Your adult child is currently in treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction and is considering leaving the program before completion. What options do you, as a concerned parent, have? You may wonder if you have a legal recourse to force your family member to stay in treatment, but unless he or she is a threat to themselves or to other people, the most you can do is stage a formal intervention. If you do feel your loved one is a threat, you might be able to force a civil commitment in which he or she will be court-ordered to return to a treatment facility.

What is Civil Commitment?

Civil commitment is the incarceration of someone against their will, and the laws that pertain to it vary by state. Typically, civil commitment is carried out to contain specific groups of individuals to prevent them from harming themselves or others. People who may find themselves on the wrong end of a civil commitment include:

  • Drug addicts
  • Sex offenders
  • Mentally ill individuals

There’s a fine line delineating those who can and cannot be committed to any sort of institution against their will. Primarily, you must prove that the person is a viable threat either to themselves or to others, and this can be difficult to do.

How Does Civil Commitment Work?

Depending upon the state in which the individual resides, they may be picked up by police, detained for emergency hospitalization, and then court-ordered to return to treatment. There are currently 38 states that allow civil commitment for substance abuse, according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Of those, all but Alabama, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wyoming allow police pick-up. If you feel this situation pertains to your adult child, your first step is to contact your local police department.

In order to prove that your loved one is a threat, you’ll need documentation that’s usually backed up by a police report or a report generated by a crisis intervention team. Even with this evidence in hand, however, it’s surprisingly difficult to have someone committed to a treatment facility against their will in most states.

A Better Alternative

A better option may be to stage a formal intervention with your loved one, those impacted by their addiction, and an intervention specialist. You’ll find an specialist on duty at most drug treatment facilities, including the one out of which your family member is currently attempting to opt. Interventions are powerful tools for families who have reached their final straw with an addicted family member.

During an intervention, loved ones and friends of the addicted person gather together to make an impactful statement to the addict. The process is supervised by a licensed intervention specialist, and the goal is to convince the person to enter a treatment facility immediately. In order for an intervention to work, the addict must be transported directly to the facility at the conclusion of the intervention, and the transport must be accompanied by witnesses. Allowing your loved one to promise to enter a facility the next day, next week, or even in just a few hours is the surest way of providing them with escape.

Drug addiction is difficult on everyone involved, but sometimes it seems as if the family suffers even more than the addict. Help is out there waiting. All it takes is a single call.


  1. Laws About Involuntary Commitment Vary Widely Among States; Partnership for Drug-Free Kids; retrieved from on May 18, 2015.