Can Court-Mandated Alcohol Treatment Really Help Me? Yes, Here’s How
Individuals who have been convicted of an alcohol-related offense may be ordered to attend a court-mandated alcohol treatment program.1 For many people with substance use disorders, court-ordered treatment may be their first experience with any sort of alcohol addiction treatment. While it can be difficult and distressing to face criminal charges and be sentenced to addiction treatment, the good news is that court-mandated alcohol treatment may allow you to avoid jail time and other legal consequences.
If you find yourself faced with court-ordered rehab, try to view it as an opportunity to regain sobriety and receive the treatment you need to improve your life.
What Is Court-Mandated Alcohol Addiction Treatment?
Court-ordered alcohol rehab may take the place of a jail sentence if you are convicted of an alcohol-related crime. Often, court-mandated alcohol treatment may occur after a DUI (driving under the influence) or a DWI (driving while intoxicated) conviction.1
The goal of court-mandated treatment is to help you receive the help you need for clinically significant substance use, rather than imposing a punishment that ultimately do not help you address the substance use disorder.
Research shows that only about 10% of individuals in need of substance use treatment receive treatment at a specialty facility.2 If you have previously been hesitant to enter into a treatment program for a substance use disorder, court-ordered rehab may be the opportunity you need to achieve sobriety and make impactful changes in your life. Not only do these programs help you get and stay sober, they often include counseling and other components that can help you build sober-living skills and improve your relationships.
Many people assume that “forced” or court-mandated alcohol treatment programs are ineffective, but research indicates otherwise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people legally pressured or mandated to enter an addiction treatment program often have outcomes as good as or better than those who enter treatment voluntarily.3 People who enter treatment due to a court order tend to have better attendance rates and remain in treatment longer, ultimately leading to greater success with the treatment program.3
What Should You Look for in a Treatment Program?
In some cases, your treatment program may be selected by the court. Some courts may dictate specific requirements for treatment, while others allow you more flexibility in choosing a program. If you can select your treatment program, check that it meets the court order requirement.
If possible, use this opportunity to select a rehab program that will truly help you. Research any facilities you are considering to learn about their treatment philosophy and various programs.
Ask the following questions when choosing a rehab program:4,5
- Can they customize your care to your specific substance treatment, medical, and behavioral health needs?
- Do they offer a variety of evidence-based therapies?
- If you are experiencing mental health symptoms, do they offer dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions?
- Does the program offer medication to help with withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse?
- What are the staff members’ credentials?
- Will your family be involved during the recovery?
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What Can You Expect from Court-Ordered Rehab?
The length and specifications of a court-ordered rehab program can vary, depending on several factors, including the type of alcohol treatment program.
Depending on the legal severity of your offense (e.g., misdemeanor) and the symptoms associated with your alcohol use disorder, you may enter into an outpatient program, a residential program, or a partial hospitalization program (PHP). If an outpatient program is recommended, your needs may be assessed to determine if an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or PHP is more appropriate. Because stopping alcohol use may lead to potentially medically significant withdrawal symptoms, the court may recommend an inpatient program offering medically supervised withdrawal management services, or “detox.”
These withdrawal symptoms may include: 6
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Seizure or tremors
When you enroll in an alcohol treatment program, you undergo an initial assessment with an admissions counselor. They recommend the best program for you based on your needs. If you have not previously been evaluated for alcohol use disorder by a mental health professional, this evaluation may take place before treatment recommendations are made.
How Can You Get the Most Out of Your Treatment?
The effectiveness of your court-ordered rehab program depends greatly on your attitude and the effort you put into recovery. Even if you are not entering treatment voluntarily, you can control the outcome by approaching treatment with a positive attitude and using the opportunity to regain control over your life.
Discuss Your Needs and Goals
To be effective, alcohol treatment must address all of an individual’s needs, not just their substance misuse. If you need help in other areas of your life, let your treatment team know so that they can develop the best treatment plan for you. Your team should know about symptoms like anxiety and depression, the stability of your housing situation, your medical history, and the dynamics of your family.
As you progress through treatment, your treatment plan will be regularly evaluated and updated as needed to make sure you are receiving the best possible care for your individual needs. Clarify the program’s expected outcomes with your treatment team, and make sure they are aware of the terms of your court-ordered treatment so that your program satisfies all legal requirements.
Take Advantage of Your Resources
Different programs will offer different forms of therapy and various services to help you build sober-living skills and increase your chances of long-term recovery. In addition to evidence-based therapeutic modalities—such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and exposure therapies like EMDR—many programs incorporate qualitative therapies—or therapies that are supported by preliminary, anecdotal, or early research.
