Why Forced Sobriety Doesn’t Work

18. May 2016

The disease of addiction is an incredibly complicated, almost enigmatic affliction. We are all aware of what the disease of addiction is in terms of the basics; it indicates that a person has become both physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol or drugs. And we often see addicts as people who are increasingly likely to develop diseases through their drug use, become homeless due to their drug use, or resort to committing crimes to sustain their drug use. In short, the perception of addicts is that they’ve become people who are dangerous in many ways to others and society as a whole.

However, while addiction takes many people to extremely dark places, people who become addicts are without hope for redemption and recovery. Addiction may be incurable as a disease, but like cancer or diabetes it can be pushed into remission through effect addiction treatment and other recovery resources. But the complication is that not everyone who suffers from addiction needs the same things to overcome the disease. Instead, every addict requires different forms of treatment, different approaches and techniques, and different types of support to reach the point of sobriety from a point of full, active addiction.

Additionally, there’s the issue of the many addicts who are resistant to the recovery process, sometimes even outright rejecting the prospect of getting off alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, these individuals don’t embrace the recovery process because of fears they have concerning addiction recovery and sobriety; they fear that they’ll be forced to suffer through withdrawal symptoms before they can get sober, they worry about whether seeking addiction treatment will result in demonization from their loved ones, and so on. Therefore, many people—especially those who have an addicted loved one—who wonder whether it’s possible to force these addicted individuals into sobriety; however, by all indications it seems that forced sobriety doesn’t work, and here’s why.

Methods of Forced Sobriety

When we think of ways to force someone into addiction treatment, most of us assume that it’s through the influence of one’s family. Perhaps the addict in question is given some type of ultimatum such as having to complete a treatment program or else be forced to move out of the home and fend for his or herself. Some families stage interventions that end with an ultimatum after the addict’s loved ones have reached the end of their rope. After all, it can be extremely frustrating to be the family and friends of an addict who is likely willing to manipulate or steal from any of them if that’s what it takes to sustain his or her addiction. When it’s more so a case of giving the addict the choice to go to rehab or fend for his or herself, it’s much less a forced recovery and, instead, represents the family’s attempt to protect themselves and giving a last-ditch effort to help the addict.

But there are other methods that are used, which don’t really give the addicts the option. In other words, they begin the recovery process without being ready for or wanting recovery, and that has a major effect on an addict’s success in recovery.

One of the other ways an addict can be forced into sobriety is through involuntary commitment. It’s only an option in certain states—most states actually—and typically requires the individual’s spouse, parents, or other immediate family to provide some type of proof that the addict is endangering him or herself or others. Depending on the state, the proof can be a doctor’s referral or might only require the loved ones’ statements and signatures. However, when the individual is committed to rehab involuntarily, he or she is forced to receive and complete treatment and can only leave the facility through program completion or by breaking the facility’s rules and policies.

Thirdly, there’s the emergence of so-called “drug courts” throughout the U.S. that could be considered a means of forcing addicts into recovery. Technically, these drug courts offer addicted offenders the choice to either complete an addiction treatment program or complete a prison sentence; however, given the choice between the two one would assume it highly unlikely that any offender in drug court would choose almost anything over a prison sentence. Moreover, there’s an argument to be made that drug courts are a means of forcing recovery that only offers the illusion of voluntary rehabilitation.

parents arguing with daughter

Forcing Someone Into Sobriety Isn’t the Way

The problem with forcing someone into sobriety isn’t typically apparent until they’ve completed their required treatments. Typically, they won’t have any choice as to whether or not they must complete the program since it’s forced upon them; however, they can control whether or not they remain sober after they get out of rehab and is wherein the problem lies. When you force an addict who doesn’t want or isn’t ready to recovery into rehab, he or she is more likely to remain spiteful of having had no say in the matter than he or she is to embrace the prospect of recovery. Are there instances of forced recovery being successful? Yes, but the odds of a forced recovery being successful are much lower than the chances of an addict forced to go to rehab quickly returning to their previous substance abuse after they’re able to leave rehab.

In order to optimize a person’s chance of achieving a successful, long-lasting recovery, he or she needs to feel as if recovery was something he or she needs and chooses. The addict needs to feel as if he or she has some level of control in his or her situation and needs to believe that going to rehab will be a better situation than remaining in active addiction. If an addict resists recovery, the best course of action is to appeal to the individual with the facts; explain where remaining in active addiction will lead and the various dangers—health risks, legal risks, loss of one’s relationships, and so on—that are inevitable for an addict. Encourage the addict by showing him or her how life would and will be better in recovery.

Intervention Services is Here For You or Your Loved One

If you or someone you love would benefit from a consultation with one of our coordinators, call Intervention Services toll-free at 877-478-4621 today. With just one simple phone call, you or your loved one can begin the journey to a life of health, happiness, and lasting recovery.