One of the most important tools available to convince victims of substance abuse to seek the help they need is the intervention. An addiction intervention is best described as “a structured, solution-oriented process undertaken to persuade someone who has a problem with drug or alcohol abuse to seek help in overcoming the addiction.”
The people involved in staging an intervention are usually the addict’s family and friends – the very people who have most often been negatively affected by substance abuse-related behaviors – meeting with the addicted loved one face to face. A successful intervention, however, is best seen not as a “confrontation” but as an opportunity for the addicted person to accept help and take the first step towards recovery.
In this article, we will provide an overview of the intervention process – what it is, what it isn’t, and where you can go for help if you are considering how to set up an intervention for someone you love.This article provides a simple overview of a very complex topic. So if, after having read it, you find yourself looking for additional information about how to do an intervention, rehab and treatment pro
grams, or how to contact a professional interventionist for help, please call our 24-hour hotline at (888)-459-5511 to speak with a knowledgeable representative, who can offer more personalized information.
What Is An Intervention?
Some individuals who have developed a substance addiction can and do recognize the extent of their problems on their own, and seek treatment without the need for a drug or alcohol intervention. Others, however, are reluctant to accept that they have a problem, or that the problem involves addiction to drugs or alcohol, and for these individuals a drug intervention can provide the critical “push” they need.
One of the most common traits of individuals struggling with addiction is denial. They cannot admit that the source of the difficulties they face may, in fact, be the very drugs or alcohol they abuse to seek escape from those difficulties. Instead, they blame other people or the circumstances of their lives – anything but accept that they might be an addict.
During an intervention, a group of people (the intervention team) gather together with the addicted person to outline the negative consequences of addiction and present possible ways to overcome them. This team most often consists of family, friends, co-workers, the addicted person’s religious leader, and/or trained addiction counselors such as a substance abuse interventionist.
“The goal of intervention is to present the alcohol or drug user with a structured opportunity to accept help and to make changes before things get even worse.”
The models that alcohol and drug intervention specialists use vary in their approaches – some are confrontational, and others are more invitational. Even if you choose to stage it yourself and not work with a professional interventionist, the following descriptions of the models that trained interventionists rely on can help you compare their pros and cons to determine which approach might be best for your loved one:
This is one of the original approaches to intervention, and the one that most people think of when they hear that word. This approach is employed most often when the addict is still firmly in denial, and doesn’t think that he or she has a problem.
- The format is “confrontational.” While always using a caring tone, the message of this approach is frank and honest. Most important, it’s a surprise. The person for whom the intervention is being staged does not know about it in advance.
- It’s a one-time event, the focus of which is to inspire immediate action.
- The group shares the ways that they have been personally impacted by the addicted person’s substance abuse, and clearly presents consequences – what will happen if he or she does not immediately enter treatment.
- Members of the team are expected to follow through with the consequences they express if this does not happen.
According to the Association of Intervention Specialists, over 90% of addicts agree to seek treatment after experiencing the Johnson model. The model assumes that all participants in the team will become involved in recovery. Everyone receives education and counseling, even if the addict refuses therapy.
The goal is to trigger a desire to change in the substance abuser before they hit “rock bottom” and find themselves in a state that could have more severe consequences.
With this model, the addicted person is involved in the process from the beginning. This approach focuses on introducing the entire family to recovery, with no shame or blame being assigned to anyone.
- The format is more “invitational” than it is a matter of confrontation. There are no surprises, and the addict is aware from the very beginning that their loved ones have planned an intervention.
- It’s not necessarily a one-time event; there may be 1 to 5 meetings. How many are needed depends on how quickly the addict takes action and accepts treatment.
- The overall treatment approach is more collaborative, designed to address both the needs of the addict and his or her loved ones.
- The loved ones (support network) stay involved throughout the entire length of the treatment process, and even afterwards.
Systematic Family Model
This model explores the family’s dynamics with the addict. It assumes that substance abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and includes:
- Acknowledgement that a substance abuser’s behavior can affect the family, but at the same time the family may be reinforcing negative behaviors without realizing it.
- With the help of an interventionist, the addict and his or her loved ones commit to ongoing therapy, with all parties trying to create an environment of recovery. The focus is on healing the entire family, and not just the addict.
- This approach is often effective with younger substance abusers such as teenagers, whose age creates an increased reliance on family for successful rehabilitation.
The goal is to provide the recovering addict and their loved ones with the tools they need to maintain the progress achieved by the intervention.
While other models seek to change an addict’s behavior before they hit “rock bottom,” sometimes that moment has already arrived and the addicted person needs intervention. Because it’s a crisis situation, the addicted person can be in danger of:
- Serious illness related to substance abuse.
