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Court-Ordered Rehab for Addiction Treatment

April 23, 2024
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
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Court-Ordered Rehab

  • Court-ordered rehab is offered as an alternative to jail time for nonviolent offenders who committed a crime while experiencing problems with substance use.
  • Studies show court-ordered rehab works, even if we initially don’t want to participate!
  • The Reframe app is a great supplement to court-ordered rehab and a way to actively engage in recovery after rehab. With daily readings, challenges, and courses that holistically address substance misuse, Reframe has helped millions of people change their habits!

If you had the chance to attend a recovery program for your alcohol use, would you take it? Mel Gibson, an American actor and film director, was required by a court to go through rehabilitation for his alcohol use after driving under the influence of alcohol. Addiction recovery looks different for everybody, but some of us may be legally required to participate in rehabilitation to break unhealthy patterns.

Many people come out of these programs successfully and continue on the path of recovery, but how do they get there and what are the costs? Continue reading to find out more about the processes and standards behind court-ordered rehab for substance use.

What Is Court-Ordered Rehab for Addiction Treatment?

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Court-ordered rehabilitation, assigned by a drug court or a different component of the criminal justice system, is addiction therapy in lieu of jail time or other punishments. It may also be given as an option for those already in jail who can be out on parole or pretrial release. Case managers are put in charge of individual defendants for each case.

Who Is Eligible?

While it varies among states, here are some general guidelines for what qualifies someone for court-ordered rehab for addiction treatment:

  • The offense was nonviolent. Violent offenses often require a more holistic approach, although addiction treatment may be a facet.

  • A substance was involved. The crime committed was a result of substance use, or a consistent pattern of substance use could reasonably explain the crime.

  • High chance of a good outcome. The court decides that the defendant will likely benefit from addiction treatment and that treating the underlying substance misuse would be a significant contributor to effective rehabilitation.

  • Post-treatment monitoring. In most cases, the crime must also qualify for a probationary period entailing court-ordered monitoring of post-treatment progress.

Examples of Court-Ordered Activities

Rehabilitation journeys look different for everyone. Court-ordered rehab treatment is no different. Some defendants may go through group therapy or one-on-one counseling while others may go through assessments and monitoring to help meet therapeutic goals and court-mandated rehabilitation requirements. 

The following list, while not exhaustive, can give us a good idea of what to expect from court-ordered rehab:

  • Risk assessments. These are used to estimate the chance of reoffending and also to measure progress.

  • Check-ins. Regular interaction with a judge may be part of a court-ordered rehab program to maintain accountability and communication.

  • Court monitoring. The defendant will likely be monitored or supervised throughout the rehabilitation process.

  • Therapy. Behavioral therapies, either one-on-one or with a group, are essential for addressing underlying factors in substance misuse and developing healthier coping mechanisms. This may also entail medication management with a psychiatrist.

  • Post-treatment program. Recovery doesn’t end when rehab ends. The court may order participation in a post-rehabilitation plan to keep the defendant accountable to themselves, the court, and their loved ones.

  • Education. The defendant may be required to complete classes about addiction and treatment.
Examples of Court-Ordered Activities

What Is a Drug Court?

We know drug courts assign the offenders to court-ordered rehabilitation, but what is a drug court? Let’s explore the history of drug courts and how they differ from their earliest days to the present.

In the 1980s, drug courts gained momentum due to the growing number of drug-related court cases. The “War Against Drugs,” a program of the federal government to ban certain drugs from the U.S., grew into a movement as the federal government and states cracked down on drug users and demanded more than police action.

The first official drug treatment court was created in Miami in 1989. Drug courts were created on the belief that addiction is a disease, and crimes associated with an addiction were outcomes of the disease and thus needed treatment instead of punishment. By 1997, over 300 drug courts were established across the U.S., and today there are more than 1,000 drug courts. 

Drug courts bring together professionals from behavioral health, criminal justice, and social services to provide immediate and thorough drug addiction treatment for defendants who become participants. These courts assign treatment and provide alternatives to jail time. 

Treatment for alcohol use fits into this category, and defendants who commit crimes due to their alcohol use may have the option to participate in court-ordered rehab instead of incarceration. Drug courts are used to give options to nonviolent offenders who committed crimes.

What Is the Purpose of Court-Appointed Rehab?

The primary purpose of court-appointed rehab is to provide a place for rehabilitation and recovery that is individualized and doesn’t involve jail time. Alternatively, an offender may be released from jail early so they can participate in court-appointed rehabilitation. Offenders who are released on parole or probation also can be assigned to court-appointed rehab so they can get the addiction recovery help they need.

Another important component of court-appointed rehab is to treat substance misuse in a safe and structured environment. Judges and other members of a drug court can keep offenders accountable to others and to themselves as they go through the treatment process in rehab. Court-appointed rehab aims to break the cycle of substance use, addiction to substances, and criminal behavior.

How Long Is Court-Ordered Rehab?

No specific time limits are set on court-ordered rehab, so it varies between states, courts, and offenders. Some offenders will find themselves going to programs for years, while others will participate in court-ordered rehab for a few months. There are 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day rehab programs and some even longer.

Rules often apply to court-ordered rehab, and it’s important for offenders to follow them. The offender has to stay in rehab for the entire duration of time assigned by the court unless stated otherwise during the treatment process. 

