• Coercion;
  • health services;
  • motivation;
  • policy;
  • research assumptions;
  • treatment


Background  Social pressures are often an integral part of the process of seeking addiction treatment. However, scientists have not developed conclusive evidence on the processes, benefits and limitations of using legal, formal and informal social control tactics to inform policy makers, service providers and the public. This paper characterizes barriers to a robust interdisciplinary analysis of social control and coercion in addiction treatment and provides directions for future research.

Approach  Conceptual analysis and review of key studies and trends in the area are used to describe eight implicit assumptions underlying policy, practice and scholarship on this topic.

Findings  Many policies, programmes and researchers are guided by a simplistic behaviourist and health-service perspective on social controls that (a) overemphasizes the use of criminal justice systems to compel individuals into treatment and (b) fails to take into account provider, patient and public views.

Conclusions  Policies and programmes that expand addiction treatment options deserve support. However, drawing a firm distinction between social controls (objective use of social pressure) and coercion (client perceptions and decision-making processes) supports a parallel position that rejects treatment policies, programmes, and associated practices that create client perceptions of coercion.