- Mental health problems exacerbated by substance abuse.
- Legal problems, job loss, or financial issues caused by substance abuse.
- Badly damaged social and family relationships.
When Should You Stage An Intervention?
One of the most damaging myths about addiction is that interventions should take place when the addicted person is at his or her weakest or lowest point. This is such a harmful mistake that the authors of the PsychCentral blog place it at the top of their list of “7 Common Misconceptions About Addiction Interventions.” Instead, they recommend that the friends and family of an addicted person should consider intervention if they agree that the behavior of the person has changed alarmingly, and that there is evidence that the cause of this change involves alcohol or drugs. Waiting for the addict to hit “rock bottom” can result in irreparable damage – both to the person and to his or her relationships.
Should You Work With Addiction Professionals?
Contrary to what many believe, it is not always best for an intervention to be planned and implemented solely by the addicted person’s family, friends, and loved ones. While this group often has the largest stake in achieving a positive outcome, at the same time they may be “too close to the situation” and too affected by it emotionally to remain calm.
Interventions for substance abuse can be emotionally difficult and painful experiences for everyone involved, so sometimes it is best to seek help from an experienced third party. Working closely with professional addiction counselors and referral services can take a lot of pressure off of the addicted person’s family. These organizations can also help you to make more informed decisions about the types of rehab and treatment programs available. In short, there are many ways in which professionals can teach you how to have an intervention that succeeds.
Benefits of Working With A Professional Interventionist
Groups such as the National Council on Addiction and Drug Dependency recommend that the primary responsibility for planning and leading an intervention be left to a professional. One reason for this, of course, is that trained interventionists are, in fact, professionals – alcohol and drug abuse counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed social workers, etc. They have training in the psychology of addiction, family dynamics, cognitive behavioral therapy interventions, and group moderation. They also often know how to enable an addict to acknowledge his or her wrongdoings in ways that motivate him or her to seek treatment and change, rather than cause guilt and resentment.
A huge part of addiction is denial – substance abusers will lie to themselves and to their friends and family about the extent of (or very existence of) their drug or alcohol abuse. A professional interventionist can help to cut through the layers of deception, expose the real problem, and leave the addict with no choice but to accept treatment.
Also, the NCADD emphasizes that one of the most important aspects of planning a successful intervention is having a recovery strategy in place before you even begin. If you are working with a professional interventionist who is associated with the rehab facility you have chosen, he or she can help you decide which therapies might be most appropriate for your loved one.
How Much Does An Intervention Cost?
One of the factors to bear in mind when considering whether to use the services of a professional interventionist, of course, is cost. A brief, single-session can potentially cost $2,000-$3,500, and if travel or multiple sessions are involved, can cost even more. Therefore, one of the considerations you should look into carefully before arranging to work with a professional interventionist is whether their services are covered by the addicted person’s health insurance.
The Stages Of An Intervention
Whether you are planning to conduct the intervention yourself or work with a professional organization and a trained interventionist, the following intervention steps are critical to it being successful, and achieving what you want it to.
Planning and Preparation
One of the things an intervention is not is improvised or off-the cuff. No less an authority than the Mayo Clinic says that the key to a successful intervention is that it must be a tightly planned, scripted process. While it may be a professional interventionist’s job to establish control and make sure everything stays “on script” and goes according to plan, there actually has to be a script to start with.
Literally. Many addiction specialists recommend that the family members and friends who are part of the intervention team actually write out what they plan to say in the form of a letter to the addicted person. In this letter, they should detail real-life examples of when, where, and how the substance abuser’s actions have personally and negatively affected them. One of the reasons for writing these things out is so they can be reviewed with the interventionist beforehand to make sure they are coming from a place of love and wanting the best for the addict, and not that they are trying to shame or “get back at” him or her.
Another crucial part of how to plan an intervention is to decide beforehand on a treatment plan for the addict. This should not be left to chance. You should research the rehab center or hospital, be familiar with its treatment program, and make arrangements with the facility so that treatment can begin immediately. You should also make sure it is covered by your or the addicted person’s insurance plan.
One aspect of planning an intervention that friends and family members often don’t “get” is that this phase is as necessary for them as it is for the addict. Team members may have been unconsciously enabling the addict’s behavior for years by giving him or her money or by being otherwise emotionally blackmailed into prolonging the addiction. So they’re going to have to change their behavior, too. The planning and preparation phase is thus an opportunity for the intervention team to educate themselves and learn as much as possible about addiction and recovery.
