Can You Force Someone To Go To Rehab In Massachusetts?

  • Written by:

    Bedrock Recovery Center

  • Dr. Langdon M.D.
    Medically reviewed by:

    Kimberly Langdon M.D.

Can You Involuntarily Commit Someone Into Drug Rehab?

You can force someone to go to drug and alcohol treatment in Massachusetts. This must be done under the proper circumstances — not everyone can be forced into treatment.

Section 35 of Massachusetts General Law states that certain individuals may bring a petition to the court requesting that a person be admitted for treatment.

If you’re worried about someone you love and believe it’s necessary for them to be involuntarily committed into treatment through the court, you may be able to do so.

How To Get A Loved One Into Rehab: The Process

If a family member or a loved one is in direct danger of harming themselves or someone else, you may exercise the involuntary commitment law under section 35.

This involves sending a petition in writing for an order of commitment of a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) to an inpatient treatment center.

To do this, you must be a:

  • police officer
  • physician
  • spouse
  • blood relative
  • guardian
  • court official

A person may be involuntarily committed for treatment if there is:

Once the petition is made, here’s what will happen:

  1. The court will immediately schedule a hearing on the petition, sending a summons and a copy of the application to the person being committed.
  2. If the person fails to appear in court, the court may issue a warrant for their arrest. 
  3. The person has the right to be represented by legal counsel. If the court finds the person indigent (unable to afford legal assistance), they’ll be appointed counsel.
  4. The person will be examined by a qualified physician, psychologist, or social worker.
  5. If the court finds the person to have a SUD and that there’s a likelihood of serious harm as a result of the person’s SUD, they will be admitted into treatment.

What Happens After Being Involuntarily Committed?

After your loved one has been ruled in need of addiction treatment by the court, a few steps will follow.

Here’s what will happen after court:

  1. The person with a SUD will go to treatment. This treatment occurs in a facility and cannot exceed 90 days.
  2. Case management services will be provided by the department of public health for up to one year.
  3. A superintendent at the facility will review the necessity of commitment on days 30, 45, 60, and 75 as long as the commitment continues.
  4. Your loved one may be released before the expiration of the period of commitment with written approval by the superintendent of the facility.
  5. The person may voluntarily remain in treatment longer if they choose to do so.
  6. After release, the superintendent of a facility may authorize the transfer of your loved one to a different facility for continuing treatment.

If there are no suitable treatment centers available, your loved one will be sent to:

  • a secure facility for women approved by the department of public health or the department of mental health (if the person being committed is female)
  • the Massachusetts correctional institution at Bridgewater or another facility designated by the commissioner of correction (if the person being committed is male)

When To Involuntarily Commit Someone For Addiction Treatment

This should be a last resort option. Section 35 is not meant to be the first step, but the very last option when you’ve exhausted all other efforts to help your loved one.

Involuntary Commitment In The U.S.

The District of Columbia and 37 states provide laws of involuntary commitment, or civil commitment, and each state handles this type of law differently.

Most laws across the U.S. require evidence that a person has a SUD and that they will harm, or have threatened to harm, themselves or another person.

Other qualifying factors include an inability to provide for basic needs, including food and shelter. States vary in how long a person can be committed, some lasting just a few days and others weeks.

More issues arise when availability is taken into consideration. In many states, there’s nowhere to send people who need help because treatment is not readily available.

Is Addiction Treatment Effective With Involuntary Commitment?

There are mixed reviews on whether involuntary commitment is as effective as voluntary treatment for substance abuse.

Some studies have found involuntary treatment to be equally as effective as voluntary treatment, while others have found opposition to coerced treatment.

One Florida program found comparable rates of involuntary and voluntary participants, and a Wisconsin study found that 52% of representatives believe involuntary commitment is effective.

However, other professional treatment providers argue that involuntary treatment is a poor external motivator, and participants do not reap the full benefits of their program when coerced.

Find Addiction Recovery Help For Your Loved One

If you or your loved one need help to overcome a substance use disorder, treatment is available.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we can provide detox services, medication-assisted treatment, inpatient treatment, and more.

If you’d like to learn more about these addiction treatment services, reach out to us today.


Commonwealth of Massachusetts — Section 35: Commitment of alcoholics or substance abusers

Partnership to End Addiction — Many States Allow Involuntary Commitment for Addiction Treatment

Psychiatry Online — Civil Commitment for Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders: Does It Work?