help you stage an intervention first.
During an intervention, you will work with a trained professional to develop a plan that will help your loved one realize their own need for help. While involuntary commitment may help your loved one, helping them realize their own need makes the decision more personal and consequential. Admitting your need for help really is the first step toward successful rehabilitation.
If you have a loved one living with addiction, call Meta Addiction Treatment today at (978) 776-3206. Our recovery experts are ready to help your loved one get on the path to recovery.