Form the Intervention Team
The team typically is composed of the addict’s friends, family members, and loved ones. In some cases, a professional interventionist is needed to facilitate things. When contemplating an intervention, one of the most important early decisions is to choose the right people. The team should not contain anyone the addict dislikes intensely or has a long-standing grudge with. It also should not include anyone who has mental health issues or anger management issues of their own. Select people who truly love and care for the addicted person and have his or her best interests at heart.
Agree on the Consequences
As important as it may be for the team to emphasize their love and positive feelings for the addicted person, it is equally critical for them to decide beforehand what their list of consequences will be if the addict does not seek immediate treatment. These consequences could include withdrawing financial support, eviction if the person lives at home, the rest of the family moving out, revoking visitation rights with children, or if necessary cutting off all contact.
These measures may sound extreme, and they are, but the purpose of them is to impress upon the addicted person the severity of the situation they have created for themselves. As much as an intervention is an extended hand offering help, it is also an ultimatum, and that should be effectively communicated.
Choose the Time and Location
If possible, pick a non-threatening space where the addicted person will feel comfortable and safe. In almost all cases, a private home or other private location is better than a public place. The most important thing to look for is privacy, so there is no possibility of being interrupted or overheard. It’s also important to schedule interventions for alcohol abuse for a time of day and location in which the loved one is not drinking, and is sober.
Learn and Rehearse
Friends and family who have written letters to the addicted person should practice reading them aloud. And they should do this many, many times before the intervention itself. This process helps to prevent emotional outbursts, and helps team members to effectively communicate the message they want to get across. You may even want to stage a “practice intervention” to work out who speaks when and other details.
Be Prepared for Anything
The best rule of thumb is to hope for success, but be prepared for the possibility of failure. Sometimes an intervention just doesn’t work, and the addicted person refuses treatment. You should plan ahead for this eventuality, and discuss what you will do if it occurs.
While this may be a disappointment, it’s not the end of the world, and may be helpful in the long run. For example, the team members may communicate with the addict about behaviors they will no longer tolerate, and sometimes these things “sink in” even if the addict doesn’t enter treatment. Also, even a failed intervention can “plant a seed” that can take weeks or months to bear fruit.
Conduct the Intervention
An intervention should always start with an affirmation from the entire team that it is being staged out of love for the addicted person. Explain that the purpose is to get them to understand that they have a problem, and that the only real solution you see to that problem is for them to accept treatment.
The next question, of course, should be, “Are you ready to admit that you have a problem?” If the answer to this question is “Yes,” the intervention can theoretically stop right there, and you can start making arrangements for checking in to rehab that same day. However, this rarely happens. Instead, addicts often reply with one of the following objections:
- They deny that they have a drug or alcohol problem.
- They try to “explain,” or otherwise excuse and justify their substance abuse.
- They acknowledge that they may have a substance abuse problem, but refuse to enter treatment or seek help for it.
- They refuse to accept the leadership of the interventionist or the authority of the team, accusing them of “having their own problems.”
- They completely reject the intervention and/or the proposed treatment plan.
If any of these things happen, the interventionist should cue the rest of the assembled friends and family to read – one by one – the letters they have written and rehearsed. Remember, doing this is not to “guilt” the addict or shame them, but to provide a unified front so that they begins to realize the damage they have done, and realize that they are being offered an opportunity to “set things right” by accepting help.
Finally – and especially if at this point the addict is still refusing to either admit to having a problem or agree to start therapy – bring out the list of consequences. Don’t allow the addicted person to storm out of the room without 1) having heard the proposed treatment program and understanding it, or 2) without understanding what will happen if they refuse. They have to comprehend what they risk losing by passing up this opportunity.
End by reaffirming that all of this is being done out of love, and if they choose not to accept that love, they are essentially choosing to burn the remaining bridges between themselves and their family and friends.
If at this point the addicted person agrees to accept the treatment program proposed during the intervention, the next stage should be admission to the rehab/treatment facility. This should happen as soon as possible – the same day, or the next morning at the latest.
You should not allow any arguments seeking to delay the process or to check in “when it is more convenient” or “when they feel like it.” Interventions that are immediately followed by a full course of treatment and rehabilitation are the most successful.
Most professional interventionists advise having a follow-up meeting for the members of the team. During this meeting, the team can discuss “how it went,” ask questions about treatment or other issues, and receive guidance on how to best support the patient through the process of detox, therapy, and aftercare.
If applicable, this follow-up meeting can also be an opportunity for the interventionist or representatives of the rehab facility to provide additional counseling to the family members, and to suggest ways that they can get the help they will need during their loved one’s recovery process. This can include family therapy, involvement in support groups like Al-Anon, or other services.