Can You Force Someone Into Drug Rehab In Massachusetts?

If your family member refuses to seek treatment for their drug addiction (substance use disorder), you might feel hopeless.

However, if you live in Massachusetts, you can petition the court to order your loved one to attend involuntary treatment, also known as forced rehab. Here’s how.

Section 35 & Involuntary Addiction Treatment In Massachusetts

Under a Massachusetts law called Section 35, you can force someone into drug rehab if you meet certain criteria. First, you must be a qualified petitioner. Qualified petitioners include:

  • blood relatives
  • spouses
  • guardians
  • physicians
  • police officers
  • court officials

Next, you must visit your local District or Juvenile court and file a written petition or affidavit for an order of commitment. The court will then evaluate your petition and issue a summons for your loved one. That means your loved one will receive an order to appear in court for a hearing.

If the court believes your loved one will not appear in court voluntarily and that their lack of appearance could pose an immediate physical danger to your loved one, a judge may issue a warrant. That means police officers will take your loved one into custody and bring them to the court for the hearing.

What Happens At The Hearing?

At the hearing, the court will order an examination of your loved one by a qualified physician, psychologist, or social worker. Your loved one has the right to refuse this examination. They will also have the right to an attorney. If they can’t afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for them.


The court will then hear evidence from the examination, testimony, and any other evidence concerning your loved one’s situation. This evidence helps the court determine whether your loved one requires involuntary treatment.


The judge will then decide if the evidence proves that your loved one has substance use disorder and that their disorder causes a likelihood of serious harm to your loved one or others. That means their disorder must have caused at least one of the following:

  • a substantial risk of physical self-harm as manifested by evidence of threats of, or attempts at suicide or serious bodily harm
  • a substantial risk of physical harm to others as manifested by evidence of homicidal or other violent behavior or evidence that others are placed in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them
  • a very substantial risk of physical impairment or injury to your loved one as manifested by evidence that your loved one is unable to protect themself in the community

If your loved one meets these criteria, the judge will order them to receive treatment. A court evaluator will recommend a rehab facility based on your loved one’s individual needs as well as bed availability. In some cases, they may recommend a correctional facility (jail or prison).

Your loved one will then be moved to a holding cell for up to several hours. The local Sheriff’s Department will then transport your loved one to the treatment facility.

What Happens During Treatment?

When your loved one arrives at the addiction treatment center, a team of healthcare providers will assess their needs and create their personalized treatment plan.

Medical Detox

Most treatment plans start with medical detox. During detox, medical professionals will help your loved one safely stop using drugs with minimal withdrawal symptoms.

The amount of time your loved one spends in detox depends on personal factors, such as the substance they used, the amount they used, and their general health.

Treatment Services

After your loved one completes detox, they will receive other treatment services designed to ease drug cravings and reduce their risk of relapse. These services typically include:

  • behavioral therapy, in which a mental health professional helps your loved one change unhealthy beliefs and behaviors that contribute to their drug use
  • support groups, in which your loved one can connect with other people recovering from addiction
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT), in which doctors prescribe medications to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid or alcohol use

How Long Does Treatment Last?

Your loved one’s treatment may last up to 90 days. Before treatment ends, your loved one may no longer meet the criteria for involuntary commitment.

For example, they might stop posing serious harm to themselves or others. In that case, your loved one can either leave the program or choose to stay for voluntary treatment.

Is Involuntary Treatment Effective?

Court-ordered treatment can be an effective way to introduce your loved one to recovery. It can also help them avoid overdose and other life-threatening risks of substance abuse.

However, you should only pursue involuntary treatment as a last resort. That’s because some people find the experience traumatic, especially if the treatment occurs inside a jail or prison. Also, many people respond better to treatment when they enter it voluntarily.

To learn more about addiction treatment programs, please reach out to Spring Hill Recovery Center. Nestled in the peaceful woodlands, our inpatient programs offer a variety of substance abuse treatment options to help you or your loved one thrive.


Addiction — Unpacking involuntary interventions for people who use drugs

Commonwealth of Massachusetts — Section 35

Commonwealth of Massachusetts — Section 35: The Profcess

  1. Addiction — Unpacking involuntary interventions for people who use drugs
  2. Commonwealth of Massachusetts — Section 35
  3. Commonwealth of Massachusetts — Section 35: The Process

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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