Can You Force Someone to Go to Drug Rehab?

Andrew McKenna - Expert Content Editor

Updated: 12/18/2023


It’s often said that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink; the same can generally be said of getting someone to enter alcohol or drug treatment. It’s very difficult to force someone into drug rehab, especially when they refuse treatment, but there are rare scenarios in which it is possible.

Generally speaking, from both a legal and practical standpoint, people must make the decision to seek addiction treatment for themselves. If they go against their will or go for some other reason other than genuinely wanting to enter recovery for themselves, the likelihood of relapse is greatly increased.

Addiction can stretch relationships to the breaking point. It can also significantly impair judgment and even rob people of the ability to make rational choices for themselves. Chemical dependency can often prevent people from making decisions that are in the best interest of their physical and emotional health. Despite this impaired judgment and decision-making, the choice must be theirs. There are, however, some limited circumstances where it may be possible to involuntarily commit someone to alcohol or drug rehab.

How and When Can You Force Someone to Go to Drug Rehab?

Some of the factors that can make it easier to make someone get help for drug addiction, even if they don’t necessarily want to go, include:

  • Age – Parents can usually send their underage child to rehab if they feel their alcohol or drug use has become an urgent and life-threatening matter. While the rules and laws vary according to different states and facility policies, parents and guardians can generally make this decision on behalf of an underage child. The same can often be said for mental health treatment, especially when the risk of self-harm is present.
  • Legal Enforcement – When someone is convicted of a drug or alcohol-related crime, whether it’s direct possession or distribution or a crime committed while under the influence, such as theft, assault, or domestic violence, the courts can order them to complete alcohol and drug rehab either as part of their overall sentence or as a condition of their probation. Very often, state drug courts can help low-level offenders to seek rehab as an alternative to incarceration.
  • State Laws and Ordinances – Certain states have laws on the books that can make it easier to involuntarily commit someone to rehab. For example, Florida has the Marchman Act and Baker Act. Under the Marchman Act, a person can be committed for assessment involuntarily if they are believed to be severely impaired by alcohol or drug use. Under the Baker Act, families and loved ones can provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are impaired because of their mental illness and who are unable to determine their needs for treatment.

Someone may also be compelled to go to drug rehab if they meet specific court-verified incompetency requirements.

When You Can’t Force Someone to Go to Rehab?

It’s usually never ideal to try and force someone to go to rehab. Instead, try reasoning with your loved one and getting them to go to treatment on their own. When they enter treatment voluntarily, they bring the right energy to the process and commit themselves to getting well. You can guide someone toward rehab by doing things like staging an intervention to illustrate how their substance abuse is impacting their relationships or simply talking to them with respect, firmness, and sincerity to let them know you care about them.

While it may be possible in very limited cases to force someone to go to rehab, it’s generally better to get them to go of their own volition. Once they commit themselves to getting the help they need, they can fully embrace recovery and have a much better chance of staying in their program and building a life free of alcohol or drugs. You can help them get there.

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