The court has the right to change the rehab treatment time, too, so it’s important to stay in-contact with and up-to-date on the information assigned with a court-ordered rehab program. Typically, the conditions of the agreement for treatment last 12-15 months.

What Happens If You Leave a Court-Ordered Rehab Program?

If we leave a court-appointed rehab program early, there will likely be legal consequences. Leaving a treatment program early can lead to, at best, longer rehabilitation time and, at worst, imprisonment for any duration of time the court sees fit. In most cases, termination or abandonment of a court-ordered rehab program before the court-assigned timeline is up will result in jail time.

What if we need to leave our state or want to go on vacation during court-appointed rehab? Regulations are on a state-by-state basis. Some states and courts may be more flexible than others, and travel restrictions may also depend on the type of program. For example, a participant in a court-ordered rehab program may be restricted to their state of rehab, while others may be allowed to leave their state for certain reasons.

Case managers, probation officers, and/or parole officers are usually responsible for holding offenders accountable to their rehab programs and rehab program timelines. Some offenders will also be in contact with the judge or other legal representatives from the initial drug court.

Who Pays for Court-Ordered Rehab?

The defendant almost always pays for their court-ordered rehab. The cost of court-ordered rehabilitation treatment varies between addiction treatment centers, the condition being treated, state-by-state regulations, and insurance companies. 

Different treatment centers will have different out-of-pocket costs. These also vary by state, county, and even on an individual basis. In the same light, the cost of court-ordered rehab will differ based on the condition being treated. For example, court-ordered rehab for alcohol use disorder could cost between $5,000 and $10,000 before insurance.

Some health insurance companies cover most costs for treatment of alcohol and other substance use. Unfortunately, most insurance companies themselves need to deem substance use treatment “medically necessary” before they will cover it. So, if court-ordered rehab is assigned, but the offender’s health insurance company doesn’t deem the treatment plan medically necessary, the health insurance company will likely not cover the cost (or at least not all of the cost).

For offenders who are part of Medicaid, the government-provided health insurance program, Medicaid is required to cover substance abuse and mental health treatment, but the extent to which this will be applied varies widely between states and individual plans. The fine print doesn’t specify that Medicaid must cover court-mandated alcohol use rehabilitation, only that substance use treatment must be covered to some extent.

If you find yourself fighting with your insurance company over court-ordered rehab coverage, remember the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires insurance companies to cover substance abuse treatment. Most insurance companies should have some coverage for alcohol use treatment even if it is a small amount.

Does Court-Ordered Rehab Actually Work?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has research demonstrating that court-mandated rehab for substance use does, in fact, work for participants who are mandated by the court to seek alcohol addiction treatment and treatment for use of other substances. This applied even to offenders who didn’t want to participate in the program.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has some statistics on this subject as well:

  • Participants in the drug court program had fewer arrests and reported less criminal involvement than those who did not participate.
  • Reduction in substance use was observed more in court-rehab participants during and after rehabilitation.
  • The criminal justice system also saves roughly $6,000 per offender who finishes their court-mandated program.

A common misconception is that the rehab must be voluntary to work, but research shows this is not the case. Even those who don’t want to participate in court-ordered rehab can benefit from the program. However, the longer the treatment program is the less motivated offenders are to complete it, at least initially.

Sometimes the programs don’t work, and offenders go to jail or back to using their substance after rehabilitation treatment. The programs are not perfect, and there is still much research to be done on the best and most effective treatment programs for court-mandated substance misuse rehabilitation.

What Happens After Court-Ordered Rehab?

Court-ordered rehab isn’t a “cure-all” for alcohol use after a crime has been committed, but it can be part of the journey towards curbing alcohol use and recovering from alcohol use. Recovery is a process, and no path is linear.

If you are required to participate in court-mandated rehab, think of this as the beginning of your journey or a step along the way rather than a bump in the road or a hindrance to your goals.

Read this New York Times story by a mother who was worried about her son, who had substance use problems throughout his teenage years and was given the option to go to rehab instead of jail. 

His mother wrote, “A sympathetic police officer gave him a choice between rehab or jail. He chose rehab. If he hadn’t been impelled, he says (and I believe), he probably wouldn’t be alive today. There was a time I didn’t think he would make it to 21. He turned 40 this year, after being sober for 11 years.”


Court-ordered rehabilitation can be daunting for those who have to choose between jail time and a rehabilitation program that emphasizes accountability to participants, loved ones, and a drug court. Hope is possible to maintain when participating in mandated addiction treatment!

Summary FAQs 

1. Does court-ordered rehab work?

Yes, it can! Studies by the National Institute of Justice have shown that many people benefit from court-ordered rehabilitation, even when they initially don’t want to participate.

2. What is court-ordered rehab?

Court-assigned rehab is an option given to a defendant by a drug court or a different component of the criminal justice system where substance users can go to rehab for treatment instead of jail for the crime they committed while under the influence. It is also sometimes an option for offenders being let out on parole or probation.

3. What happens if you quit court-ordered rehab?

If court-ordered rehab is stopped before the rehab period is over, the offender will face other legal consequences. This often includes jail time.

Reframe Can Help You Take Control of Your Alcohol Recovery Process

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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