Anyone who has borne witness to a family member or loved one’s struggle with drug or alcohol abuse can testify that substance use disorder is a powerful disease. Addiction brings recurring cycles of grief, confrontation, and destruction. When you love an addicted person and must watch them struggle daily with a thing they cannot control, you quickly feel hopeless and desperate, and you wind up wondering if, when, and how you should stage an intervention.
Regardless of how long you have watched your loved one battle their addiction, a well-planned and compassionate – but firm – intervention can be of significant value. Even if they refuse the help (although the hope is that they won’t refuse, there is always a chance they might), when an intervention is done correctly, the process provides a respectful encounter with the addicted person, with the goal of:
- stopping the progression of their disease
- impressing upon your loved one the need for treatment
How a Typical Intervention Works
Despite the antagonistic, overwrought, disorganized interventions seen in many films and television shows, an intervention is an organized means of breaking through the denial of an addicted person, helping them acknowledge and accept help for their addiction. Interventions must be well-prepared and carried out with a professional in attendance. Having an objective third party ensures that the environment remains peaceful and restrained.
Usually, an intervention follows a specific set of steps:
- Formulate a plan. A friend or family member will suggest the intervention and gather a “planning committee.” Addiction professionals frequently say that you should consult with a qualified addiction professional to guide you through the planning process of a successful intervention. Interventions are emotionally-charged scenarios that can cause resentment, anger, and feelings of betrayal.
- Collect Information. The group discusses the extent of the addicted person’s problem and learns about the condition and available treatment options from addiction professionals. The group may then make arrangements to enroll their loved one in a particular program.
- Create the intervention team. The planning committee will create a team that will be present during the intervention. Members choose a date and location, working as a team to present a uniform, practiced message, and a detailed plan. An objective professional outside the family will keep the discussion focused on the facts and solutions rather than stray into emotional responses. Your loved one should not know what is happening until the intervention takes place.
- Agree to precise consequences. Should your loved one choose not to accept treatment, each team member must decide what action they are willing to take and be ready to abide by their decision. For instance, if your son or daughter is living at home, you may choose to tell them that they have to move out of your home. However, if this is your consequence, and they decide not to go to treatment, you must go through with having them leave.
- Have the intervention. You will, without revealing the reason, ask your loved one to the intervention site. Each team member will take their turn, expressing their feelings and concerns (it is a good idea to have notes handy so that nothing is left out during this emotionally charged process).
Once each member has taken their turn, the decided-upon treatment option is presented, and your loved one is asked to accept that option on the spot. Each team member states what their specific consequences will be if the plan is not accepted. Again, do not lay out a consequence unless you are prepared to go through with it.
How to Hold a Successful Intervention
Successful interventions have to be carefully planned if they are to work as intended. Poorly designed interventions can make the situation deteriorate rapidly, making your loved one feel as if they’re being attacked. Your loved one will then, in turn, become more isolated and more resistant to the idea of treatment.
Remember that addiction comes with powerful emotions. Just organizing an intervention can cause conflict amongst family members and friends who know that the addicted person needs their help. To help the intervention run smoothly:
- Do not have an intervention on the spur of the moment. Planning a successful intervention can take several weeks. On the other hand, don’t make it too complicated, or it may be hard for everyone on the team to follow through.
- Pick the right time. Be sure to pick a date and time when you think your loved one will be least likely to be drunk or high. You will have a better chance to reach them if they are not under the influence.
- Do your research. Read up on substance use disorder and alcoholism, so you have a better understanding of what your loved one is going through. “The Big Book” (Alcoholics Anonymous) is a great resource, available to read for free online.
- Appoint a liaison. Having one contact person will eliminate confusion and keep everyone on track. Be sure that everyone has all of the same information and is on the same page.
- Have a rehearsal. During the rehearsal intervention, you can decide which order you will speak, who will sit where, and other aspects of the intervention so that there is no fumbling when the day arrives.
- Expect your loved one’s unwillingness. Prepare gentle, reasonable replies for your loved one’s reasons for avoiding treatment or for avoiding responsibility for their actions. Provide support that will make it more comfortable for them to accept treatment, perhaps arranging for child care or offering to attend counseling with them.
- Steer clear of confrontation. Speak to your loved one the way you would want to be spoken to: with love, support, concern, and respect – not hostility. You must be honest, but an intervention is not a forum for angry, hostile attacks, name-calling, or angry, accusatory statements.
- Keep on track. Deviating from the plan can quickly unravel an intervention and block a positive outcome. Your loved one will be left sick, and family tensions will worsen. You must be prepared to stay neutral in the highly likely event that your loved one will be angry, hurt, and challenging. You cannot give your loved one time to ponder whether or not to accept the treatment offer because this only allows them to continue to deny the problem and more than likely go on a dangerous binge. Be prepared to take them to treatment immediately if they agree.
When you decide that staging an intervention is the best recourse for getting your loved one into treatment for their substance use disorder, you must consult with an addiction professional. At Hired Power, we offer various options for addiction professionals, including interventionists. Addiction professionals will take your loved one’s particular circumstances into account and help you choose the best approach to organize the most effective and safe intervention. They will assist you in determining the best type of treatment, devising a follow-up plan, and how to proceed should your loved one refuse to accept treatment. It is especially important to have a professional at the intervention to keep things safe if your loved one has a history of violent behavior, has been talking about suicide, or may react self-destructively. You can call Hired Power at (800) 910-9299 to discuss how to go about planning an effective intervention for your loved one.