A Complete Guide to Court-Ordered Rehab

Updated on July 13th, 2020
A Complete Guide to Court-Ordered RehabSubstance abuse and addiction come with a host of negative side effects, including legal issues. If a person refuses to admit they have a problem and won’t go to rehab on their own, he or she may eventually end up facing an ultimatum: rehab or jail.

What is Court-Ordered Rehab?

Court-ordered rehab is drug and alcohol rehabilitation that has been ordered by a judge.1 It gives drug offenders the opportunity to get help for their substance use disorder instead of going to jail.

For years, we’ve been throwing drug offenders behind bars instead of offering alternatives to incarceration that address the real issue, which is substance abuse. Fortunately, today, many drug offenders end up in drug court where they are sentenced to court-ordered rehab instead of prison.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of adults involved in the criminal justice system has soared from about 1.8 million in 1980 to 7.3 million in 2017. This is largely due to prosecutions of drug-related crimes and drug-addicted offenders. In addition, criminal offenders have rates of substance abuse and dependence that are more than four times that of the general population.2

Although court-ordered rehab may not prove to be successful for every criminal offender, it can drastically reduce the number of individuals who are stuck in a cycle of substance abuse, crime, and prison sentences.

The number of adults involved in the criminal justice system increased from 1.8 million in 1980 to 7.3 million in 2017, largely due to prosecutions of drug-related crimes and drug-addicted offenders.

What Is the Goal of Court-Ordered Rehab?

The primary goal of court-ordered rehab is to allow drug offenders to bypass jail time and get help for their addiction(s) so they can live a life that is free from substance abuse and criminal behavior. 

The prison population has exploded in recent years due to drug-related arrests and charges, but going to jail doesn’t address the underlying problem, which is addiction. While nearly all U.S. courts can order a person to attend court-ordered rehab or educational programs, some courts are uniquely qualified to help individuals who are addicted and have been convicted of drug-related crimes. These are called drug courts.

Drug courts provide personal accountability with therapeutic intervention and connections to substance abuse treatment. This support is provided from the time the person is arrested to the time he or she completes the requirements of parole or probation.

Through a drug court, a person’s treatment team may be composed of several people, such as a judge, therapist, case manager, and/or healthcare professional. These individuals support the person in recovery as well as their family members and they can help drug offenders coordinate things like enrolling in a detox or rehab program, arranging aftercare, managing vocational training, and fulfilling all discharge requirements.

Probation for DUI/DWI Charges

There are many different types of drug-related crimes, such as:

  • Using illegal drugs
  • Possessing illegal drugs
  • Selling drugs illegally
  • Behaving violently due to the effects of drugs
  • Stealing to get money to buy drugs
  • Participating in violence against rival drug dealers
  • Causing a car accident due to the side effects of drugs3

DUI and DWI charges are also directly related to drug use and may frequently be the cause of probation sentencing for drug offenders. For individuals who have a DUI or DWI conviction, probation conditions may also include court-ordered rehab, which can provide effective addiction treatment to reduce the likelihood of another offense. Rehab may also include treatment for co-occurring disorders, life skills development, and opportunities to develop healthy friendships with other sober people.

Depending on the criminal offense, the type and intensity of drug rehab that is needed will vary, but in general, court-ordered rehab for a DUI or DWI charge is much more likely to result in positive and lasting change than incarceration as it provides education, personalized treatment, and opportunities for personal growth in recovery.

Is Court-Ordered Rehab Effective?

Forced abstinence during incarceration is not an effective treatment and it does not help a person overcome their drug or alcohol abuse problems. On the contrary, research shows that drug and alcohol addiction treatment can work for drug offenders, even when it is entered involuntarily.2

Sadly, an estimated 50 percent of state and federal prisoners meet the criteria for substance use disorder, but less than 20 percent receive treatment.2 Additionally, 75 percent of inmates with a mental illness also abuse drugs and alcohol (and vice versa), further emphasizing the need for court-ordered rehab or other treatment alternatives to incarceration.2

50 percent of state and federal prisoners meet the criteria for substance use disorder, but less than 20 percent receive treatment.

