James Haggerty Recovery
Intervention and Family Support

Can You Make Someone Go to Rehab?

November 3, 2022
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Does an Individual Have to Want to Go to Rehab?

Can you make someone go to rehab?

Knowing that a friend or loved one is battling substance use disorder (SUD) can be stressful. The individual in question might be hesitant to seek help for many reasons influenced by a variety of factors. This complex situation only increases the stress for everyone. It’s important to remember that admitting you need help is an incredibly challenging step—and one that is often a roadblock for people on the way to getting treatment.

Why Do People Refuse Help?

Sometimes, people don’t want to accept help. The symptoms caused by SUD, as well as the underlying issues that contributed to it, may have caused them to think and behave irrationally. Perhaps they are unable to make healthy decisions on their own, they’ve become hostile or aggressive, they’re making excuses, or they’ve isolated themselves from the world. Any of these situations might lead to someone refusing help. If you know someone who needs help but they’re refusing, you may have options available.

I know firsthand just how challenging asking for help can be. In my time before recovery, as well as my time working with others who need help, I’ve met many people who struggled to take that step. Most were eventually able to move past their hesitation to get the treatment they needed. Many of my clients who found it daunting to ask for help are now on the path toward recovery. Whatever the reason was for seeking help, whether it was encouragement or force, people who were struggling with SUD are now working toward healthier futures. Accepting help is never a sign of shame or regret. I view it as a sign of strength and wisdom.

I’d like to discuss some reasons people who were accustomed to living with SUD decided to seek treatment, as well as what you can do if they don’t make that decision on their own. Is it possible to send someone to rehab without their consent?

Why Do People Seek Treatment?

People with SUD sometimes make the decision to seek help unexpectedly, but there are usually outside factors that contribute to beginning the path toward recovery.

Here are some common reasons someone might seek help.

Family and Community Encouragement

I’ve seen many families struggle with the chaos caused by one individual’s SUD. SUD doesn’t just affect one person, but everyone they interact with as well. Alcohol and drugs can put a strain on friends’ and families’ mental health and well-being.

When a family or community believes someone needs to seek treatment, it’s common to hold an intervention. An intervention is used to convince the person to seek help by using emotional and logical arguments, as well as describing the ways SUD has affected other people in the person’s life. In certain situations, an ultimatum might be offered. For example, a family might stop financially helping the person with SUD unless they seek treatment.

Many families hesitate to hold an intervention due to fear of causing further strain on the various relationships. However, the stress of an intervention is minimal compared to the turmoil the relationship is in now. Interventions can be successful in encouraging people to seek treatment and can help the family, not just the person with SUD.

Employer’s Decision

An employer may present an offer to a person with SUD that will encourage them to seek treatment. For example, the employer may offer an ultimatum, where the person must choose between losing their job or seeking treatment to improve future performance. Sometimes, however, as with family and community interventions, employers and coworkers might not want to move forward with a workplace intervention due to fear of causing strain and damage to the work environment and relationships in place. Also, if the treatment is ineffective, the company may fear potential liability. However, work-based interventions are sometimes effective at convincing a person with SUD to seek treatment. If the person completes treatment, their performance improves, and their place of work can become a safer and healthier environment.

Legal Reasons

Roughly 40 to 70% of referrals to treatment facilities are due to legal pressures. In other words, many people with SUD enter rehabilitation due to a legal requirement. If someone with SUD doesn’t want to seek treatment, the law in their state might require they do so anyway to avoid fines, jail time, and other penalties. This is a method some states use to start people on the path to recovery, whether they’ve accepted they need help or not.

Can You Make Someone Go to Rehab Against His or Her Will?

Individual in Addiction Detox for Recovery

As mentioned, there are a few outside sources that could strongly encourage someone who is resistant to treatment to seek it anyway. The law might require someone to go to rehab despite not wanting to go. Or, you might have held an intervention, encouraged your loved one to go to address their own health, or tried convincing them to seek treatment to improve your family environment. However, if all this has proven ineffective, there might be another solution.

In most states, anyone under 18 years old can be sent to treatment by their legal guardian whether they want to go or not. However, when an individual is over 18 years old, this is dependent on state law. One way to go about sending an individual to treatment is via the court system. For example, nonviolent people with SUD found in possession of drugs for personal use or drug paraphernalia may be sent to supervised treatment programs focused on treatment rather than punishment. These programs also reduce the costs of processing people with SUD through the nation’s courts, jails, and prisons.

There is also the involuntary commitment law, which is active in 37 states and the District of Columbia. If certain qualifications are met, you may be able to send someone for treatment without their consent.

