There are few things more frustrating than watching someone you love struggle with addiction. We know that because we see the fallout of addiction every day at Alpine Recovery Lodge.
We often get calls from people who want to know if they should force the person they love into recovery. There’s a lot of misinformation about this topic. In some states, involuntary commitment is considered a civil rights violation – and there are other potential downsides to forcing someone to get treatment.
So, with that in mind, let’s talk about the reality of forcing someone you love to get treatment for their addiction.
The Rules of Involuntary Commitment
The first thing you need to know, as we mentioned above, is that involuntary commitment is more difficult in some states than in others. Most states have a process for people who have severe mental illness.
In some states, the standards for involuntary commitment are very high. You may need to prove that the person who’s addicted is dangerous to themselves or other people to get a judge to agree to send them to rehab against their will.
Sometimes, people are forced into recovery by the court. For example, some states will offer people who have been convicted of drunk driving an expungement of their record by attending treatment.
The one situation where involuntary commitment is almost always possible is when the person struggling with addiction is a minor. A person who’s under the age of 18 can be sent by a parent or legal guardian to recovery whether they want to go or not.
When Should You Consider Forcing Your Loved One into Recovery?
There are times when forcing a loved one into recovery may be the best choice. Let’s talk about some of the signs that forced rehab may be called for.
You’ve Tried Other Methods
The first thing to ask is whether you’ve tried to get your loved one into recovery using other methods. Forcing someone into recovery should never be your first step. It’s an extreme measure and should be treated as such.
Other things that you might try first are:
- A one-on-one conversation where you talk to the person about recovery and why you think they need help
- A staged intervention with family members and friends
- A professional intervention with an addiction or mental health specialist
If you’ve tried these things without success, then involuntary commitment might be the only thing that will work.
The Addict is Dangerous to Themselves or Others
The next thing to ask is whether the person who’s struggling with addiction is dangerous to themselves or others. Danger is the standard for involuntary commitment in many states. It’s a way of safeguarding people who are unable to control their behavior.
For example, if your loved one got behind the wheel of a car, blacked out, and had a single-car accident, that might be an indication that they should be forced into recovery. The accident could have been worse, and you don’t want to tempt fate.
Another scenario that might call for involuntary commitment is if the person you love is neglecting their children because of addiction. (Another option here might be to call your local Child Protective Services office and report them.)
You may also want to consider involuntary rehab if your loved one is exhibiting self-harming or psychotic behavior due to drug use. These situations clearly illustrate that the person in question is potentially dangerous.
It May Help Them Avoid Worse Consequences
Sometimes, an addict is forced into recovery because they’re given an alternative that’s worse than the thought of getting treatment. For example:
- They’re convicted of a crime and given the opportunity to expunge their record by getting treatment
- They’ll lose their job if they’re not actively seeking treatment
- They’ll lose custody of their children if they don’t seek treatment
These things may be enough to force an addict’s hand and get them into rehab. This might be considered the “carrot and stick” method, where rehab is the carrot.
When Is Forcing Someone into Recovery a Bad Idea?
Now, let’s talk about involuntary commitment from the other side. When is it a bad idea to force someone you love into recovery?
The first indication is that you haven’t tried anything else. It’s very rare that forcing someone into recovery should be your first choice. It should be considered a last resort. If you haven’t already tried an intervention, don’t consider forced recovery unless there’s a compelling reason to do so.
Likewise, if the person you love is willing to talk about their addiction or admit they have a problem, forcing them into rehab probably isn’t the answer. They may already be on their way to recovery. If you try to push them, it can backfire on you.
If you’re not willing to be the bad guy in the situation, that’s another reason to hold off. Someone who truly doesn’t want to go into recovery may resent you for forcing their hand. You must be willing to be the one to take the heat if you try to force them to do something they don’t want to do.
Finally, you must be willing to offer the addict your full support if they go into recovery. You shouldn’t force them if your intention is to wash your hands of them once they commit to treatment. They may push you away, but you’ve got to be ready to step in if they need you – and to support them when they’re out of rehab.
Can Forced Recovery Work?
It’s a misconception that an addict must be ready for recovery before it can be effective. That may be the case for some people, but it’s a mistake to think that forced recovery can’t be effective. It can.
It is true that most recovery programs work on the idea that the addict must admit their addiction to heal. A person who is forced into recovery may be combative and angry at first – and admitting they have a problem may not be something they can do.
However, it’s also true that sometimes the simple process of detoxification can clear the addict’s head to the point where they can then admit that they have a problem. Detox is a painful process, but some drugs work on the addict’s brain in such a way that they can’t think clearly when they’re high.
In other words, addressing the physiological aspect of addiction may help some addicts cope with the mental and emotional aspects, as well.
Another argument in favor of forced recovery is that some treatment is better than no treatment. Even if the addict doesn’t fully commit to the treatment, they’ll be attending group and individual therapy and hearing some positive things about the possibility of overcoming addiction.
So, let’s talk numbers. Most people who enter rehab voluntarily overcome their addictions. The margin with people who are forced into rehab is slim, especially if the person in recovery won’t (or can’t) admit that they have a problem and need help.
Some might argue that a slim chance is better than none. It’s very rare for an addict to kick an addiction without help. A few might be able to get clean by attending 12-step meetings, but for many others, an inpatient treatment facility gives them the best possible chance of success.
The bottom line here is that in some cases, forced recovery may be effective. It’s certainly the only choice if you have a minor child who’s struggling with addiction, and it may also be an option for people who are a danger to themselves and others.
To learn more about the treatment options at Alpine Recovery Lodge, please click here.