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Court orders – life savers


For years the belief that addicts must “want” to go into treatment held me captive. My husband refused. I felt helpless. I tried crying, begging, keeping silent or screaming at the top of my lungs, nothing I did changed his resolve, he simply refused.


I was told that I need to wait for him to “hit rock bottom”, but he never did. Every time another terrible incident happened, I thought that has got to be his rock bottom; he barely survived this car crash, this time when he got arrested, he spent a few days in jail, this physical fight got him admitted to hospital, but none of these prove to get him any closer to that elusive “rock bottom” or to changing his mind about going to treatment.

I wasn’t aware at the time that there was another solution, I could have approached the courts to do what at the time I thought was impossible, and that is to make him go for treatment. I did not have to wait for him to make that decision, a court order would have given him no other choice. I can’t help thinking how many years of suffering I could have been prevented had I known this at the time.


It’s important to know
People who suffer with substance abuse disorder often resist treatment because either they don’t believe they deserve help or that treatment can benefit them, and whilst intoxicated their brain is damaged, its structural function and decision making does not work as it should, it’s not that they are bad or useless or just want to hurt their families and themselves.


An involuntary committal or a section 33 is a South African law that allows for a person that has a substance abuse disorder to be committed and treated involuntarily at a rehabilitation facility. The act aims at helping families get their loved one into treatment, not to punish them, but to save them.

Often there is a crisis that motivates the family to act, it might be a potential overdose, the person has harmed themselves or others physically, emotionally or financially and neglected themselves or their family. It must be directly relating to substance abuse and must be a current or imminent threat.

It is important to know that a court order is neither a criminal matter nor a civil matter, but a family matter and it means the person suffering from substance abuse disorder will not have a criminal record. It’s more of a management tool.

How to go about it?
To get a court order you need to approach a social worker who specializes in that field. She will conduct an interview with the family to get the background history from the person who is applying for the order (the Applicant) about the person with the substance use disorder (the Respondent).

The social worker will need information about the history of the person and the progress of the substance abuse, incidences that happened and why the applicant (person applying for the order) feels that the respondent (the substance abuser) is a threat to himself or others and cannot be left to their own devices. It is important to be truthful and not protect or hide the severity of the problem as you have already taken this step, now you need to do your best to save your loved one.


The process to get the court order
It is important that the family give a very detailed report so the social worker can compile a comprehensive report for the court. She will present the family with court documents and an affidavit that will need to be completed and commissioned at the nearest SAPS. She will then approach the court with the matter for screening.

A summons will be issued against the substance abuser and if necessary, an application for warrant of arrest can be issued if the respondent (the substance abuser) refuses to appear in court.


In Court
In court the Respondent will be read his/her rights, the respondent has the right to legal representation, and if the court finds that the person cannot afford a lawyer, the court can appoint one, or he/she can conduct their own defence (speak for themselves). The substance abuser can explain to the magistrate why he/she should not be committed to treatment.
The magistrate may request a medical report or a psychiatric evaluation.
The family member as the Applicant will have to be present in court when the inquiry is held. That is the difficult part. Part of the process is that the family may need to testify about their loved one, that can be quite distressing, keep reminding yourself that you are doing this to save the person you love, as right now, he cannot save him/herself.
The judge will decide if there is clear and convincing evidence that the person has a substance abuse disorder and if there is a concern of harm to themselves or others. If both criteria are met, the person will be committed involuntarily.

What’s next?
Families are often afraid of the anger and resentment or the grudge the person will hold against them, and it might be so at the beginning of the process. Most substance abusers don’t even realize the extent of their condition and only after detox, when reality slowly returns, and their denial is shifted, can they start to honestly look at their lives and the choices that got them into that situation. Most often in recovery they feel gratitude for the person who saved them from themselves and got them help for their addiction. The court order will last for 12 months.

If you are struggling with a person with substance abuse disorder who refuses to go into treatment, please call Journey Recovery and Wellness Centre, we have a social worker that can assist you with the proceedings and get you the help you need.