Can You Make Someone Go to Treatment

Addiction is a life-threatening disease that can destroy the lives of its victims and everybody close to them. From losing jobs, declining health, low performance in school to confrontations with the police, and even death, addiction is a horrific illness for any person and their family. 

As someone who cares about an addict or alcoholic, it's agonizing to watch them refuse treatment, especially in situations when their disease is so advanced or they are threatening to hurt themselves if confronted.

Despite suffering these terrible consequences, the question remains, is it possible to make someone go to treatment? The answer is yes, but doing so is no guarantee of a successful prognosis post-treatment. 

In terms of forcing someone into treatment, the Florida legal system offers a unique proposition, known as the Marchman Act, that permits families to appeal to the court for an involuntary assessment and treatment of people abusing drugs and or appearing to be a danger themselves or others. 

However, if you don't wish to involve the legal system, hiring an interventionist may be your only other option for getting someone into treatment. 

As an interventionist, it's my job to help your daughter, son, or spouse see the benefits of treatment, and it is less confrontational than an involuntary court order. An intervention allows the individual to make a voluntary decision to accept treatment which is better than going to court because it sets the stage for inclusive recovery. 

A well-constructed intervention must conclude with consequences if the addict fails to accept the treatment offered to them. 

A professionally lead intervention is a thoughtful and caring process that addresses the addict's family collectively as if the family is recovering together, instead of an "us" against "you" approach of a legal proceeding.    

Compelling a family member into rehab

Addiction and mental illness are ruthless diseases, sometimes leaving a family with no other choice than to ask the court for assistance.

In this case, you will need to submit a petition with the court in the county your addicted family member resides or the county in which they can be located by the police. You should seriously consider seeking the advice of an attorney who has experience in this area before filing your petition. The petition can be filed under either the Marchman Act or the Baker Act.   

Marchman Act

Many people who struggle with a substance use disorder refuse to acknowledge they have a problem. If an addict admits they have a drug problem, they may be working themselves into a corner where they must accept treatment. Dishonestly and manipulation are hallmarks of a drug problem. 

Another reason it's challenging to persuade an addict to accept treatment is because they are scared of what life will be like without mind-altering substances or fear the physical and emotional pain of going through withdrawal. 

Either way, you may be asking what you can do to stop their addiction or force them into attending rehab. Fortunately, the Marchman Act permits close relatives to compel a loved one to seek medical treatment when it becomes essential.

Families petition the legal system for a court-ordered evaluation that decides whether the mandated treatment will be voluntary or involuntary. During the initial assessment, a patient can only be held for a maximum of 12 days, after which they can be discharged, petitioned for involuntary treatment, or voluntary treatment.

The Marchman Act makes involuntary treatment for addicts above the age of 18 possible; for people below 18, a parent has the legal right to admit a child to a treatment facility against the child's wishes. 

Note: Deciding to place your minor son or daughter into treatment without their consent is legally possible but not practically true. I have lead interventions for older teenagers, 16,17, who flatly refused to accept treatment and then trashed their parent's house or escalated the crisis to the point of complete unmanageability.

An underage child will usually go if the parents and other participating family members have been sufficiently prepared for the intervention. However, in some more defiant cases, it becomes necessary to include a transporter in the intervention. A transporter usually consists of two trained people who non-violently remove the minor from the family's home and bring them to treatment - sometimes in handcuffs. 

Involving a transporter adds cost and time to the intervention because the mode of transportation is no longer a nonstop between cities; it's driving the teenager from home to treatment which could be one or two thousand miles away.

It should go without saying that you should only hire a transporter who has been vetted and recommended by the treatment center, interventionist, school, or therapist.  


Baker Act  

Unlike the Marchman Act, the Baker Act permits families and close friends to provide emergency mental health services and temporary detention for people who are a danger to themselves or others. 

Note: In some states, a Baker Act or an Involuntary Psychiatric Hold has another name; in California, for example, it is known as a 5150. 

It can also be initiated by law enforcement officers, doctors, and mental health professionals. It's officially known as the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 after Maxine Baker sponsored the bill.  

