Does Mandatory Addiction Treatment Work?

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Does Mandatory Addiction Treatment Work?

Drug and alcohol addiction treatment in the United States has evolved considerably in the last 50 years. Our nation has slowly moved away from the philosophy of incarcerating people with addictions to providing treatment. While it has been shown that treatment is much more successful in helping people with substance use disorders (SUDs) than punishment, the question of whether or not court-ordered drug rehabilitation is effective remains unanswered.

What Is Court-Mandated Rehab?

Court-ordered drug rehab is often used as a valid alternative form of sentencing. In the past, addiction was seen as a moral failing and a purely criminal matter, but thanks to science and medical breakthroughs, the law is now seeing addiction as a disease and public health crisis rather than a moral flaw. As a result, in lieu of incarceration, more and more are being treated with addiction rehabilitation methods. 

Unfortunately, substance abuse and crime go hand-in-hand. Drugs and alcohol often compel addicts to commit crimes while under the influence or to obtain more substances. According to research, an estimated 65% of the U.S. prison population has an active substance use disorder, and 20% of this population was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their crimes.1 Some of the most common crimes linked to drug and alcohol abuse include domestic violence, DUIs, and property crimes.

Therefore, for many of these individuals, the driving factor of their crime was a severe disease that, like any other, requires professional care. The goal of court-ordered drug rehabilitation is to help arrested individuals with severe substance use disorders to avoid jail time and get the help they truly need to break away from a life of crime and substance abuse. 

How Does Court-Ordered Rehab Work?

Drug court requirements and eligibility vary to some degree according to the county and municipality. The prosecutor will often make sentencing recommendations that allow defendants to avoid jail time and opt for substance abuse treatment instead. For more serious offenses – such as severe injury or death and driving under the influence – prosecutors may order mandatory drug treatment in addition to jail time. 

For the most part, however, people convicted of simple possession charges or first-time DUI offenses are frequently able to avoid incarceration and instead have the opportunity to complete an addiction treatment program. In these cases, defendants will also be required to pay fines and pay for their treatment even though it’s legally required by the court.

A court-ordered substance abuse evaluation has to take place first to obtain court-ordered addiction treatment instead of jail time. Family and loved ones of the offender can request a screening, which is conducted by law enforcement and addiction specialists. The offender is taken into custody, where professionals can evaluate whether or not they are in control of their actions due to substance abuse and if they’re suffering from health problems as a result of drugs or alcohol.

If law enforcement and specialists find that the individual is a danger to themselves or others due to their addiction, an emergency court order is issued, and a hearing is scheduled. At the hearing, the offender, their attorney, and their loved ones can ask the judge for mandatory drug rehab. 

The judge has the final say on whether the defendant will go to rehab, serve jail time, or both. If the offender is only required to go to rehab, their charges won’t be dismissed until they complete their inpatient or outpatient treatment program. 

Does Court-Ordered Drug Rehabilitation Work?

While it’s widely believed that drug courts are certainly an improvement over the incarceration-focused policies of the past, there is some debate about their effectiveness in reducing substance abuse. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), drug court programs have been wildly successful in America. Here are some of their supporting facts:

  • Nationwide, 50% to 70% of people in court-ordered drug rehabilitation graduate from their programs.2
  • Drug courts reduce crime by as much as 45% compared to other sentencing options (probation, jail, or prison.)3
  • Drug courts produce cost savings ranging from $3,000 to $13,000 per client. These savings reflect reduced prison costs, lower recidivism (not relapsing), and reduced victimization.3
  • Parents who are in family drug court are twice as likely to go to treatment and complete it.4

Despite these supporting facts and figures, there have been many criticisms of court-ordered drug programs, namely in the evaluations themselves. Since funding is often dependent on a drug court’s ability to demonstrate effectiveness, many argue that the programs’ operators may be inclined to only report positive results or create evaluation methodologies that will ignore negative outcomes.

For example, the majority of drug court evaluation programs have no comparison group, such as offenders who refused treatment. This means that any success numbers reported by drug courts lack the context to put them in proper perspective.

“Drug court programs do not have much interaction with participants following graduation — meaning there are no long-term success or failure rates to examine.”

Another criticism is that treatment outcomes are only reported for those who graduate from the program, meaning that it is not a true measure of the program’s overall effectiveness. Additionally, much of the drug court data is based on the self-reporting of participants (who are motivated to report no drug use), adding another flaw. Lastly, drug court programs do not have much interaction with participants following graduation, meaning there are no long-term success or failure rates to examine.

Even so, while opinions vary on the efficacy and success rate of court-ordered drug rehabilitation, there is little argument that it’s more effective than incarceration. This is because, after centuries of research and observation, it has been shown that you can’t incarcerate a person’s addictions away. Drug courts allow addicted individuals to remain employed and to be productive members of their households and society.

Finding Professional Treatment 

For those struggling with drug or alcohol addictions who want to get help before they get into trouble, our BHOPB detox center is here to help. Our Palm Beach county rehab offers a variety of addiction services, including inpatient and outpatient treatment and therapy, to support long-term physical and mental recovery from substance abuse. 

For more information about our addiction treatment in Lake Worth, call Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches at 561-220-3981 or send us your contact information, and one of our admission specialists will give you a call.


  1. NIH – Criminal Justice DrugFacts
  2. NIH – Outcome Trajectories in Drug Court: Do All Participants Have Drug Problems?
  3. Waseca County Court Services – Drug Court Informational Brochure
  4. Legacy Family Court Foundation – The Facts & Impact 

Related Reading: 

The Relationship Between Mental Illness & Violence

Devil’s Breath: The Scariest Drug in the World?

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