by Thanush Poulsen

Substance abuse is a serious and expensive issue that affects America on many levels. It costs society over $700 billion annually, including expenses related to healthcare, lost workforce, crime, and legal fees.

Addiction instigates criminal activities. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), 55% of arrests related to alcohol abuse, 24% of arrests – to marijuana abuse, and 18% – to some illicit substance.

People accused of alcohol or drug-related crimes go through the court system. Sometimes, a court-ordered drug and alcohol evaluation (browse around here) is required. According to its results, mandated treatment may be sentenced. What does it mean for the addict?

Is Court-Ordered Treatment Just a Way to Escape Punishment?

The jails are overrun with substance abusers. NADCP reports that up to 80 percent of inmates abuse drugs or alcohol, and 50 percent of all jail and prison inmates are clinically addicted. Many of them are deprived of their freedom because they possessed or used some illegal substance.

Many experts think that incarceration is the wrong way to solve this problem. It doesn’t deal with addiction that actually causes the crime.

That’s where court-mandated therapy comes in. Its goal is not to punish anyone by forcing them to do something they don’t want to. It is aimed at rehabilitating an individual who abuses alcohol or drugs in order to prevent criminal recidivism.

All the representatives of the criminal justice system understand that some offenders don’t pose a great safety risk to society and don’t need jail time. Some just need help in dealing with their addiction. They are offered an opportunity to recover and start a new sober life that is free from criminal activity.


Court-ordered treatment is assigned in instead of a fine or jail time or in exchange for shortening a sentence in your jail time, reducing fines or cutting the number of community service hours. If the agreement is violated, a person will have to serve the original sentence.

The Effectiveness of Court-Ordered Rehab

There’s a mistaken belief that court-ordered treatment is ineffective due to enforcement. However, is has been proven that court-appointed rehab is a far better option than incarceration.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Services Research and Development Service conducted an analysis of data on treatment results for voluntary and legally mandated patients. The outcomes turned out to be quite similar.

A group of men who accomplished court-ordered programs for alcohol and drug abuse reported lower internal motivation at the start of treatment. But in 5 years, they reported the same rates of sobriety, employment, and rearrest as their peers for whom getting treatment was an independent decision.

Dr. John Kelly, a lead investigator of the study, says that when mandated patients find themselves in a therapeutic environment, they “seem to reflect on their situation and accept the need for treatment.”

Treatment Options in the Rehab Programs

The programs and treatment methods may vary. Commonly, they include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Physical exercising
  • Medical treatments for co-occurring health conditions.

Some rehabs use holistic medicine. It includes acupuncture, meditation, yoga or other similar options. While the specific treatment efforts may vary between facilities, all programs are designed to address individual concerns. They aim at detecting the cause of addiction and assist in the recovery process. They also provide knowledge and techniques necessary to avoid relapse. In general, programs provide after-care support in order to prevent relapse.

Why Is Court-Ordered Treatment Effective?

Court-ordered treatment for substance abusers is much more beneficial for the offender than incarceration.

  • A person gets a chance to stop their alcohol or drug abuse.  
  • Drug courts provide quality supervision and more comprehensive care than probation.
  • Struggling addicts avoid imprisonment. Alcohol and drugs make people act like they wouldn’t usually do. Receiving treatment is more likely to make them law-abiding citizens than jail time.
  • Patients can keep their jobs, especially if they participate in an outpatient program.
  • The great bonus is getting no record of jail time if the treatment program is accomplished successfully. Thus, people won’t feel the effects of the past crime for the future in situations when their background check is required, such as applying to rent a place to live or looking for a job.
  • Treatment programs often offer a family therapy. It helps to rebuild a patient’s relationships with their family which is much easier to do in a rehab facility than jail setting. It promotes recovery.
  • Treatment facilities give more freedom to their residents (especially outpatient rehabs) and a broader range of activities that are components of the program.

It’s important for the offender to understand that a court-ordered drug treatment program is a move in the right direction. Therapy gives people a chance to change their lives for the better.

Court-ordered treatment is also beneficial to society in the following ways:

  • It doesn’t keep non-violent offenders in the penal system. That allows saving money of the taxpayers that are spent on keeping the criminals in jails. It saves about $13,000 per person.
  • People that complete mandated treatment show much lower rates of recidivism. Some reports say that the crime is reduced by 35%.
  • It reduces alcoholism and drug addictions among people who are parents. Thus, the cases of child neglect or abuse are decreased.

So, the result is the increase in the individual, family, and social accountability of offenders.

Court-ordered drug and alcohol rehab provides a drive for those who may still deny the problem or lack their own motivation to quit. It’s the best outcome for non-violent offenders. They avoid punishments and find themselves in a safe, positive, and healthy environment where they can cure the disease of addiction and start a new life after rehabilitation.

About the Author

Thanush Poulsen is a journalist and health blogger from Denmark. He travels around the globe in search of good practices to fight back addiction.