Jacinda is in her mid-thirties and has just been arrested for a drunk-driving offence. Having been detained for an alcohol-related theft a few months prior, the court is now providing her with the option of court-ordered alcohol rehab or serving jailtime.

If she goes to rehab, she can attend an outpatient program for 30 days while participating in court-mandated educational programs on alcohol and substance abuse. Jacinda is hesitant about attending rehab, but her friends and family are urging her to go, especially as she has two young children to care for.

The above story is a fictional example of how a court-ordered rehab program can be issued to someone who has a history of substance abuse-related crimes. While rehab can be a daunting prospect for some, it is often a good opportunity to get to the root of the problem and create a new life free from addiction.

If you’re curious about court-ordered rehab, the information below can help.

What Is Court Ordered Rehab?

Court-ordered rehab is an alternative form of sentencing for a crime. When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, it is not uncommon for individuals to commit burglaries, thefts, or other crimes to fund their drug habit. In cases where a person faces court and a possible conviction for a felony, the judge may offer a long-term program such as substance abuse treatment rather than incarceration.

The benefit of court-ordered rehab is that it can help individuals get proper treatment for substance abuse issues, rather than just addressing their criminal behavior. However, while rehab may seem like a desirable option compared to jailtime, there are rules to follow, and the individual must attend all program requirements. Therefore, individuals who are being offered court-ordered rehab should consider carefully before accepting.

Prevalence of Drug and Alcohol Related Offenders in the Criminal Justice System

  • The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that over 20 million American adults struggled with substance abuse or addiction in 2014.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) the U.S. spends over $700 billion each year in expenses related to substance abuse healthcare, crime and legal fees, and lost workplace production.
  • The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports that nearly half of all prison inmates battle addiction, and close to 80% of offenders abuse alcohol or drugs.
  • NCADD also report that nearly 60% of people arrested for a crime test positive for illicit drugs at the time of their arrest.
  • Reports from NCADD also state that only 20% of incarcerated individuals who require substance treatment receive it. Also, it is estimated that 95% of inmates return to abusing substances after they’re released.
  • A study of over 1,000 individuals sent to court-ordered rehab found that the average length of treatment was 59 days. Of those, 25% went to residential treatment, while the rest were outpatient.

Typical Charges: DUIs and Possession Offenses

Some of the most common charges that result in court-ordered rehab are driving under the influence (DUIs)/driving while intoxicated (DWI) and possession of a controlled substance.


If a person who is driving has a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08, they could be arrested and taken to jail for a DUI or DWI. While 0.08 is the standard limit for all 50 states, each state has its own drunk driving laws which can affect the type of sentencing a person receives.

Once a person has been sentenced, a judge may order them to attend court-ordered alcohol rehab. They may also be ordered to attend substance education classes and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings.

Drug-Impaired Driving/Possession Offences

Assessments for controlled substances such as illicit drugs are slightly more complex, as there are different measurements of intoxication. Cocaine levels, for example, will differ from prescription drug levels. However, if a driver is pulled over for drug-impaired driving, they will usually have to undergo a series of sobriety tests, which may include:

  • A breath alcohol test.
  • Interview with arresting officer.
  • Eye evaluations.
  • Psychomotor tests.
  • Checking for vital signs.
  • Muscle tone assessment (to look for rigidity or flaccidity).
  • Searches for injection sites on the body.
  • Toxicological exam.

Alternatively, if an individual is charged with possession of a controlled substance, sentencing will depend on the type of drug and the amount. Again, a judge can initiate a court-ordered rehab sentence, especially if the person was under the influence while being charged with possession.

Court-Ordered Rehab: How Does It Work?

Court-ordered rehab typically occurs in stages. To start, family and friends of the offender can request a screening investigation where addiction specialists and police officers evaluate the person for addiction issues. If a person is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others due to their addiction, then emergency court orders are requested.

While the judge has final say as to whether an individual will go to rehab, the offender has the option in court to plead guilty or not guilty for their crime. The offender’s friends/family can also turn him/her in for drug abuse or possession, or they can request court-ordered rehab on behalf of the individual.

To qualify for drug-ordered rehab, the offender must meet certain criteria which considers the frequency and severity of substance use, any mental health issues, and whether there is a risk of harm.

Types of Court-Ordered Rehab

When it comes to court-ordered rehab, there are a variety of different programs. These include:

Educational Programs

Educational programs are the most basic form of court-ordered treatment. These programs are often favored because they are cost effective and easily accessible. These types of programs are used widely in the prison system, and they’re usually provided for first offenses, rather than for severe drug problems. On their own, however, educational programs will not help someone heal the underlying causes of their addiction. This type of program is best done during the early stages of substance use or as part of ongoing therapy.

