Two people holding hands in therapy session

Lorelie Rozzano is a guest blogger for Vertava Health.

Should An Addicted Person Be Forced Into Treatment?

A distraught mom recently told me, “I’d rather my son be locked up in jail than left to his own devices.”

This mom was exhausted. She’d done everything in her power to save her son from his addiction. She’d bailed him out of jail, paid off his debts, sent him to detox and paid his fines and legal fees when he was caught selling drugs. She says that her son is on parole and not supposed to be using drugs, but he is. She’s considering calling his parole officer and reporting him. This mom thinks her son would be safer in jail, than out on the streets using drugs. She wants to do the right thing, but she’s torn. She knows if she reports her and hopefully saves his life, he’ll likely hate his mother for it, but she fears her son will die from an overdose.

144 people die each day from an overdose. They are our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers and friends.


When people abuse drugs and alcohol it disrupts the brain controls and inhibits drug-related behaviors. Abusing drugs also leads to tolerance or the need for higher dosages to produce the same effect. Addiction erodes a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions while producing intense impulses to take drugs.

Substance abusers are in denial. To protect their habit they minimize the impact it has on their lives and the lives of the people they love.

Substance abusers are delusional. In spite of natural occurring consequences, they continue to deny the severity of their problem. In other words, addicted persons don’t understand how sick they are.

A person struggling with addiction may try to control their substance use or stop completely. For them, cravings will begin immediately. This psychological, compulsive urge, is more powerful than the individual. Each time they fail at abstinence they become less hopeful. Eventually, they start to believe that they can’t stop using and they give up trying.

A hopeless person struggling with addiction doesn’t care whether they live or die. Some prefer the idea of death to the living hell of addiction. For those with no stop button, rock bottom is six feet under.

Charlotte Wethington and Sharon Blair are two mothers who lost their children to overdose. Charlotte spear-headed Casey’s Law, and Sharon, the Jennifer Act. These directives allow the family to commit their loved one to treatment involuntarily. They were created because both mothers know that some addicted persons have lost their ability to reason and need help. 

Involuntary commitment is usually only used as a last resort for those struggling with addiction. When they appear to be putting their own life in imminent danger or they are a risk to other people, involuntary commitment is the next best step.

Yet there are many who believe mandated treatment is unethical and that an addicted person should have the choice to use. For years we have been told that you have to want the treatment in order for it to work, but is this really true?

Working in the field of mental health and addiction these past 18 years, I’ve witnessed hundreds of substance abusers get well in spite of not wanting to be in treatment. Some patients come into treatment through court-mandated programs. Others, through intervention. Some come because they are losing their job, home and family.

I went to treatment because I was homeless, penniless and out of options. I owed money to dangerous people and I needed a safe place to hide. I had no intentions of getting clean and sober. I was going to stay long enough to get detox meds, bum some money, eat a meal and leave- but that’s not what happened. When I was unable to manipulative my surroundings in treatment, I was forced to stop running from my problems and start dealing with them.

Treatment assists patients to move through the stages of change. It fosters insight and gives tools, strategies and support in order to lay a foundation for a positive recovery process. Assignments help patients break through denial. Lecture teaches them about their disease. Cognitive behavioral therapy gives them the tools to identify, recognize and change negative behaviors. Group therapy heals the soul through social interaction and human connection.

A large percentage of the addicted population also struggle with mental health issues. A brain saturated in alcohol, heroin, cocaine, crystal meth or any other foreign chemical while simultaneously struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar or other mood disorders is not capable of making life and death decisions. Anyone making a legal document, such as a last will and testament, must be of “sound mind” when that document is signed. Shouldn’t it be the same with addiction?

Forced treatment may not work the first time or even the second, but are there any better options? Fentanyl, a powerful and lethal synthetic opioid analgesic, has changed the game. We can’t keep waiting for people to come to their senses. We don’t have the luxury of time anymore. We are facing an epidemic that is killing too many young people.

When all else fails intervention, Casey’s Law, The Jennifer Act, Drug Court or other involuntary commitment laws may be the addicted person’s last hope.

When addicts learn to love themselves again, lifelong recovery occurs.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Should addicted persons be forced into treatment? I look forward to reading your comments.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call this confidential support line for assistance. 1-888-614-2379.


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