Watching someone you love struggle with addiction is painful, especially when they refuse help. Tennessee does not have laws like Kentucky’s Casey’s Law or Florida’s Marchman Act to commit someone to rehab.
General mental health crisis laws in Tennessee can apply to drug and alcohol addiction. But, the process can be expensive and the law isn’t meant for addiction, so the judge may not rule in your favor.
An intervention is a better route. Court-ordered options are always a last resort.
What is an intervention?
Interventions are simply conversations where those who know, love and trust your loved one discuss how to stop the cycle of addiction.
If your loved one blew you off when you brought up the topic of treatment privately, an intervention makes the topic less avoidable.
Even if you had an intervention before, you can always have another one. And, money is almost always better spent on an interventionist than an attorney.
An intervention involves:
- 5-6 people impacted by the drug or alcohol use. Consider spouses, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers and even children. Include anyone your loved one trusts that doesn’t use or drink with them. An interventionist is ideal but comes with costs not covered by insurance.
- A focus on love and facts. While families are usually frustrated, leading with love and describing specific behaviors and consequences from the addiction keeps the person receptive instead of defensive.
- A pre-planned treatment option. The goal of the intervention is to go to treatment within 48 hours, ideally immediately after. Costs and logistics can be discussed with the treatment facility ahead of time (see JourneyPure’s flagship Tennessee campus or Tenncare campus). Their willingness will only decrease with time.
Do they have the Baker Act in Tennessee?
The Baker Act is a Florida law. But, similar laws for involuntary psychiatric treatment exist in Tennessee. These laws are not addiction-specific but apply to mental health crisis situations.
What is required to force someone to get mental health treatment in Tennessee?
Here are the criteria for involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital in Tennessee:
- They have a mental illness or serious emotional disturbance (drug or alcohol addiction counts as a mental illness in Tennessee laws).
- They pose a “substantial likelihood of serious harm,” which means:
- A person has threatened or attempted suicide or to inflict serious bodily harm.
- The person has threatened or attempted homicide or other violent behavior.
- The person has placed others in reasonable fear of violent behavior and serious physical harm to them.
- The person is unable to avoid severe impairment or injury from specific risks AND there is a substantial likelihood that such harm will occur unless the person is placed under involuntary treatment.
- They need care, training or treatment.
- All available less drastic alternatives are not suitable to meet the needs of the person.
Involuntary commitment doesn’t mean immediate treatment. Typically, the individual is detained until a bed is available. The average wait time for a bed is around 25 hours.
Also, not all assessments come back requiring inpatient care, especially those for addiction-only cases.
How do I force someone to get treatment for mental health in Tennessee?
If the harm to themselves or others is immediate:
In Tennessee, law enforcement, doctors and crisis responders can involuntarily commit someone posing an immediate threat without a court order. (This doesn’t apply to addiction directly but can be used for related issues like suicidal thoughts or psychosis from drugs like meth).
Tennessee Mobile Crisis Services
The first option is usually to call the Tennessee Mobile Crisis Services hotline at (855) 274-7471. A crisis responder will come in person or via telehealth to provide:
- An assessment
- A referral for additional services or treatment
- Stabilization of symptoms
- Follow-up check-in
If there are safety concerns or if the mobile crisis team does not service your area, call the police instead.
In Tennessee, law enforcement can detain someone until a full assessment is completed, including transporting to another location for an assessment.
Doctors are also able to hold someone posing a risk of harm, so an emergency room is also an option if the situation calls for it.
Getting a visit from the police or crisis specialists or visiting the hospital is often a “wake-up call” to accept treatment willingly.
If the harm to themselves or others is not immediate:
Harm stemming from neglect of basic needs for food, shelter or personal safety (like in severe cases of addiction) would not qualify for psychiatric holds by crisis responders, police or doctors.
In cases of addiction, your only legal option is to pursue a civil commitment. You can follow the steps yourself, but the Tennessee courts “highly recommend” you seek an attorney.
However, I “highly recommend” using the money for an attorney to pay for an interventionist instead.
How do I file a civil commitment in Tennessee?
A civil commitment is a last resort step with no guarantees.
- Two assessments are required. Two different physicians or one physician and one psychologist (Ph.D.) must complete a Certificate of Need for involuntary hospitalization.
- Most people refusing treatment refuse to go to doctors. Reach out to current or recent treatment facilities or try a hospital. (Though, the hospital won’t be able to hold them if they are unwilling to complete the assessment).
- Fill out the MH-5112 form and file it with the two assessments at your local circuit court.
- Google “circuit court” and your county to find contact information.
- There must be a hearing within five working days after the petition is filed.
- If the individual meets the criteria for civil commitment and the judge orders the person to be committed to a psychiatric hospital, admission is subject to suitable available accommodations. If accommodations are available, the person is then transported to a psychiatric hospital.
While there are great drug and alcohol treatment centers across the state of Tennessee (especially rehabs in Murfreesboro, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga), court orders are usually sent to psychiatric hospitals, not rehab facilities.
Does involuntary treatment work?
Early emotions don’t dictate if treatment will be successful or set the tone for the rest of the stay. Most people settle in quickly once they accept the circumstances and why they’re here. Treatment works regardless of how they got here.
What else can I do to help someone in addiction?
Right now, your loved one needs your love and boundaries. Never give up hope, but don’t get sucked into their addiction either.
Here’s another article that can help you: How can loved ones help in addiction?
I’m pulling for all those still struggling and their families. And, I’m living proof that recovery is possible!
JourneyPure.com doctors follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, count records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and their own expertise with decades in the fields and their own personal recovery.
Tennessean: “How Tennessee’s involuntary psychiatric treatment law works.”
Treatment Advocacy Center: “Tennessee”
University of Florida Health: “Baker Act”
All content is for informational purposes only. No material on this site, whether from our doctors or the community, is a substitute for seeking personalized professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard advice from a qualified healthcare professional or delay seeking advice because of something you read on this website.
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