Can An Alcoholic Be Sectioned?

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

An alcoholic cannot be sectioned because the UK Mental Health Act (1983/2007) does not consider alcoholism alone as a reason to be sectioned [1].

Those abusing alcohol can be sectioned if:

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Rationale For Sectioning

The circumstances required for someone to be sectioned under the UK Mental Health Act (1983/2007) are:

  • Sectioning is required as the patient is a danger to themselves or others
  • The patient is suffering from a mental health disorder that requires hospital treatment
  • Treatment cannot be provided effectively unless the patient is sectioned [2]

Suffering from alcohol use disorder alone is not a reason to be sectioned, however, alcoholism combined with mental health disorders can be a reason to be sectioned in the UK.

Who Wants The Alcoholic Sectioned?

Family members or loved ones are likely to try to have the alcoholic sectioned, due to the alcoholic's denial.

Reasons for a family member to attempt sectioning of the alcoholic include:

  • The alcoholic's aggressive/violent behaviour - is not a legal reason for sectioning unless it is caused by a mental health disorder
  • Believing behaviour is due to a mental health condition - not a statutory reason if caused by alcohol alone
  • Believing the alcoholic is classed as a danger to themselves - whilst correct this is not legally enough to be sectioned
  • Not being able to cope with the alcoholic's behaviour - is not legally considered being a danger to others
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Trying to force an alcoholic into treatment through sectioning is not legal and not effective, as typically the alcoholic will not respond to treatment.

Where Can An Alcoholic Be Sectioned?

An alcoholic can be sectioned in a hospital, psychiatric unit or mental health facility, dependent on personal need.

Different settings do not affect the criteria for being sectioned.

Petitioning To Section For Alcoholism Alone

In 2022, the UK government was unsuccessfully petitioned to enable sectioning for alcoholism alone by family members, carers or friends [3].

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Primary vs Secondary Sectioning & Alcoholism

Typical primary reasons as to why someone is sectioned are severe symptoms of:

  • Psychosis (psychotic episodes)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Severe depression

Someone who has been sectioned may also be abusing alcohol secondarily, but alcohol is not the primary reason for being sectioned.

Primary Sectioning Behaviours Which May Be Indirectly Caused By Alcoholism

Whilst alcoholism alone does not fulfil the requirements to be sectioned, symptoms and mental health conditions caused by, or exacerbated by alcoholism may require sectioning.

Primary Reasons For Sectioning

How Alcoholism Contributes

Panic Disorder

Long-term GABA depletion, frequently alongside pre-existing anxiety

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Alcohol reinforces pre-PTSD conditions [4]

Hallucinations

Caused by alcohol-induced liver failure or cirrhosis

Paranoia

Caused by alcohol-induced amygdala hyperactivity

Secondary Sectioning Via Korsakoffs, Wernicke's, ARBD

Wernicke's encephalopathy is not likely to cause symptoms severe enough to qualify for sectioning.

Korsakoff's syndrome leads to co-occurring psychotic disorder, personality disorder, depression and aggressive behaviour, which may qualify for sectioning [5].

A loss of inhibitions, memory loss and mood swings occur in alcohol-related brain damage and alcoholic dementia and can result in an individual being sectioned.

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Questions Asked During Sectioning vs. Appropriate Care In An Alcohol Clinic

Questions asked during sectioning may include:

  • Are you in danger of harming yourself or others?
  • Have you harmed yourself or others in the past?
  • Do you think you will harm yourself or others in the future?
  • Have you stopped eating, drinking, or bathing?
  • What do you think might happen if you are not sectioned?

The questions asked prior to sectioning imply reduced or removed capacity; whereas recovery fosters independent thinking and structured living.

In alcohol rehab facilities, patients have greater independence, and questions surrounding mental health are usually only asked to ensure safety and that it is the appropriate care facility.

Rehab clinics may ask some capacity and dependence questions during the admission process, but this is for the purpose of ensuring the clinic is able to meet the client's needs and that a particular clinic is the appropriate form of treatment for the client.

Can You Put Someone In Rehab Against Their Will?

No, putting someone in rehab against their will is not legal.

Admission into rehab is voluntary, and individuals coerced into rehab will either:

Through our practical knowledge at Abbeycare, to see any real long-term improvement, the individual needs to:

  • Have voluntarily decided to attend rehab
  • Actively want to stop drinking
  • Fully engage in the rehab programme
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About the author

Harriet Garfoot

Harriet Garfoot BA, MA has an Undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English, and a Master's degree in English Literature, from Bishop Grosseteste University. Harriet writes on stress & mental health, and is a member of the Burney Society. Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).

Last Updated: January 16, 2024