Court-ordered rehab is not only an effective way to help drug offenders get sober, but it also gives people who are on parole or probation the tools and resources they need to maintain their sobriety and successfully re-enter society. This often includes safe, sober housing, life skills, a sober support system, employment assistance, and volunteer placement services.

Who Is Eligible for Court-Ordered Rehab?

Someone who has committed a drug-related crime may be eligible for court-ordered rehab if they meet some or all of the following criteria:

  • The offense is non-violent and is a direct result of the person’s intoxication
  • The offense is directly related to alcohol and drug abuse and/or directly involves the possession or distribution of drugs.
  • The offender has not previously been treated for substance abuse in the past.
  • The person is a first-time offender.

While these factors may all influence the judge’s ruling, this is not an exhaustive list of conditions. A person’s sentencing is highly individualized based on the type and severity of the crime committed, his or her substance abuse problems, and his or her criminal history.

Going to Rehab on Parole or Probation

In some instances, a person may be released from prison early on parole or receive a probation sentence instead of prison and may face difficulties reintegrating into society. Common struggles include:

  • Finding employment with a criminal history or lack of skills/education
  • Functioning with undiagnosed and/or untreated mental health problems
  • Functioning with undiagnosed and/or untreated physical health problems
  • Maintaining sobriety without any support
  • Finding safe, sober housing

The reentry process is complex enough without the added strain of trying to maintain a lifestyle of sobriety, so it’s no surprise that half of all inmates are reincarcerated within three years of being released.4

Research shows that monitoring on parole is effective for reducing the likelihood of future arrest, but it is not as effective for drug offenders.5 Instead, individualized treatment in drug and alcohol rehab may provide the help addicted drug offenders need to stay sober and avoid future criminal behavior and arrest.

Who Pays for Court-Ordered Rehab?

If a person is ordered by a judge to enroll in a treatment program, he or she is solely responsible for paying for court-ordered rehab. However, the person may also choose a rehab center and program that is in line with his or her budget and capabilities.

Drug offenders who have been sentenced to court-ordered rehab may use health insurance benefits to cover out-of-pocket costs associated with addiction treatment. Depending on the person’s insurance policy, this may provide partial or full coverage for treatment.

There are several other alternative payment options that a person may also want to explore, such as:

An admissions representative can help individuals explore these various options to find the best method to pay for drug rehab.

What Should I Expect When Going to Rehab on Parole or Probation?

Enrolling in rehab on parole may seem like a violation of parole conditions, but communicating honestly and openly with a parole officer is a great way to show that you are invested and committed to change. If you’re on parole and you’re struggling with substance abuse and addiction, you may need to go to rehab to get the necessary treatment you need to recover.

If you have been sentenced to a period of probation, depending on the nature of your crime and your history of substance abuse, going to rehab may be a requirement of your probation sentencing. If you’re going to rehab on parole or probation, you may be required to adhere to some conditions throughout the course of your treatment.

Some common conditions of going to rehab on parole or probation include:
· You may need to attend the rehab program for however long the judge requires.
· You may also need to complete community service.
· You and/or your addiction treatment provider may need to give regular updates to an appointed officer.
· You may need to maintain complete abstinence from all drugs and alcohol.
· You may need to submit to random drug or alcohol tests.

What Happens If Someone Fails to Complete Courd-Ordered Rehab?

If a person violates the conditions of their court-ordered rehab, he or she may face serious consequences. Most often, this happens when a person refuses to enroll in rehab, stops attending treatment sessions, or commits another drug-related crime. The consequences of these violations may vary depending on:

  • The type of violation
  • How frequent the violation(s) occurred
  • The person’s history of crime
  • How much time the person spent in treatment
  • The person’s behavior during treatment

The consequences for violated court-ordered treatment are dependent upon the person’s circumstances and the judge’s decision. Unfortunately, since court-ordered rehab is offered as an alternative to prison, repeated violations may result in fines, increased sentencing, or jail time.6

What Types of Substance Abuse Treatment Is Available for Drug Offenders?