Under the Baker Act, if a person has a mental illness and is refusing voluntary assessment or cannot recognize their need for psychiatric evaluation, the person is likely to be detained involuntarily for up to 72 hours in a mental health facility.

After involuntary commitment, the person can be discharged or referred to outpatient treatment. If the person is not released after 72 hours because there's no improvement, an administrator could file a petition for involuntary placement, committing the person for up to six months at a mental facility. 

Addiction Intervention Treatment

Though effective to some extent, the Marchman Act and the Baker Act have limitations. The most major one is that an addicted individual or person with a mental illness may simply be doing time like it's a punishment and never fully accept or engage in the treatment process. 

I have seen many people agree to treatment to avoid the consequences and return to drinking or using as soon as they are discharged. Some recently released addicts don't even make it through the airport without picking up a drink. 

Even when clients' go-to treatment begrudgingly, I hope they realize the benefits of sobriety once they are detoxed or have a little sober time under their belt. 

Still, some addicts have to experience the hardships of prolonged addiction before seeking help on their own. The problem with letting an addict come to this conclusion on their own is they could die in the process.

According to the Partnership to End Addiction, a person addicted to opioids has a greater chance of dying from an accidental overdose than getting killed in a fatal car accident

An intervention may take alternate paths to achieve a positive outcome, for instance, we may engage an addicted person in recovery coaching while their parents or spouse engages in parent coaching. A parent coach will often work with spouses because they may be the identified codependent in the relationship. 

Some other services may include these therapeutic interventions:

  • cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • occupational therapy
  • structured living
  • group and family therapies
  • recovery coaching

The major difference between intervention treatment and the litigation process is that the person makes their own choice for voluntary treatment as opposed to a court order forcing them to commit to treatment. Intervention benefits heavily outweigh the legal process, especially for people in the early stages of addiction or mental health illness. 

The benefits of professional intervention

Here are some reasons to consider working with an interventionist rather than asking the court to compel a loved one to undergo treatment under Florida's Marchman or Baker Acts.

Outsider perspective: A professional addiction intervention specialist is not part of the person's family or friend's circle that might be compromised by years of manipulation and threats from the addicted person. The specialist can be a wake-up call for both the addict and the family or friends through interaction.

Case management: Admission to treatment can become complicated, especially if it's involuntary admission and having a third-party specialist to not only manage the admission process but also discharge planning, support, and after-care therapy. People with addiction can be agitated by the presence of family or friends; in most cases, they see them as being critical and distrustful.    

Less intense treatment: Early intervention helps people struggling with mental health complications to gain coping mechanisms before their conditions worsen to a point where learning new tools becomes more difficult. 

High self-esteem and motivation: Seeking addiction intervention treatment for your son or daughter helps them overcome societal stigma. 

As an interventionist and person in long-term recovery, I get to model what sobriety looks like, which hopefully the client sees as something worth obtaining for themselves.

Part of the intervention process aims to increase the patient's sense of pride for their decision to accept treatment and take responsibility for the wreckage their behavior may have caused when they were getting high or under the influence.  

As the client begins seeing his positive changes within himself, he will be inspired to continue growing and adopting new tools for living a healthy and happy life. 

Fuller recovery with better prognosis: Relapse is the biggest danger for someone leaving treatment or becoming non-med compliant for someone recovering from depression or anxiety. 

The Marchman Act is effective because it carries the weight of incarceration for non-compliant individuals. A person forced to accept treatment for fear of being arrested is unlikely to be committed to staying sober. This person may relapse because he is more resentful than anything else. 

Even though intervention is a life-saving gift, the person being intervened on may not see it this way and be resentful. I tell families all the time, if your son or daughter is still resentful at the end of their treatment, they're not ready to come home because they don't understand why they're in treatment. 

Note: It's necessary for someone in treatment to have the ability to explain why they are there AND why being in treatment is an appropriate decision. If they say something like, my parents forced me to be here; they are not ready to be discharged.  

Seeking a court-ordered Marchman Act or Baker Act should not be the first option when it comes to treatment. Consider contacting an intervention specialist even before you discuss treatment options with the affected person. 

Marc Kantor is a certified addiction interventionist and the founder of South Florida Intervention. He can be reached at 202-390-2273 or by e-mail at