Should Addicts be Forced Into Treatment?

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Should addicts be forced into treatment? This can be a logistical and ethical question that families and loved ones, as well as communities and medical professionals, grapple with. The use of mandatory drug treatment and alcohol addiction programs is rising. Still, some question whether or not a person can genuinely begin a long-term recovery when he get the forced rehab .

We’ll explore the topic of involuntary commitment and compulsory treatment for drug abuse and alcohol use below. 


Understanding Addiction

Even when you love someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may not fully grasp the implications of that. The reality is that addiction is an illness and a chronic one that affects thoughts and behaviors, and physical health.

Someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol has difficulty controlling any of their behaviors, including their drug use and how they treat the people around them.

Scientifically speaking, addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brains’ systems. Addiction and substance use disorders primarily affect the areas of the brain, playing a role in reward, memory, and motivation.

As addiction to a substance develops, a person begins to crave it. The drug or alcohol will create a compulsive, obsessive pursuit of that feeling of a reward that happens in the brain. Due to that pursuit of a rewarding feeling, they’ll continue using when someone has a substance use disorder, no matter the consequences.

Signs and symptoms of addiction include:

  • Unable to control the use of drugs or alcohol
  • A lack of self-control
  • Increasingly frequent use of the substance
  • Trying to cut down or stop, and not being successful
  • Disregard for how the substance use and their subsequent behaviors are creating problems for themselves and others
  • Increased secrecy and withdrawal symptoms
  • Changes in mood and personality
  • Reckless or dangerous behavior

It’s not uncommon for someone struggling with addiction to blame other people for what they go through. They may experience new or worsening mental health issues such as anxiety or depression and extreme reactions to stress.


What Causes Addiction?

We can’t pinpoint one specific factor that causes addiction. Instead, there are often multiple factors converging in addictive behavior and the disease of addiction. For example, someone with a history of trauma and mental illness may be more vulnerable to the effects of drugs and alcohol in a way that creates addiction.

  • When you use drugs or alcohol, they affect your brain, creating a pleasurable high.
  • All of our brains want to repeat things that create pleasure, which is why the cycle of addiction forms. The brain’s reward cycle is activated.
  • Our brain’s frontal lobe is what lets us delay gratification or feelings of reward. If someone is addicted, their frontal lobes have a malfunction creating immediate gratification.
  • Chemical imbalances in the brain and mental health conditions like bipolar disorder can lead to negative coping strategies that become an active addiction.


How to Stop Drug Addiction

Alcohol and drug use disorders are chronic diseases. While they’re not necessarily curable, these disorders are treatable. Treating addiction to alcohol or illicit substances requires a comprehensive, individualized approach. Addiction affects so many areas of a person’s life, which is why in-depth substance abuse treatment works best.

Therapies for addiction can include prescription drugs, medication-assisted treatment for withdrawal and cravings, as well as medicine-based therapies for co-occurring mental health disorders. Medical services, especially during detox, may be part of treatment options and inpatient addiction treatment, individual and family therapy, and self-help and support groups.


Is Forced Rehab Effective?

All of this brings us back to our original question about stopping drug addiction—should addicts be forced into treatment? What about court-ordered treatment? What are the implications of involuntary commitment laws as far as an addiction treatment program goes?

All of this creates debate.

According to the United States National Institutes for Model State Drug Laws, 27 states and the District of Columbia currently allow both families and medical professionals to petition to order an addicted individual into treatment under civil commitment laws.

  • For the most part, an emergency commitment is only an option if you’re a danger to the safety and health of yourself or the people around you. 
  • These are emergency commitments, and they can last anywhere from 24 hours to 15 days.
  • There are also situations where medical professionals and law enforcement can petition a treatment center directly without a judge’s order. Proponents say these short-term drug rehab commitments are a stopgap when the courts aren’t open.
  • Data from the Associated Press shows involuntary drug addiction commitments are going up in some states, including Florida and Massachusetts.
  • Whether or not it’s effective for successful recovery isn’t entirely known.
  • There’s not much research on whether forced rehab or drug treatment ultimately helps someone recover in the long run. There’s not a lot of data tracking the effectiveness of involuntary addiction treatment. 


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From the data we have, forced rehab may be causing more harm than good, especially when compared to voluntary treatment at addiction treatment centers. 

For example, in 2016, a Massachusetts Department of Public Health report found that people committed against their will were 2x more likely to die of an opioid-related overdose than those who chose treatment on their own.

  • A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy found little evidence that mandatory drug treatment helped people stop using drugs or reduced criminal activity.
  • There could be a caveat here—most of the centers that take forced patients don’t use evidence-based treatments. Evidence-based treatments are one of the number one factors in how effective a rehab program is for long-term recovery.
  • Evidence-based treatments use science and decades of research. Interventions can include medication-assisted treatment, treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, and support such as helping patients find stable housing and jobs after they leave rehab.


How to Help Someone Who’s Struggling with Addiction

Rather than considering a forced rehab program, sometimes there are better options to help your loved one overcome addiction.

A few things that you can do as a concerned family or friend include:

  • Try to understand the challenges they’re facing and how they make them resistant to drug addiction treatment. Other issues serve as treatment barriers, too, such as embarrassment or shame. The more you learn about why they’re resistant, the more you may be able to help.
  • Explore different treatment programs and talk to your loved one about what these might be light.
  • Create a sense of trust; don’t approach your loved one in a demeaning or criticizing way, which might be difficult because you’re probably struggling too, but be an active listener as much as you can.
  • Communicate openly and honestly; let your loved one know how you feel and how their substance use is affecting you.

Helping someone who doesn’t want help is incredibly challenging; when you’re active in addiction until you are ready to admit you have a problem and are willing to accept help, it’s very hard to help a person become drug-free. 

Opus Health can prepare you information and guidance in the direction of resources for help; all you have to do is call 855-953-1345. Interventions and other softer strategies may be a more motivating factor for someone to get help at our residential treatment facility, more than trying to force it through mandatory treatment. 

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