What is an Intervention?
During an intervention, all family and close friends (and any other people of influence in the addict’s life) will joint together to confront the addict in a unified and structured manner. Denial is a hallmark of addiction, and to overwhelm this harmful defense mechanism there needs to be a concerted, united and intense front of opposition. Basically, when everyone the person cares about tells them in one session how much damage the drinking or drugging is doing, it can be hard for them to maintain this wall of denial.
During an intervention, every person will participate with a prepared statement concerning how the drinking or drug use is harming the addict and by extension how it harms them. They will have prepared specific examples of when the addict’s intoxication did them personal harm. The addict needs to realize and accept that their drinking or drug taking does not exist in a vacuum, and that when they abuse themselves they also do harm to others that they care about. The goal of every intervention is to have the addict admit to the real extent of the problem, admit that they do need some help and to proceed immediately to treatment that has been prearranged for them.
How to Run a Successful Intervention
The behaviors of addiction often create negative emotions that ripple deep throughout the family, and although all still love and worry about the health and wellbeing of the using addict, intermingled with concern there are often contradictory emotions of anger, of guilt and of shame; and as such an intervention can be a very complex emotional event. You have to do it, but you have to ensure that you do it well. A poorly run, chaotic and emotionally confrontational intervention can do more harm than good, and derail an excellent opportunity for change. Here are some tips to make sure that you get it right the first time, and that you get that person into the treatment help that they so desperately need.
1) Practice Practice Practice
You don’t want to go into an intervention blind. It’s not something that many people will have participated in before, most won’t understand completely how it should run or what they are supposed to do and some may be feeling apprehensive about confronting the addict. For the best chance of success, you need to get everyone together and have at least one real serious rehearsal. Before the rehearsal, contact all participants, explain what is expected of them and ask them to prepare a written statement that includes how the drinking or drug taking has harmed them personally, how it has harmed their relationship with the addict, and how they’ve seen the addict change over time.
Make sure that they include specific examples if possible, as examples lessen the ability of the addict to deny the truth of what is said. You should also ask them whether they are comfortable including an ultimatum. The best interventions combine both the carrot and the stick. Through your loving and concerned meeting of intervention, and through the obvious trouble you have gone through to arrange the event and arrange for treatment, you show your love and concern. The stick part comes in the form of consequences. "Accept our offered treatment, or suffer this consequence from me…"
2) Don’t Get Angry
The addict may have done some terrible things, and a lot of the people participating in the intervention may legitimately feel owed an apology and may feel justifiable anger over past behaviors of intoxication. Remember though, the intervention is not about you and the day of the intervention is a day during which the focus needs to remain firmly on the addict, and not on your personal grievances. If the tone of the intervention becomes negative, angry or overly confrontational, the message can get lost within a defensive and equally emotional response. You sit the addict down and you force him or her to listen to what you want to say. Make sure that your message gets through.
When you maintain a tone of concern and of love, the addict cannot react defensively and they must listen and receive what is offered in the spirit in which it is given. For the best chance at success, everyone needs to keep their cool, say what needs to be said, but say it with love.
3) Everyone Needs to Participate
Since denial is such a hallmark of addiction, for the best chance at success, all meaningful people in the addict’s life need to participate. If there are many significant absences, the addict might continue to rationalize their behaviors. They may say, well, Uncle Bob and Aunt Jean obviously don’t feel the same way that you do, or they’d be sitting here too. The more people get involved, the more powerful the event. Don’t disclude the very young or the very old either. Sometimes the most powerful testimony comes from children, and since they are affected by the behaviors of addiction, they have a right to contribute as well. Those people who cannot be physically present can contribute through phone calls, internet conferencing or through written messages read to the addict during the intervention.
4) Get Professional Help
Hiring a professional interventionist is about the surest step towards running an effective intervention. They will organize fragmented family into a coherent tool towards recovery, they know how to diagnose the extent of the problem and they will ensure that the intervention proceeds as it should and that nothing derails the ultimate goal of getting an addict into treatment. But they are expensive. If you can’t afford the fee, which can be several thousands of dollars for a top interventionist, you can do it on your own and you can, with a little planning and consideration, run an effective intervention without outside assistance.
If you do have the money though, hiring a professional is about the best thing you can do to increase the odds of success.
5) Don’t Delay…Get Them into Treatment Right Away
At best, the bags are packed, responsibilities arranged for and the car full of gas. You don’t want to allow for any barriers to an immediate transition into recovery. There is a real and sometimes brief window of opportunity after the addict agrees to accept help and you want to make sure that you get them into treatment before they change their mind. If they agree to treatment, even if they don’t agree that they need it, they should go. They may well change their tune with a few days of sobriety and therapy. Get them into prearranged treatment as soon as is humanly possible.
A Well Run Intervention is Always Worthwhile
Even if you fail to get the addict to accept of a need for treatment right away, they may in time contemplate the weight of the offered testimonies and decide that they do need help after all. However, even if the addict never gets the help they need, interventions empower the family. Nothing will ever be the same again after it’s all laid out on the table…and this is a very positive step towards family healing. Getting things out into the open reduces harmful internalizing and misdirection of blame and guilt. It leads the family back towards cohesive health, and it never again allows for a minimization of the extent of the problem. At worst, you may need to decide how you can live in peace with a still using addict, and draw your own personal and familial boundaries to ensure lasting harmony.
You can’t do it for them, and if they refuse to go even after a well run, concerned and loving intervention; then at least you know that you’ve done all that you can…thankfully, most of the time it does work.