In the past, people who lived with addicts were told that the person must hit “rock bottom” before healing could begin. Often, this meant that family members and friends of people with a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol were asked to simply stand aside and let the addiction take its course. They were told that anything they did to influence the course of the disease would be hopeless at best and harmful at worse.
Now, researchers know that standing aside in this manner can be harmful to everyone involved. Drug and alcohol abuse can take a serious toll on the health and well-being of the addict. And family members who are forced to watch the addiction play out also face serious consequences. According to a study published in the journal Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, living with someone who has a substance abuse problem can cause long-term stress, which can put the family members at risk for health problems of their own.
Holding an intervention is often the best way for family members to deal with the addiction problem. If done right, the addict might get the motivation needed to stick to a treatment program. In addition, the family will learn a significant amount about the disease, which might help them provide help throughout the addict’s journey to sobriety.
Holding a proper intervention means more than simply talking to the addict about the problem and pleading for him or her to change. An intervention is a highly structured, formalized conversation that typically follows a specific format. Putting together something this complex often means spending weeks in the planning stages. Families can certainly do this planning on their own, without the help of a paid professional.
But some families may find that it’s simply too difficult to plan and hold an intervention without help. In addition, some addicts have special needs that might merit the help of an outsider. Their interventions are bound to be a bit more delicate, and they should be handled with care.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a good idea to use an intervention specialist if the addict has:
- A violent history
- Suicidal tendencies
- A deep sense of denial
- Mental illness
During the planning stages, the family members learn all they can about the addiction. The intervention specialist may provide these lessons, or the family might read books as a group and meet to discuss what they have learned. This education might seem trivial, but in fact, it’s quite important. The family is beginning a journey here, and each member must know exactly what they are fighting and how the disease might manifest itself throughout the journey.
Some family members might need to learn entirely new ways of communicating with the addict. Often, the addict has repeatedly broken promises or hurt feelings, and the family members may have years and years of anger built up and ready to fly out at any moment. These expressions of anger and hostility might be cathartic in the moment, but they’re certainly not helpful and they can drive the addict back to the addiction. If the person has a mental illness as well as an addiction, this new method of talking is all the more important.
According to an article published in the journal World Psychiatry, family members who use language that is supportive and positive, no matter what the addict might say, are more effective than family members who express hostility or anger at every turn. Revising years of habits begins during the planning stages.The family also chooses a treatment program for the addict to enter at the end of the intervention. The intervention specialist may be able to provide advice on what sorts of treatment would be best, but often, the family must consult with insurance plans to see what sorts of services are covered and when they can begin. These are tricky questions to answer, but they’re important issues to handle before the intervention is held.
Once family members have done their research and thought a bit about the language they’ll use in the intervention, they begin writing a series of letters directly to the addict. These are powerful documents that will form the basis of the intervention. In a typical letter, the family members will:
- Open with a statement of love and support.
- Describe one situation in which the addict’s behavior caused pain or harm.
- Describe the course that the addiction will take.
- Explain how treatment works and why it is important.
- Urge the addict to enter treatment.
In some cases, family members write down consequences that will befall the addict if he or she will not change. Some intervention specialists ask the family to place those consequences in the main body of the letter, and others ask family members to write consequences on a separate sheet of paper, and hold them back in case the addict doesn’t respond to the intervention.
As a study in Addiction points out, families can help the addict change the course of the disease. The family members then read these letters out loud, and revise them to make sure they’re effective and supportive. It’s hard to overstate how important these letters are in the intervention. Each family member will read the letters aloud to the addict, and those letters must be powerful in order to convince the addict to accept treatment. These letters can do the trick. They must be written carefully, so the family is sure to have the most impact.
Next, the family chooses a spot for the intervention, and they settle on a date and time. Often, the intervention is held in a neutral location, such as a church or a conference room. Having an intervention in the family home might be convenient, but it’s just as convenient for the addict to simply walk away into a back bedroom when the conversation gets tough. Holding an intervention in a neutral spot makes escape a bit less likely. The time chosen should correspond to the time when the addict is least likely to be impaired. This might mean that the family holds the intervention in the morning, when the addict isn’t likely to have used.
Once the time, date and location have been chosen, the family runs through a series of rehearsals. They read their letters aloud, and determine who will speak first. The intervention specialist also provides guidance on what to do if the addict chooses to yell, become violent or leave the conversation. These rehearsals allow the family to be fully prepared.
The location of your loved one’s alcohol treatment intervention should be convenient for them. While they won’t know that the intervention is scheduled, the location for the event should be somewhere that your loved one comes to often.
Home locations are usually easiest and more comfortable for you and your loved one. Also, since you will need to wait until your loved one is sober before you begin, the location should be somewhere that you can wait that long. In the same way, an alcohol treatment intervention can be highly emotional, so the location should be somewhere appropriate.
The Big Day
When the addict arrives at the location, the weeks of planning pay off. The intervention specialist or the head of the family tells the addict why the meeting has been called, and the family begins to read their letters aloud. At the end of each letter, the addict is asked to enter a treatment program for addiction. As soon as the addict agrees to enter treatment, the intervention is over.
It’s important to note that while many interventions are successful, others are not. According to an article published by the Cancer Prevention Research Center, people move through a series of steps before they make big changes in their lives. The study suggests that of people who are addicted to nicotine, only 20 percent are actually ready to make a change at any given moment.
If these people were approached with an intervention, one assumes they would be ready to move past the addiction. However, if people in other stages were approached, they may be less likely to make immediate changes. The intervention could, however, make them open to later conversations about their addiction. In other words, if people are so deep within their addictions that they cannot see the need for change, an intervention might not motivate them to change right now. But it could motivate them to change when the family approaches them again.
Sometimes, consequences can help addicts see the need for treatment. Family members might read the last pages of their intervention letters, all in a row, notifying the addict of the consequences of a refusal. Some addicts might be motivated to enter treatment when they learn that they’ll have no access to their children, home or money without treatment. Some addicts, however, will still not be moved. According to a study published in the journal Substance Abuse and Misuse, addicts were only swayed when they were told to get treatment or go to jail. Since families can’t place their loved ones in jail, they don’t have this option. They can, however, point out that the person could go to jail if he or she continues to break the law in specific ways. This might sway some addicts to submit to treatment.
Once the addict agrees to enter a treatment program, the family members should deliver that person to the program right away. The family has reached a breakthrough, and it’s important to capitalize on that breakthrough while it’s fresh in the addict’s mind. By now, the family has notified the treatment program that the addict is coming, and the family has paid all entrance fees required. There are no barriers to begin treatment. The family can then begin their own therapeutic process, participating in counseling sessions of their own to help the addict on the road to recovery.