There are several different types of rehab options for drug offenders. Depending on the person’s criminal history, substance abuse history, and financial ability, here are some general options for treatment.


Pre-Trial Diversion Program These programs are designed to give first-time offenders a chance to avoid criminal charges as well as a criminal record. With this type of program, the prosecutor halts the case and allows the defendant to complete the conditions of the diversion program, which may include probation, drug rehab, community service, etc. Once the program is completed, recommendations are made for the court to dismiss the charges.
Educational programs These types of programs are common for people who are facing DUI, drug possession, or possession of drug paraphernalia charges. An educational rehab program consists of several weeks (usually 12-15 weeks) of educational sessions. Upon completion of the program, the charges are dropped.
Medical detox In some cases, a person may need to complete detox before they can begin a court-ordered drug rehab program. Medical detox is often the safest and most effective type of detox, but each person’s individual needs will vary.
Residential rehab Residential rehab is a highly structured and intensive form of rehab for addicted drug offenders. Clients live on-site at the rehab center while they complete the program and drug offenders who are on parole, probation, or who are enrolled for court-ordered treatment must also maintain the conditions of their sentencing throughout the duration of treatment.
Intensive outpatient rehab This type of program consists of a series of outpatient group meetings that are facilitated by a counselor or addiction treatment specialist. They are often based on the 12-Step model for recovery and provide flexibility for clients to continue working, going to school, and living at home or in a sober living home while they complete treatment.
Sober living A sober living program provides safe, sober, gender-specific housing for people in recovery. These programs may also offer additional recovery support services, such as employment assistance, educational planning, group therapy, and regular drug and alcohol testing.
Peer recovery support Peer recovery support programs help clients maintain their sobriety by providing one-on-one peer-guided recovery support. These types of programs help people transition from one stage of treatment to another and also provide valuable support, resources, and accountability as clients re-enter society as sober individuals.

Can Someone Refuse Court-Ordered Rehab?

Yes, a person may choose to refuse court-ordered rehab. However, the result will be a longer prison sentence or harsher legal penalties. If the court-ordered rehab treatment violates the individual’s constitutional rights, he or she can refuse without facing any additional punishments.

Although court-ordered rehab is a wonderful opportunity to get help for addiction instead of going to jail, a person may still refuse to cooperate. From the perspective of a loved one, this decision may not always make sense, but it’s important to remember that oftentimes, a person must be ready to accept help for his or her addiction.

Which States Allow Involuntary Commitment for Addiction Treatment?

Currently, 37 states allow for the involuntary commitment of individuals with substance use disorders to treatment, but several strict guidelines must be met. The states with involuntary commitment laws include:7

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana (alcoholism only)
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont (substance use disorder only)
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

The requirements, duration of commitment allowed, and the process of involuntary commitment varies by state. To involuntarily commit someone to treatment, there must be evidence that:

  • The person is addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • The person has threatened, attempted, or already inflicted physical harm on themselves or another person
  • The person cannot provide for their basic needs (such as food or shelter) due to substance abuse and there are no family members or friends who are willing to provide those things

In the United States, parents of underage children who are addicted may involuntarily commit the child to an addiction treatment program without a court order. However, once the child turns 18, the child is free to leave.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Involuntary Rehab?

Pros of Involuntary Rehab Cons of Involuntary Rehab
·         Research shows involuntary rehab can be just as effective as voluntary rehab if the person stays in treatment for the necessary length of time.8

·         Legal pressure from court-ordered rehab may provide more motivation for individuals to stay sober and make the necessary changes to sustain recovery.

·         Many people would never seek help for themselves but involuntary treatment provides an introduction to recovery and opportunities for change.

·         Requirements for court-ordered rehab can be inconsistent in different states and program parameters may vary greatly.

·         Even after being involuntarily committed, a person may still be unwilling to engage with their treatment plan and adhere to their treatment team’s recommendations.

·         The treatment is not free. An individual will still have to pay for court-ordered rehab, although they may use private insurance or state benefits if they qualify.