These qualifications include:

  • The person is a danger to themselves or others
  • The person has a disability caused by substances
  • The person displays a lack of decision-making abilities, neglect, or total loss of control
In Florida, this law is specifically called the Baker Act, which states that if someone with SUD is a danger to themselves or others, a judge can order the individual to proceed to a mental health treatment program. The Marchman Act, also active in Florida, provides assistance and rehab to individuals with SUD. The individual must first go to court, and then the judge can send them to rehab for treatment if they feel the individual qualifies. Other states have considered enacting laws like the Baker and Marchman Acts, but most have retained involuntary commitment laws instead.

An involuntary commitment law allows for the person with SUD to have the right to an attorney during the process. They’re allowed to attend the hearing, appeal, and cross-examine witnesses. They also have the right to petition the court for a writ of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment.

The Involuntary Commitment Law’s Effectiveness

While involuntary commitment effectiveness is hard to analyze, one 2018 study found that almost a third of people with opioid use disorder who faced civil commitment relapsed the day they were released. In addition, a study from 2020 showed that mental health treatment was a more common form of treatment than substance use treatment, making it difficult to determine whether true, dual diagnosis treatment would be effective in these cases.

Again, there’s no definitive answer for whether involuntary commitment is effective. Just like every treatment plan and method, different things work for different individuals. In my experience, treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective, but treatment is more often successful when the individual is involved in the decision to seek recovery. Still, if sanctions and enticements from families, friends, and the justice system can increase treatment entry, retention rates, and success, involuntary treatment may save lives.

“Hiring an interventionist is highly recommended for individuals who are resistant to treatment.”

Should You Hire an Interventionist?

If you are unable to send a loved one to rehab without their consent and haven’t had success encouraging them to seek treatment, an interventionist could be the key. In several states, including the states where involuntary commitment law isn’t practiced, holding an intervention will be your best option.

An interventionist is qualified to discuss mental health conditions, provide guidance to family members regarding the intervention, and arrange a treatment schedule. If your loved one is unwilling to seek treatment, holding an intervention led by a professional allows everyone to have an open, emotional discussion encouraging the person with SUD to seek treatment. The effects of SUD will be discussed with the goal of starting a plan to move forward in a healthy manner. The consequences of not choosing the plan are then given, allowing the individual to fully assess the decision before them.

Hiring an interventionist is highly recommended for individuals who are resistant to treatment. If a person with SUD is unwilling to listen or respond, holding an intervention led by a qualified professional can help facilitate a necessary conversation and encourage them to seek help. The rest of the friends and family can also begin establishing their boundaries.

Not the Time to Make Someone Go to Rehab?

If you feel your loved one may be coming around to the idea of getting help, you always have options available for helping them get treatment. Remaining an addiction recovery ally means seeking local options. One option is to look for local treatment centers, especially ones that offer mental health treatment, family counseling, and medical services, as a comprehensive treatment plan. If you’re worried about your or your loved one’s financial situation but still need help, you might be able to request public assistance for rehab or use your insurance company.

There are also several helplines you or your loved one can call for SUD resources. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a free, confidential, 24/7 helpline that provides information regarding SUD and how to seek treatment. Or consider speaking with your doctor about treatment options. Some treatment plans doctors recommend can last up to a month and can also include family counseling if needed.

Rehab Is for Healing

Rehab Is for Healing

There are several options available for helping your loved one find recovery from SUD. Some methods are as simple as encouraging them to seek treatment, others are more involved, like family interventions, and some are involuntary. The best solution out there is the one that results in hope and health for you and your loved one.

Seeking rehab can seem nerve-wracking, but the goal is the same no matter how you go about doing so: to heal. If you know someone who needs treatment for their SUD, remember to be encouraging, supportive, and hopeful for a better future and healing. If what you’ve tried hasn’t improved your or your loved one’s life, then you might want to consider other options, potentially including intervention or exploring rehab without consent.

Remember that the goal is for your loved one to find healing and for the two of you to heal your relationship. There’s a reason they say addiction is a family disease—it doesn’t just affect your loved one, but you and the rest of your family, as well. You all deserve to live healthy and happy lives, and that can come with successful SUD treatment. Treatment and resources for SUD are available, and I encourage you to take advantage of offered help.

Stay Strong,



  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00332747.1989.11024441
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment
  3. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/ondcp/ondcp-fact-sheets/drug-courts-smart-approach-to-criminal-justice
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6239959/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7200755/


James Haggerty

A Time to Heal: Family Interventions offers personalized SUD Interventions, Addiction Recovery Planning, Case Management, Sober Companionship and Family Support. Call 310-450-6627 to connect with us.

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