Under Massachusetts law, section 35 outlines the process for sending someone to rehab against their will. To be committed, someone must be abusing drugs and a danger to themselves or others.

If you’re trying to figure out how to help someone with alcoholism or drug addiction, you may want to consider this option. Keep reading for a look at the details.

Who Can Request Involuntary Rehab for Someone?

Section 35 has rules on who can request involuntary rehab. To petition the courts, you must be a spouse, a guardian, or a blood relative. Police officers, physicians, and court officials can also make this request.

Getting someone into rehab against their will is very serious, and once you enter a petition, you cannot withdraw it without the court’s permission. Make sure you make this decision carefully.

How to Have Someone Committed for Drug Abuse

Here is the process to have someone committed for drug abuse under Section 35 in Massachusetts:

  • File a petition at any District or Juvenile Court. You do not have to use the court in your area. You can start by filling out the section 35 petition online, and taking it to your local courthouse for filing.
  • After reviewing the facts, the court will issue a summons to appear in court. A judge may issue a warrant if they believe the person will not show up voluntarily. At that point, police may try to take the person into custody. 
  • Your loved one has the right to bring an attorney. If they don’t have an attorney, the courts can appoint one. 
  • At the hearing, the court will order an exam from a physician, psychologist, or social worker. Your loved one can refuse the exam. 
  • During the hearing, the court will hear testimony from people who are concerned about your loved one. They will also take into account information presented by experts and any arguments made by your loved one’s lawyer. 
  • The court will decide if the person should be committed to involuntary rehab. 

If the person doesn’t need involuntary rehab, they can leave. Otherwise, they stay in a holding cell until the end of the day. Then, the sheriff’s department transports them to treatment.

How to Commit Someone Under Section 35

In Massachusetts, the courts will only send someone to involuntary rehab if they meet both of these criteria:

  • They have an alcohol or substance abuse disorder.
  • They are a danger to themselves or others.

How Long Is Involuntary Rehab?

In Massachusetts, involuntary rehab can only last up to 90 days. The exact length varies based on the person’s needs. In 2017, the average length of treatment ordered under Section 35 was 3 weeks.

What Help Can You Get for Someone Under Section 35?

Now that you understand how to commit someone under Section 35, you may be wondering what kind of help they can receive. If needed, they start with detox. Alcohol, opioids, and several other drugs have dangerous and potentially deadly side effects. Detox provides medical supervision to protect your loved one as they get these drugs out of their system.

Then, they go to a treatment. They work with counselors to learn about addiction and sobriety, and the counselors encourage them to continue treatment after they have left involuntary rehab.

If you have someone committed under Section 35, you cannot just choose any of the drug rehabs in Massachusetts. The state only uses certain facilities for this program. However, once your loved one completes this process, they can move to another facility to continue their treatment if desired.

Does Involuntary Rehab Work?

If you’re trying to figure out how to help someone with alcoholism or drug addiction, you may be curious about how well involuntary rehab works. Ideally, you should explore other options first. Getting someone into rehab against their will should usually be saved as a last resort. But research indicates these programs can work.

When people enter treatment against their will, they are usually not motivated to change. However, they still benefit from these programs. During treatment, these patients show just as much therapeutic growth as patients who came to treatment on their own.

Involuntary rehab patients are also 10 times more likely to complete their treatment than other patients. When you compare voluntary and involuntary patients, court-mandated patients have better outcomes a year after treatment. Five years later, both of these groups show the same outcomes.

After involuntary rehab, 91% of patients visit the ER less often than they did prior to rehab.

Tips for Getting Someone Into Rehab Against Their Will

Watching a loved one ruin their lives with drugs or alcohol can be devastating. If you are worried about their safety or the safety of the people around them, you may want to consider petitioning the courts to send them to rehab. To help make this process as successful as possible, consider these tips:

  • Consider hosting an intervention. If possible, reach out to your loved one before petitioning the courts under Section 35.
  • Approach your loved one with kindness and understanding. Try not to make them feel judged.
  • Make sure you are safe. If you or anyone else is in physical danger, protect yourself. Contact 911 in an emergency.
  • Consult with a medical expert. In 2018, the courts received 10,770 petitions under Section 35. Only 5,716 people were court ordered to rehab. You may want to ensure you have a solid case before taking your loved one to court.
  • Try to talk your loved one into coming to court voluntarily. If the police have to get your loved one, that can be unsettling.
  • Make a plan to continue treatment. For instance, find outpatient services or inpatient care so your loved one can keep working on their path to sobriety. Unfortunately, a third of people relapse the day they leave involuntary rehab.

Figuring out how to help someone with alcoholism or drug addiction can be very hard. To force addiction rehab on your loved one can be challenging and stressful. In some cases, getting someone to rehab against their will can save their life. When possible, try to convince your loved one to go to one of the drug rehabs in Massachusetts on their own. If they refuse to accept help, consider getting them help through Section 35.


  1. What to know about section 35 civil commitments in mass
  2. Does mandating offenders to treatment improve completion rates?
  3. Massachusetts section 35: What it is and how it works
  4. The multi-site adult drug court evaluation
  5. Section 35: The process

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