Talk to your treatment team to find out which resources are available to you. These may include:
- Meditation, which may include mindfulness as part of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Recreational therapy
- Art therapy
- Yoga therapy
- Career counseling and job placement assistance
- Physical activities such as nature walks, team sports, swimming, or dancing
- Nutritional counseling
These activities and services are typically included in the cost of your treatment and can help you develop coping and life skills to use after the program ends. Take advantage of everything you can to improve your overall health and well-being.
Be an Active Participant
Your court-ordered rehab program will likely include various forms of therapy, such as individual therapy, group therapy, and even family therapy. Each of these interventions have different purposes and benefits, and your treatment will be more effective if you attend all therapy sessions and participate to the best of your ability.3
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While it may feel awkward or uncomfortable to discuss your challenges with others, being open and honest about your experiences can be a key part of alcohol addiction treatment.
Individual therapy helps you identify and address the underlying beliefs that have contributed to your alcohol use. One-on-one therapy allows individuals to look at challenging situations differently and learn new ways of responding to them.
Group therapy can be especially beneficial in an alcohol treatment program.7 Hearing from others in similar situations shows you that you are not alone and allows you to learn from others who have undergone similar challenges. It also allows you to work on your interpersonal communication and social skills.
Family therapy allows you to involve your family in your recovery so that they can learn how to best support you. Substance misuse affects the entire family, and family therapy can be a vital part of the recovery process. Rebuilding and repairing relationships with family members—including chosen family members and those with whom you live who are not relatives—is considered more effective, intimate, and accessible in rehab than during incarceration.
Build a Support Network
An active support network is also vital in working towards long-term sobriety and recovery.8 Your support network may include may different types of relationships, such as:
- Family members
- Members of peer support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Members of your religious congregation or spiritual community
- Members of community groups you belong to
- Non-professional members of your care team, such as addiction recovery coaches or a sobriety buddy
Having people you can turn to for support can help strengthen your resolve, provide perspective and insight, and renew your motivation during recovery. While you are the only one going through your treatment program and recovery journey, that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
Focus on Recovery
If you are enrolled in an inpatient program, you may find that your schedule doesn’t allow for much else during treatment. But even if you have extra time or you are in an outpatient program that does not have sessions every day, use this time to focus on your recovery. For the most effective outcomes, individuals in recovery should focus on their own mental and emotional health.9
Major life changes are generally discouraged during early recovery. Not only can major changes create additional stress, but they can also distract you from your recovery and make you less likely to notice the warning signs of a relapse.9 You may decide to postpone major decisions and transitions such as moving, changing jobs, starting a relationship, or even getting a pet until after you complete your treatment program and feel stable in your recovery.
Stay in Your Program for the Entire Treatment Period
Do everything you can to complete the entire treatment program, no matter how long it lasts. If you leave your treatment program early, you will violate your sentence, resulting in consequences such as incarceration, permanent additions to your record, or fines.
Continue Your Recovery Journey After Treatment
After completing your court-ordered rehab program, you will not necessarily be “recovered.” Recovery is an ongoing process, and you will run into challenges after returning to your day-to-day life. The current medical understanding of alcohol use disorder designates it as highly treatable, but not curable, especially not within the 30-90 days typically prescribed for a rehab program.
Maintain and build upon the progress you make during your treatment program by participating in aftercare programs and support groups. You may also want to seek out additional addiction recovery services after the completion of your program. For example, if your court-mandated program was at a residential facility, you can receive many of the same services while living at home through an intensive outpatient program to make the transition easier. Some court-ordered programs connect participants with half-way houses or other sober living environments to reduce the risk of being exposed to environmental triggers after inpatient care.
If you found any specific services helpful during treatment—such as faith-based approaches or certain self-care activities—look for ways to continue them after completing your court-ordered treatment.
What Happens After Court-Ordered Rehab?
After completing your treatment program, your case manager will receive a letter of completion, and your case will be reassessed. If your requirements have been met and you do not have a past criminal record, the charges will likely be dropped and will not appear on your record. If you receive a jail sentence or a fine, they will get dropped upon completing your treatment.
Discuss your case with your case manager or attorney to determine what you can expect after your treatment program.
Start your path to recovery today by calling a treatment specialist at 877-640-2220Who Answers? to find addiction treatment services.
- Dill, P.L. & Wells-Parker, E. (2006). Court-mandated treatment for convicted drinking drivers. Alcohol Research & Health, 29(1), 41-48.
- Lipari, R.N., Park-Lee, E., & Van Horn, S. (2015). America’s Need for and Receipt of Substance Use Treatment in 2015. The CBHSQ Report. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 3). Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations – A Research-Based Guide.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).
- S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, August 10). Dual Diagnosis. MedlinePlus.
- S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, Jan 17). Alcohol withdrawal. MedlinePlus.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1970, January 1). Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy [Internet]. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005.
- Nichols, C. (2013, November 26). The Importance of Good Support Systems in Sobriety.
- Melemis, S. M (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325-332.