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Does Mandatory Treatment Work?

Providing Trusted, Evidence-Based
Treatment for Three Decades and Counting

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction, we’re here to help.

Approximately 24.6 million Americans aged 12 and older were classified as current illicit drug users in 2013 meaning that they had used an illicit drug in the month prior to the survey. Additionally, 8.6 percent of the American adult population aged 12 or older met the criteria for substance abuse or dependency, and only 0.9 percent of the United States adult population actually received specialized substance abuse or addiction treatment.1

There are many barriers, both real and perceived, for actually submitting to treatment. A staggering 95.5 percent of Americans needing treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2013 didn’t see the need for it.

Denial causes many people to refuse treatment; however, some legal situations can force people into treatment, including the following situations:

  • Multiple DUI (driving under the influence) convictions
  • First-time offenders convicted of drug possession amounting to smaller quantities for personal use
  • Non-violent drug offenders
  • Drug offenders on probation or parole for non-violent offenses
  • Positive drug test results

Court-ordered treatment is considered mandatory treatment, and the programs used and their duration may vary greatly. Treatment for substance abuse or dependency is believed to be more effective than criminal punishment in many cases. In 2012, 50% of incarcerated individuals were estimated to have a substance use disorder, but only one out of every five received treatment for it.2 Therefore, if treatment is more effective than incarceration, change is needed.

Drug Court Model

Each state handles drug offenses and sentencing differently, as well as a federal level of offense with its own system. There were over 3000 drug courts in the US in 2015, and that number is growing each year.3 Drug courts are special courts for drug offenders with the primary goal of reducing substance abuse and further criminal offenses by providing treatment, supervision, drug testing, and other methods in order to rehabilitate substance users instead of merely sending them to prison.

Examples of types of drug courts include the following:

  • Adult Drug Court: These drug courts provide nonviolent and eligible drug offenders with an alternative to jail time, mandating the entrance to a treatment program after arrest, mandatory drug tests, close supervision during treatment, and progress monitored by judges with incentives for compliance.
  • DWI Court and Hybrid DWI/Drug Courts: These courts take offenders after they have been convicted of driving with a 0.15 or higher BAC level, or offenders previously convicted of a DWI, and provide close monitoring and treatment programs that help discover the root cause of the alcohol abuse. The programs seek to modify the behaviors of serious impaired driving offenders and promote public safety.
  • Juvenile Drug Court: Offenders under the age of 18 who have drug-related offenses and are eligible for this court are mandated to treatment programs that focus on changing behaviors related to substance abuse. Programs involve regular meetings with a legal team over the course of a year, and successful completion of the program could possibly lead to charges being dropped.
  • Veterans Treatment Court: This court serves active-duty and military veterans, involving both traditional drug court methods and collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs to promote sobriety, stabilization, and recovery for drug offenders. It provides a structured approach with mandatory treatment schedules, drug testing, and regular court appearances.
  • Reentry and Federal Reentry Drug Courts: These courts are for incarcerated inmates reentering society. They offer eligible inmates the potential to attend drug or alcohol treatment programs for the final year of their sentence in an effort to reintegrate successfully into society under intense supervision, generally for a period of 12 to 18 months.
  • Family Dependency Treatment Court: This is a family court system aimed at instances of substance abuse related to child abuse or neglect in an effort to treat substance abuse and reunify the family after mandated treatment is successfully completed.

One of the first models to promote treatment over punishment is Brooklyn’s Drug Treatment Alternatives to Prison (DTAP) program, which has shown high levels of success. External and legal motivation may be a great way to help someone who needs help remain in treatment, for example. The DTAP program successfully retains 76 percent of its defendants for at least one year.4

Length of stay in a program is one of the biggest indicators of long-term success. The longer you stay in treatment, the more likely you will be to avoid relapse. Many people in treatment programs mandated by the courts stay longer than voluntary admissions.

Positive Outlook for Mandatory Treatment

The fear of going to prison or other legal repercussions may help to keep substance abusers in treatment for longer periods of time and may provide motivation to remain abstinent. Mandatory treatment programs often include random and periodic drug tests, with severe consequences for testing positive for illicit drugs or alcohol, further helping recovering addicts to remain accountable.

Counseling participants congratuling group memberNot all mandatory treatment programs are created equal, and the inconsistencies in treatment programs may be the biggest pitfall to mandatory treatment efficacy. Some programs may only mandate outpatient treatment, self-help care or 12-Step programs instead of residential treatment models. These models may be effective for some substance abusers; however, residential treatment generally provides the highest success rates.

Substance abuse and addiction creates a drain on families, personal lives, and society, costing the American economy $524 billion a year in health care, legal and lost workplace production costs.5 Mandatory treatment models and drug courts seek to get to the root of the issue by modifying negative and criminal behaviors related to substance abuse and addiction in order to lower the cost to society by decreasing criminal behavior and arrests. In addition, these models promote successful reintegration and future contributions to the community.

Drug courts are showing to be effective in reducing crime rates. Recidivism rates vary among locations, but the trend is consistent that people are less likely to be convicted of a crime after completing treatment through drug courts.

Treatment programs employ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), counseling and support group work, which function together to change self-destructive behavior patterns. Substance abuse can take over life, leading to a loss of control over compulsive drug-seeking actions and a lack of ability to consistently fulfill work, school, and familial obligations. Mandatory treatment programs can help substance abusers get back on their feet and successfully reenter society.

Regardless of the reason behind entering a drug or alcohol treatment program, a life of recovery is within reach. Contact an admissions coordinator at Michael’s House today at 760.548.4032 for more information on the best possible options for you or your loved one and take back control of your life.

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1 "Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings." Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. September 2014.

2 "Principles of Drug Abuse Treatment for Criminal Justice Populations - A Research-Based Guide." National Institute on Drug Abuse. April 2014.

3 "Drug Courts." National Institute of Justice. 10 January 2017.

4 "Drug Treatment Alternatives to Prison (DTAP) Program." New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Accessed 28 March 2018.

5 "Trends and Statistics." National Institute on Drug Abuse. April 2017.