Laws About Involuntary Commitment for Substance Abuse Vary Widely Among States

Laws regarding involuntary commitment for substance abuse vary widely among states, according to a study presented at the American Psychiatric Association meeting this week.

Medscape Medical News reports that the study found 38 states allow some form of involuntary substance abuse treatment that is separate from any kind of criminal issues. Debra A. Pinals, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Law and Psychiatry Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, said that the length of time in which a person can be involuntarily forced into treatment varies widely among states. Criteria for involuntary commitment vary as well. While some states require dangerousness to self or grave disability, others require a combination of criteria, Dr. Pinals said.

The study found that less than 10% of patients with substance use disorders seek treatment. Most who seek treatment do so because of external, coercive influences, she said.

Dr. Pinals found that police pickup, emergency hospitalization and civil commitment were the three forms of involuntary treatment most used by the states with legal statutes regarding involuntary commitment for substance abuse. All but four states (Alabama, Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Virginia) allow police pickup or emergency hospitalization, while 38 states allow outpatient or inpatient civil commitment.

4 Responses to Laws About Involuntary Commitment for Substance Abuse Vary Widely Among States

  1. hugh | May 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Thought this was interesting.

  2. Michael J. McFadden | May 23, 2011 at 5:04 am

    Sooooo…. how long until we see involuntary commitment for tobacco smokers, hmmm?

    - MJM

    • Betsey Hallihan | January 29, 2013 at 9:21 am

      I liked the comment about smoking. How about adding obesity and other not acceptable behaviors? Social reform laws can’t change human behaviors! Prohibition was a failure.


  3. Florida and Working | June 5, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Heard of Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare)? They will criminalize ‘unhealthy’ behaviors!!

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