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May 2000; Modified: March 6, 2002
Many people are alcoholics: They drink alcohol excessively and cannot stop their drinking. Although treatment is beneficial, most alcoholics refuse it. To protect people, laws should be passed to allow forced treatment of alcoholics.
Alcoholism is a mental illness in which the victim needs alcohol for normal mental operation. About 10% of the United States population are addicted to alcohol. Alcoholism is caused by chemical imbalance in the brain from repeated excessive alcohol consumption. Alcoholism essentially forces the victim to consume alcohol and aggravate the disease. The disease is often fatal due to serious destruction done by alcohol, which acts as a poison. For example, alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis, that is replacement of liver cells by scar tissue often causing the liver to become non-functional and the victim to die. Damage from alcohol in the USA is on the rise and was $185 billion in 1998 according to NIH.
Treatment of alcoholism is clearly beneficial for the patients and the society. Unfortunately, the treatment often does not work since the patient is psychologically unable to stop alcohol consumption. Most alcoholics refuse (or choose not to have) treatment. They deny their alcohol consumption. When the denial becomes impossible, the disease has already caused too much damage and may be too advanced for voluntary treatment to succeed.
If, however, alcoholics could be forced to undergo treatment, the success rate can be close to 100%. At least, the person can be "locked up" during the withdrawal period and be required not to drink alcohol afterward and to undergo periodical checks to ensure that he or she does not resume drinking. The treatment can be made more pleasant and the subject more cooperative through good treatment conditions and an alcohol awareness program. Of course, in many cases the treatment should be less dramatic than "locking up" the patient. Thus, mandatory treatment can solve or greatly reduce the problem of alcoholism.
The treatment does not violate patient rights. Authorization should be given only by a court, thus ensuring due process of law. The patient does not have a right to refuse the treatment since his/her acts are due to the mental illness (addiction to alcohol) and the acts are physically self-destructive. Similarly, since some children are likely to do bad acts due to their incompetence, parents or guardians are allowed much control over the children.
If adopted, forced treatment for alcoholism would save countless people from the slow deterioration ending in death. Unlike laws barring selling and/or consumption of alcohol, the treatment applies only to people who severely suffer from alcohol. Besides, forcing treatment in only some cases does not bring the chaos of enforcing laws in only some cases. Forced treatment of alcohol addicts should be allowed and encouraged.