Does Mandatory Drug Treatment Work?

How many addicts do you know who want to get clean?

Of those who recognize that they have a problem and want to change, how many actually follow through by entering treatment or going to a self-help support group?

It is the nature of the disease that makes addicts deny or minimize the problem and rationalize continuing their drug use. Recognizing that addicts can be essentially incapacitated by drugs and alcohol, some states have found controversial ways to intervene.

In 2013, an Ohio law went into effect that allows families to force a loved one into mandatory drug treatment. In passing this law, Ohio joined dozens of other states that have seldom used statutes that allow temporary detainment, involuntary hospitalization or commitment to treatment for addicts on the basis of grave disability or a threat to oneself or others. To date, the Ohio law has been used only once, but a nationwide debate has ensued about whether or not forcing an addict to get help could actually produce a positive outcome.

Is involuntary treatment really effective?

Mandatory Drug Treatment Works

Treatment does not have to be voluntary to be effective. The reality is most addicts feel conflicted about getting better. Many are court ordered or urged by family, friends or employers to get help, yet they stay in treatment and have positive outcomes. Studies show that what brings an addict into treatment matters less than the fact that they find their way there.

Because ambivalence and outright resistance are common, many treatment centers are well-equipped to help addicts recognize the importance of staying in treatment. For example, they may use motivational interviewing to help the addict connect with their own desire to stay clean or call upon family or employers as leverage. Once the addict is clean and sober, their thinking clears and they are often more willing to commit to the rest of the treatment process.

Although it can be effective, involuntary treatment is not without challenges. After all, most treatment centers are not lock-down facilities where clients are physically forced to stay against their will, so the addict has to decide at some point whether they are willing to do the work of recovery.

In addition, many state laws only require short-term evaluations or a few days in detox, which is insufficient to make a meaningful difference for most addicts. Then, of course, there is the right of addicts to make their own decisions, though this ability can be greatly compromised by prolonged drug or alcohol abuse. Despite these challenges, the payoff of involuntary treatment can be great, not only for the addict but also their family, employer and society at large.

Helping An Addicted Loved One

Families are desperate to stop their addicted loved one’s downward spiral before it ends in job loss, jail, overdose or death. Waiting for addicts to choose to get well is often not enough to save their lives. Even in the absence of a state law allowing involuntary treatment, there are a number of ways concerned family members can help:

  • Avoid Enabling – Addicts do not have to hit rock bottom before getting help. Loved ones can “raise the bottom” by refusing to rescue or enable. By declining to give the addict money, bail them out of jail or provide a free place to live, for example, family and friends allow addicts to experience the full consequences of their addiction.
  • Stage An Intervention – Interventions can be an effective way to help addicts recognize that they have a problem and agree to treatment. Most interventions are a gentle expression of love and concern for a friend, coworker or family member whose life is being ruined by drugs. The goal of intervention is to help addicts understand the consequences of their behaviors and offer an immediate way out through treatment. Enlisting the help of a professional interventionist can keep the process positive and solution-oriented.In as many as 85 to 90 percent of interventions, the addict agrees to enter treatment. Even if they do not agree right away, the intervention often shows the addict that there is a way out and that there are people who will support them through the process when they are ready. Families that have the patience and persistence to keep intervening when negative consequences arise have a good chance of motivating their loved one to get help.
  • Call A Treatment Center – When in doubt about where to turn for help, research treatment centers that may be right for your loved one and call a few. A quality program will be able to guide you through the process of getting a loved one into treatment, answer questions, provide referrals and help you find an interventionist, if needed.There comes a time when every addict has to choose for themselves between addiction and recovery. The process of physical, psychological and spiritual change cannot be forced, but it can be instigated and facilitated by concerned loved ones through interventions and other strategies. The addict may be powerless against their addiction, but loved ones are not.

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