Group Counseling

Group counseling is another commonly-mandated treatment which connects individuals to community resources, 12-Step fellowships, and/or other groups that focus on relapse prevention skills. The makeup of the group varies as some will consist of only court-mandated participants, whereas others will be mixed or contain voluntary participants.

Residential Programs

Residential or inpatient treatment is the most intensive of all court-ordered programs. These often involve a 28-day stay at a residential center where an individual will receive individual and group therapy and 24-hour monitoring. These programs can also range in duration and intensity, depending on individual needs.

Outpatient Programs

Court-ordered outpatient programs also provide an in-depth level of care. These will include individual and group counseling, as well as intensive outpatient (IOP) options for people with more severe addictions. Outpatient treatment can range from weekly to multiple days each week for several hours at a time.

Community-Based Programs

Community-based programs are sometimes ordered for individuals with multiple arrests, for those who are on house arrest, or those re-entering society following long-term incarceration. These programs can be an intermediary stage between prison time and normal life and may consist of sober living programs, group sessions, and more.

Choosing a Court-Ordered Treatment Program

Many court-mandated substance abuse treatment programs are selected by the court system. Therefore, some individuals may not have a say in where they attend treatment. However, in some cases, offenders can provide recommendations or requests for specific centers, as long as the provider meets the requirements of the court order.

If you do have the option of choosing your own program, it can be a good opportunity to find somewhere that offers individualized treatment that best matches your needs. Many private rehab centers are open to court-ordered cases and can comply with legal regulations.

The Importance of Completing a Court-Ordered Rehab Program

If you’re on the fence about rehab, it’s worth considering the importance of the program and the benefits it provides. These programs are most successful when individuals accept the need for treatment and actively engage in their own recovery. This includes fulfilling the program requirements and staying in rehab for as long as is necessary.

Rehab provides, among other things, the following:

  • Acquiring new life skills, stress management techniques, and coping mechanisms to lead a substance-free life.
  • An understanding of the root causes of your addiction and how to treat them.
  • A structured environment to recover and heal — one which is free from triggers and life stresses.
  • A plethora of resources and treatment modalities such as counseling, group therapy, medically assisted detox, holistic therapies, fitness/nutrition, etc.
  • Ongoing assessments to ensure you’re healthy and on track to achieving your goals.
  • The chance to connect and learn from others who have similar issues/experiences with substance abuse.

If jailtime is the alternative to rehab, consider the above benefits and how it may help you. While jailtime can be easier in some ways, it won’t help you address the root problem of a substance addiction. Many people who are incarcerated aren’t given the tools or the resources they need to address a substance dependency or learn how to reintegrate into regular life.

Risks of Skipping Court-Ordered Treatment

Rehab can be challenging even if you’re willing to enter a program. Some individuals may feel that they’re ready to leave earlier than their allotted time, or they may feel that they no longer need treatment. In court-ordered cases, the length of time will often be set by the judge, but you may have options to stay longer or terminate treatment earlier. However, dropping out of rehab before it’s permitted can leave you in a bigger mess than before.

Leaving a court-mandated program is considered a serious offense. Individuals are given this option in lieu of jail time; therefore, if you decide to skip treatment or bow out early, you could face more severe punishment, fines, or a lengthier jail sentence. While court-ordered treatment is seen as a corrective measure for non-violent offenders, you will be sent back through the court system if you do not fulfill the program criteria. If you’re thinking of skipping treatment, remember that court-ordered rehab is an opportunity to turn your life around and avoid getting a criminal record.

Does Insurance Cover Court-Ordered Therapy?

Most insurance plans cover addiction treatment programs because it is considered an essential health care benefit for U.S. citizens. However, each insurance company will be different so it’s best to do some research first to find out whether your plan covers court-ordered rehab.

Generally, most insurance companies will cover the costs of your stay at an addiction treatment center so long as your condition is deemed “medically necessary.” Whether it’s private insurance or Medicaid, it’s best to contact your provider directly to find out what your financial options are.


If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Key Sources

HG.org. (n.d.). Court-Ordered Rehab – What You Need to Know Before Agreeing to It. https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/court-ordered-rehab-what-you-need-to-know-before-agreeing-to-it-50650.

Lesser, B. (2021). Understanding Working of Mandatory Treatment. dualdiagnosis.org. https://dualdiagnosis.org/addiction-treatment/mandatory-treatment-work.

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). (2015). Alcohol, Drugs and Crime. ncadd.org. https://www.ncadd.org/about-addiction/alcohol-drugs-and-crime#.

Medical Disclaimer

At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on RehabAid.com.