Attorney Eric D. Puryear

Substance Abuse Commitment in Iowa

Puryear Law » Legal Blog » Iowa Family Law » Substance Abuse Commitment in Iowa

Under Iowa law, a person who is a chronic substance abuser can be civilly committed.  The purpose of such a commitment is to provide treatment to the substance abuser.


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The definition of a “chronic substance abuser” in Iowa is defined by Iowa Code section 125 as follows:

1. Habitually lacks self control as to the use of chemical substances to the extent that the person is likely to seriously endanger the person’s health, or to physically injure the person’s self or others, if allowed to remain at liberty without treatment; AND

2. Lacks sufficient judgment to make responsible decisions with respect to the person’s hospitalization or treatment.


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Iowa law further defines a “chemical substance” as to include alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, etc. In sum, a “chemical substance” is broad under Iowa law and includes just about any substance that a person may be physically or psychologically addicted to.

Those individuals who have mental health issues may be subject to a “dual commitment” in Iowa, for both the substance abuse and the mental health issues.

A person, called an Applicant, can petition the District Court to determine that a person is a chronic substance abuser. In the event that the court find the person is a chronic substance abuser, that person can be committed to a treatment program until they are no longer a chronic substance abuser.


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Immediate detention of the person who is alleged to be a chronic substance abuser can occur if ordered by the District Court, after a finding of probable cause to believe the person is a chronic substance abuser and the Respondent is likely to physically injure self or others if allowed to remain at liberty.

The phrase “likely to physically injure self or others” in Iowa means probable or reasonably to be expected, not just possible. Such detention must be in the least restrictive of the following: (a) in the custody of a relative, friend or other suitable person willing to accept responsibility to supervise the person; (b) in a suitable hospital or other private or public facility suitably equipped and staffed; or (c) in the nearest facility in the community licensed to care for the mentally ill or substance abusers (but not jail).

An Iowa substance abuse commitment may prevent a serious substance abuser from harming themselves or others, thereby saving a person’s life.

However, a substance abuse commitment that is not proper, and is instead part of scheme to cause problems for a person, can result in significant harm. Since a person who is committed for substance abuse loses certain rights (including the right to own a gun) and also may face difficulties in other legal cases (e.g. a custody case), there are situations where people will abuse this portion of the legal system and try to have a person who is not a chronic substance abuser committed. Regardless of which side of a substance abuse commitment a person may be on, it is a serious case that should be handled carefully and correctly in Iowa.



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