Can You Force Someone into Rehab?: Involuntary Commitment

Written by Heather Lomax

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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When you love someone struggling with addiction, you feel like you’ll do anything to get them help. In some cases, if you speak openly and honestly about the effects of the person’s substance misuse, they might agree to seek treatment. In other cases, the person is in denial or refuses to get help, leaving loved ones wondering, can you force someone into rehab?

Can You Force Someone into Rehab?

There are situations where you can force someone into rehab. For example, many states do allow parents with minor children under the age of 18 to force them to attend treatment even without the child’s consent. For people who are 18 and older, it can be a bit different. A lot of states do have involuntary commitment laws for people who are 18 and older.

So, can you force someone into rehab? Yes, and you can take a few paths to do so. One is through drug courts. Drug courts divert offenders who are nonviolent and who have a substance use disorder from the prison system and instead into supervised treatment. Punishment isn’t the goal of these programs. The goal is to help treat the substance use disorder. For drug court eligibility, however, the person must have been arrested. They then have to plead guilty to the offense they’re charged with and agree to participate in a court-ordered program.

Another option is to go through involuntary commitment laws. Thirty-five states, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws in place for involuntary commitment when someone has an addiction. The statutes vary significantly in terms of the specifics, but certain criteria must be met across the board for involuntary commitment laws to go into effect.

What Is the Process for Involuntary Commitment?

There’s a set of steps or a process varying from state to state that loved ones have to follow to place someone in rehab involuntarily. Most states have similar criteria that are followed. The things that may have to occur as part of the process include:

  • The individual is a danger to themselves or others around them
  • Substance use disorder has rendered the person mentally or physically disabled
  • Incapacitation means the person isn’t able to make decisions
  • There’s neglect, in the sense that the loved one can’t fulfill their basic needs due to their addiction
  • Complete loss of control

There are limitations on who can petition a court for involuntary commitment. The person must also be assessed by a medical professional. That medical professional then has to certify the individual requires addiction treatment. The certification has to be submitted to the court in writing.

What States Have Involuntary Commitment Laws for Substance Use?

The states that have laws in place allowing for involuntary commitment to substance use 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

A petition for involuntary commitment does retain the civil rights of the person with an addiction. They have the right to an attorney during the process and can petition the court for a written order of habeas corpus. This legal order requires someone detained or imprisoned to go before a court or judge. 

The objective is to protect someone’s right to personal freedom and prevent arbitrary imprisonment. When someone files a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, they ask the court to look at the legality of the situation. The court then determines if the person is being held in a way that’s violating their rights or statutory law. The individual can also present at the hearing, cross-examine witnesses and appeal the original decision.

What Laws Address Involuntary Rehab?

Specific laws deal with involuntary rehab in varying ways across states. Examples include:

  • The Marchman Act allows concerned family members in Florida, as well as friends or other parties, to petition the court for an involuntary assessment of someone with a substance misuse problem. The assessment determines if the individual meets the criteria for involuntary treatment. If they do, it may be court-ordered. The treatment can include detoxification, stabilization and rehab.
  • Casey’s Law was started by the parents of Matthew Casey Wethington in Kentucky. Matthew, their son, died of an overdose in 2002. The law then went into effect in 2004. It allows parents, relatives and friends to intervene and petition for treatment on behalf of someone who’s impaired by the use of substances.
  • Colorado allows for the involuntary commitment of people with substance use disorders. It’s part of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment Act (ASATA). The Law provides a legal framework for anyone who could be a danger to themselves or others because of drug or alcohol misuse.
  • Ricky’s Law went into effect in 2018 in Washington state. The Law says that youth and adults can be involuntarily detained if they’re a danger to themselves, other people or others’ property or can’t take care of themselves because of substance use.
  •  Massachusetts General Law Chapter 123, Section 35 allows police officers, spouses, blood relatives, physicians, guardians or officials of the court to petition the court to commit someone for treatment.

What is the Typical Length of Rehab in These Cases?

The time someone can be forced to stay in involuntary rehab and addiction treatment depends on the state. There are ranges from three days up to a year. It’s important to become knowledgeable about the laws in your state and seek legal consultation if you’re unsure. 

Does Involuntary Commitment Work?

While it may be possible to force someone into rehab legally, does it work? It’s a difficult question because most people aren’t going to achieve recovery until they feel ready. Substance abuse treatment requires a person to do the work needed to recover. Therefore, they must be compliant with their treatment plan. Some people who are forced into rehab may not be willing to do that, and they won’t see benefits from their treatment. For others, they will achieve recovery.

The data on involuntary commitment and outcomes in addiction is limited, so it’s hard to make a general statement about how well this approach works. There’s an ongoing debate about whether treatment must be voluntary to be effective. The current research shows mixed results. Some people experience positive outcomes with involuntary treatment, whereas others do not. 

How to Get Someone to Go to Rehab

If you can, you should try to get someone to voluntarily agree to go to rehab. While you may legally be able to force someone to go to rehab, there could be negative consequences in doing so. Forcing someone into treatment should always be a last resort.

Instead, research rehabs that they might be interested in. If money is an issue and that’s their primary roadblock to seeking treatment, you might research how they can pay. For example, many nonprofits and public assistance programs help cover rehab costs.

An intervention is another approach you can take. You can work with an interventionist or addiction professional from a treatment center to learn how to best approach the conversation with your loved one.


National Judicial Opioid Task Force. “Involuntary Commitment and Guardianship Laws for Persons with a Substance Use Disorder.” Accessed December 21, 2023.

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 December 28, 2023.

U.S. Marshals Service. “Writ of Habeas Corpus.” Accessed December 28, 2023. 

Florida Department of Children and Families. “Marchman Act.” Retrieved December 28, 2023. 

Casey’s Law. “About Casey’s Law.” Accessed December 21, 2023.

Colorado Behavioral Health Administration. “Substance Use Commitment.” Accessed December 28, 2023. 

Washington State Health Care Authority. “Ricky’s Law: Involuntary Treatment Act.” 2023. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

The General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “Section 35: Commitment of alcoholics or substance abusers.” 2023. Accessed December 28, 2023. 

Werb, D. et al. “The effectiveness of Compulsory Drug Treatment: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Drug Policy, February 2016. Accessed December 21, 2023.


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