What Are the Alternatives to Involuntary Rehab?

Often, people resort to involuntarily committing someone to rehab when all other options have failed and a person fully resists getting help for his or her addiction. Before it gets to that point, however, many family members or friends of addicted individuals use the intervention approach to encourage voluntary treatment.

An intervention is a highly effective way to confront an addicted person about his or her harmful behaviors and ask them to get help. When a few close family members or friends bring a person’s substance abuse problem to light respectfully and lovingly, the person may be more likely to acknowledge the issue and seek help.

If you’ve never hosted an intervention before, a professional interventionist or addiction treatment specialist can coach you and provide valuable tips on how to hold an effective intervention that produces positive results for everyone involved.

What are the Individual and Societal Benefits of Court-Ordered Rehab?

Court-ordered rehab may be an essential part of a person’s recovery journey and this type of alternative sentencing can be extremely beneficial for many reasons. Some of the primary benefits of court-ordered rehab are:

  • Court-ordered rehab helps individuals break the cycle of drug abuse, criminal behavior, and incarceration.
  • The requirements of court-ordered rehab can contribute to the efficacy of treatment.
  • People who may not have otherwise sought help can get treatment for their addiction(s).
  • Treatment (particularly outpatient) may allow the defendant to keep their job while going to rehab.
  • Court-ordered rehab minimizes the long-term effects of a drug-related crime so sober people can move forward in life more easily.
  • Court-ordered rehab may also involve the whole family, which can increase the efficacy of treatment for the addicted person and promote lasting, long-term recovery.
  • It costs less to help drug offenders get treatment for addiction than to incarcerate them. Sending qualified offenders through drug court instead of jail may save about $13,000 per person served.9

How to Avoid Court-Ordered Rehab

If you’re suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, the best way to avoid court-ordered rehab is to get help now. Waiting until you are faced with the choice of either jail or rehab is no way to live. Many addicted people choose to acknowledge that they need help, take ownership of their mistakes, and go to treatment before ever facing any legal consequences.

If you are unsure if you have a substance abuse problem, common signs include:

  • You drink for longer or in larger quantities than you intended to.
  • You use legal drugs in ways other than they were meant for.
  • You use illegal drugs in a way that is dangerous to yourself or others.
  • You experience compulsive, strong cravings, and urges to drink or use drugs.
  • You can’t stop drinking or using drugs despite previous attempts.
  • You spend excessive amounts of time seeking, using or recovering from drug or alcohol use.
  • You neglect your family, work, or other relationships due to your drug or alcohol use.
  • You gave up social or recreational activities you used to enjoy so you could use drugs or drink alcohol.
  • You continue using drugs or alcohol despite the risks and harm it causes.
  • Yo need more alcohol or drugs to achieve the effects you want.
  • You experience painful or uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms when the effects of alcohol or drugs wear off.

If the signs or symptoms listed above remind you of yourself, it’s time to get help. Enrolling in a detox or rehab program now is the best way to avoid court-ordered rehab or legal consequences of your addiction.

Enroll in a Treatment Program Today

Court-ordered rehab isn’t a get out of jail free card and it’s certainly not the end of the recovery journey either. Enrolling in a drug rehab program is just the first step to achieving a satisfying life in recovery that is drug and crime-free. If you or a loved one is struggling with legal issues related to a drug or alcohol addiction, please call (512) 363-5914 to speak with an addiction treatment specialist today.


  1. https://www.halt.org/court-ordered-rehab/
  2. https://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactsheet.aspx?csid=22
  3. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/DRRC.PDF
  4. https://www.naswpress.org/publications/community/inside/reintegration-after-prison-intro.html
  5. http://rightoncrime.com/category/priority-issues/parole-and-re-entry/
  6. http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/DefiningDC.pdf
  7. https://drugfree.org/drug-and-alcohol-news/many-states-allow-involuntary-commitment-addiction-treatment/
  8. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/what-role-can-criminal-justice-system-play-in-addressing
  9. http://www.nadcp.org/wp-content/uploads/Chapman%20Verdict%20Article.pdf
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