Should Addicts Be Forced into Treatment?

Not everyone who's suffering from drug addiction wants help. Some know they're addicted and want to keep using no matter the cost. They know the risks, but they don't care anymore. They would rather chase the high to feel better about what drove them to drug use in the first place.

This cycle of self-harm changes an addict’s brain chemistry. They become dependent on drugs or alcohol to live life as normally as possible. Without it, they physically withdraw, which often is worse than what they're running away from. 

What more can you do for those who don't want help and ignore family and friends’ pleas? What more can any of us do for them?

That's why some people think that addicts should be forced into treatment. But is this the right option? Will this help them recover? The answer is much more complicated than yes or no.

What Does Drug and Alcohol Abuse Do to Someone?

Drug and alcohol abuse changes a person from the inside out. It's proven that substance abuse disrupts the brain's normal processes, inhibiting how a person thinks and feels. As substance abuse takes over their life, they deny they have an issue. Even if it’s evident to us, they don't see how it's impacting home, work, and other areas of their life. Instead, they continue to spiral down a hole so deep they can't see anything beyond where the next fix or drink is coming from.

When an addict does have a moment of clarity, realizing they should quit, they often fail because they aren't ready. The physical cravings are too much. Withdrawal is too hard. The compulsive urge to pick up a drink or use their drug of choice is too strong. At this point, they don't care if they hurt the ones they love, if they keep a job, or even if they live or die.

Knowing that, ask yourself: should intervention be staged to force them into treatment to save their life?

The Truth: Should Addicts Be Forced into Treatment?

Some people believe involuntary commitment is good for those in too deep to help themselves. Others believe it makes it harder for addicts to get sober. Everybody's substance abuse story is different. Addiction is not the same for everyone. There are no one-size-fits-all paths to treatment or sobriety.

While some people can get sober with no treatment for substance use disorders, others need the extra push. Understanding where someone is with addiction is the first step in determining whether they should be forced into treatment.

Substance abuse users can legally be forced into treatment for several reasons, including court orders and medical recommendations. Thirty-seven states currently allow medical professionals and families to petition the court and commit a substance abuse user to a treatment facility under extraordinary circumstances. States like Florida and Massachusetts helped pass legislation that allows for involuntary commitments for a drug problem.

When faced with forced treatment under a court order for a drug-related offense instead of being sent to jail, many addicts see it as a punishment rather than for what it is: a chance at a new life. This attitude going in makes them completely focused on getting out – not getting clean or sober. Because they aren’t in the right mindset, they eventually relapse, and the cycle begins again.

What Does Science Say About Forcing Addicts into Rehab?

The International Journal of Drug Policy published a 2016 study that showed little evidence that forced addiction treatment effectively stops drug use long-term. Study author Dan Werb, Ph.D., said, "There appears to be as much evidence that [compulsory treatment] is ineffective, or harmful, as there is evidence that it is effective."

Other studies have shown that the risk for non-fatal overdose rises among those forced into treatment. They often relapse and don't realize they can't use it as much as they did before because they have lost tolerance. Since being forced into rehab didn't help them or resist, they turn back to addiction harder than before, leading to more complications.

When it comes down to it, there's no hard evidence one way or another if residential treatment is effective for a person suffering from drug or alcohol use. While voluntary treatment has shown positive results for those who want to overcome addiction, there are too many other factors at play for a compelling argument on either side.

What Can You Do for an Addict?

Drug addiction truly is different for everyone. Loving and supporting an addict can bring them closer to accepting they have an issue and encourage them to seek treatment. Deciding whether to force someone into treatment is more complicated than anyone can figure out on their own, or any article on the internet can convince you of. You know your loved ones better than anybody; nobody else can tell you what to do next.

If your loved one is suffering from alcohol or drug abuse, First Responders First is here to support your family. Our team can answer questions and guide you on what comes next. Reach out to us today to discuss how treatment can help you or a loved one get back on their feet again. No one deserves to be left behind, especially our first responders. Let's find the right treatment for your loved ones and help them get back to their old self.