Addiction treatment is a complicated issue. On the one hand, an epidemic is killing more people than ever.
On the other hand, forcing someone into addiction treatment can be dangerous and ineffective.
And while it might seem like a great idea to force someone into treatment to help them get sober and stay sober, this approach creates more problems than it solves. Here are reasons why forced addiction treatment fails.
Addiction is a chronic disease, but we treat it like a failure of willpower.
Addiction is a disorder, not a moral failing. It's a chronic illness like diabetes or heart disease requiring treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and relapse.
The brain changes caused by drug use cause the addict to have trouble controlling their behavior even when they want to quit using drugs or alcohol.
Because addiction affects the brain, it can't be cured by willpower alone--just like you can't cure diabetes alone. Addiction is a complex condition affecting both the brain and behavior; therefore, treatment often requires a comprehensive approach.
Addiction is best treated with medical approaches (such as detoxification) and psychological approaches (like therapy) because addiction affects your body and mind.
This combination helps people learn skills for managing their cravings so they don't relapse into drug use again after leaving rehab facilities.
Treatment often fails because patients need access to the proper care.
Forced addiction treatment often fails because patients don't have access to the proper care.
Many people don't have access to the proper treatment for their substance use disorder, which can be a huge barrier to recovery.
Ideally, people should be able to choose the kind of treatment that works best for them--and they should also be able to decide when and where they want it delivered.
Suppose you're forced into an outpatient program but would attend residential treatment instead.
In that case, your needs won't be met in forced addiction treatment because there is no flexibility in what's offered.
Forced treatment is expensive and ineffective.
Forcing someone to get treatment is expensive. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors reports that it costs $40,000 to $60,000 per year to maintain an outpatient addiction treatment program at a state hospital.
Inpatient programs can cost up to $150,000 annually.
While forced treatment may be effective for some people with substance use disarray and mental health issues, it's not always the best option for everyone.
For example, if you have an acute mental health condition that requires immediate attention (such as psychosis), forced abstinence from drugs or alcohol could make things worse by exacerbating symptoms like paranoia and anxiety attacks.
Many people who are forced into treatment don't need it.
Most people using drugs do not have a substance use disorder, and most who do will recover without treatment.
Only about 10% percent of people with addiction need formal treatment options such as residential rehab or inpatient hospitalization.
Among those who do require specialized care, many choose to forgo it.
They're afraid of being stigmatized by society and feel like society will ignore their problems. If they seek professional help (which is why some prefer self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous).
And even if someone does have an addiction problem that requires specialized help, there is no guarantee forcing them into treatment will solve anything--in fact, some research suggests that forcing someone into rehab may make things worse.
The stigma of being in forced addiction treatment can cause more problems than it solves.
Stigma causes people to hide their problems, which means they may not get the help they need when needed.
Stigma can cause people who are experiencing addiction and mental health issues to avoid treatment altogether--or relapse if they do enter treatment.
Stigmatization can also lead people with addiction or mental health disorders like depression or anxiety, who might otherwise recover successfully from their habits with the proper support, to die prematurely because of discrimination against them (see this article on how stigma kills).
People who are forced into treatment relapse later on.
You might be wondering why someone would relapse if forced into treatment. After all, the goal of addiction treatment is to get sober and stay that way, right?
Many people forced into treatment get their lives back on track and become fertile members of society again.
It makes them so compelling as subjects for forced-treatment programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
But there are also various cases where this doesn't happen. People who were once in AA but relapsed. People who were forced into NA but continued using drugs anyway.
Even those unfortunate souls whose only crime was being homeless or otherwise down and out when they were picked up by police officers looking for suspects in some crime spree that never actually happened.
The point here isn't just whether these individuals benefited from being put through AA/NA programs; instead, it's about whether these programs make sense given what we know about addiction today.
You can't force someone to get sober if they don't want to be straight.
There is a myth that people with addiction will be so grateful for the help they'll do anything to get sober.
The reality is that if you don't want to get sober, nothing can make you. And if someone does enjoy it, there are many ways to help them on their journey.
Forced addiction treatment can harm someone's recovery process because it makes someone feel like they are being punished or controlled by others who don't understand their situation or struggles.
It leads to resentment and feelings of helplessness, which can lead directly back into drug use (or other forms of self-destructive behavior).
With all of this, it's clear that forced addiction treatment is not the answer to drug problems. While people may think forced addiction treatment can effectively help individuals struggling with addiction, it is not always the best approach.
It doesn't work, and it never will. Addiction is a complex disease requiring treatment options tailored to each patient's needs.
Forced treatment programs often fail to meet medical standards of care and provide inadequate access to medication and health care services leading to higher rates of illness among those incarcerated there than would be seen among the general population.
Suppose we want more people to get sober and stay sober. In that case, we need more programs like CLT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), which has been shown repeatedly by numerous studies over several decades as an effective method of treating substance use disorders--even when patients aren't motivated at first.
Isaac Adams-Hands is a writer and journalist who focuses on addiction and recovery-related topics. With a strong passion for helping those who struggle with substance abuse, Isaac has dedicated his career to raising awareness about the challenges that individuals face when attempting to overcome addiction.