If a friend or loved one is struggling with drug addiction but seems incapable of getting clean by his or herself, one of the most practical steps friends or family can take is to stage an intervention. The goal of substance abuse intervention programs should be clear: to convince the loved one to accept treatment in the hopes of achieving long-term health and sobriety. However, improperly staging an intervention can send the loved one even deeper into their drug or alcohol addiction. Knowing how to properly conduct an intervention is essential.
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What is an Intervention?
Often assisted by a professional drug and alcohol counselor, an intervention is a staged process wherein family and friends confront a loved one about their drug or alcohol problems. It is usually conducted in a comfortable and safe location, and set at an appropriate time. The point is not to “spring” the intervention on the loved one—though it may feel like that to them—the point is to encourage the loved one to listen to your genuine concerns and to accept treatment.
A successful substance abuse intervention will check several boxes. Ideally, it will:
- Demonstrate to the loved one, by using anecdotes and examples, how their behavior has negatively impacted his or her family and friends
- Clearly explain to the loved one what each family member will do if he or she refuses to accept treatment
- Present the loved one with a prearranged treatment plan, which can begin as soon as possible
It’s difficult to measure success rates, but what treatment centers do know is that of the countless families that contact them hoping to arrange an intervention, only about 10% actually go through with it. Of those that do, the majority of them are “successful,” meaning that the loved one accepts the treatment plan.
How to Determine if an Intervention is Necessary
To the coworkers of a person struggling with addiction, their substance abuse problems may be a complete mystery. It’s easy for addicts to hide their use from people who they only interact with briefly and without intimacy. However, family and close friends typically know when something is wrong with a loved one’s behavior, and they should trust their gut when it comes to sussing out an addiction.
If a person is struggling with addiction, there are some telltale warning signs. They may:
- Lie to friends and family about what they’re up to
- Make excuses to avoid responsibilities to work or family
- Act irrationally or erratically without being provoked
- Display physical markers, like an unkempt appearance or disregarded personal hygiene
How to Plan a Successful Intervention
Interventions can work, but they require a team of friends and family. It’s also highly recommended that they are assisted by a professional interventionist. Without proper preparation, family and friends can lose sight of the goal and get lost in their frustrations while confronting the addict. Interventionists know how to keep the conversation moving.
Make a Plan
The first step should be to make a plan. After consulting with a professional counselor, assemble a team of people who are close with the loved one, and, very importantly, on good terms with that person. If they are faced with someone they dislike, they may feel judged or uncomfortable and leave the intervention prematurely.
The next step is to gather information. To the best of your abilities, discover the extent of the loved one’s addiction. This information will help you set up a treatment plan that you can present towards the end of the intervention.
Pick a time and Date
Then, pick a time and date. Don’t choose a time or location where the addict will feel cornered. Choose a location that is relaxed and safe, but not so comfortable—like the addict’s house—where they feel like they can reject the intervention process and lock themselves in a room.
Before the intervention, each member should prepare remarks and make notes about what they want to say. Improvising or “riffing” is discouraged in these situations. If you stray into an accusatory or judgmental territory, the addict may feel attacked and leave. Be loving but firm, empathetic but serious.
Hold the meeting
Finally, hold the meeting itself. Invite the loved one to the intervention site. Once there, the group should take turns delivering their statements. At the end, present the loved one with the treatment plan.
Intervention Do’s and Dont’s
There are several important Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to staging a substance abuse intervention. Following these guidelines closely can make or break the success of the event.
Make sure that you do:
- Spend time talking about the next step—treatment—instead of dwelling on the substance abuse problem
- Contact a professional interventionist before you stage the intervention
- Approach the intervention without any pent-up anger or frustration that might jeopardize the event
- Remember that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing
Make sure that you don’t:
- Lie to the loved one: during the planning stage you should determine what you’re going to do if the loved one doesn’t accept treatment, and you should be ready to follow through
- Expect that the loved one will miraculously see the light: interventions are challenging, confrontational, and may not work the first time
- Attempt the intervention by yourself: make sure that you have assembled a team of people who care about the loved one and are willing to act in good faith during the process
What to do if Your Loved One Refuses Help
If you’ve staged an intervention and your loved one refused help, don’t feel like there’s nothing left to do. In the mind of the addict, they have control of their situation and can quit whenever they want to. This is a sad fallacy, and in most cases, they will require assistance eventually.
If you made promises during the intervention that detailed ways you would react if the loved one rejected treatment, make sure that you follow through. Show the loved one that you’re serious, not only about your promises to them but about your desire to see them improve their condition.
Finally, if the first intervention didn’t work, you can always stage a second. Sometimes persistence is the only way to get a loved one to accept treatment. If all families and friends gave up on the first round, there would be far fewer patients in rehab centers, and many more families agonizing over the possible fate of a loved one.
Mayo Clinic. Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction. 2017.
Association of Intervention Specialists. Intervention – What is the Success Rate? 2017.
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