An addiction intervention can be tough but it can also mark a turning point in an addict’s life. Seeing a family member of friend struggle with a drug addiction can be overwhelming, even more so when the addict is oblivious of the impact the addiction is having on his/her life. Tough choices may have to be made to rescue the addict from his/her addiction. Interventions are one of those choices.
What is a Drug Intervention?
A drug addiction intervention is a structured non-confrontational process undertaken to help a drug addict accept an addiction and commit to seeking professional help for it. An intervention brings together the family and close friends of an addict to a joint meeting where each of them opens up about how the addict’s addiction has hurt them, requests hi/her to seek professional help, and then tells him/her the consequences of not seeking treatment.
An intervention can be done for an individual struggling with one or more of the following substances:
- Prescription medication such as pain killers
- Stimulants such as methamphetamine
- Hallucinogens such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
What happens during an Intervention?
Interventions for drug addicts are usually very emotional. Members share with the addict the fears, challenges, hurt and pain he/she has caused them. They do this vividly, narrating the suffering they have undergone in detail so the addict can fully comprehend the effects of his/her actions.
For example, a wife can open up about the pain her husband’s addiction is causing her and the stress it is putting on their marriage.
Afterwards, each of them asks the addict to join an addiction rehabilitation center. To reinforce the request, each puts forth the consequences the addict will suffer if he/she refuses to get treated.
For example, a father can plead with his daughter to seek treatment for her alcohol addiction and then explain that he will withdraw all financial support if she does not join rehab.
A&E Intervention – When Interventions hit Prime Time TV
So mainstream have addiction interventions become that a TV show was created to chronicle the experiences of families going through the journey. In 2005, A&E aired the first episode of the series Intervention. The TV show profiles people struggling with addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling and food disorders. During each episode, the addict’s family members organize a televised intervention and at the end, they encourage the affected person to join a rehabilitation center.
Subjecting a loved one to an intervention may seem like an unnecessary roller coaster. You may even think that opening old wounds will only hurt the addict more. However, it is only through a non-confrontational, non-judgemental intervention that an individual can open his/her eyes to the negative impact of an addiction and seek professional help.
Is it Necessary to have a Drug or Alcohol Intervention? Why won’t my Son just Change on his Own?
When a family member, friend or loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, the emotional burden and stress they cause you may be alien to them. They themselves may not even realize the toll their addiction is having on them.
Individuals with drug and alcohol addictions often rationalize their circumstances with those around them caught up in the same predicament. They may say, “I’m not as bad as someone else.” They use their “friends” as a benchmark for their own actions. They end up convincing themselves that what they do is acceptable.
Some individuals may even trivialize their addiction. They may joke about it or deny that it has gotten out of control. You’ll hear justifications such as “It’s not that bad” or “I can get over this if I really wanted to.” Do not fall for them. Addiction is a chronic disease that cannot be brushed off with light comments or formidable willpower. Professional treatment is the only way.
Some may admit to an addiction but then throw blame at events in their lives. They may share negative experiences to justify their alcohol dependence. Remember that those problems will not go away until that person stops his/her over-indulgence in alcohol.
The goal of an intervention is not to put an addict on his defense or to heap blame on him. The goal is to help him realize his addiction is out of control and that he should seek help for it. There is no easy shortcut to saving someone’s life. Know that by remaining silent, you are hurting them more but by intervening, you are saving them.
When is the Right Time to have an Intervention for a Family Member/Friend?
Approaching someone with an addiction can be nerve-wracking, especially if they are in denial. Not only will the conversation be difficult, the addict may feel ambushed and become overly-defensive.
Here are a few red lights to guide you.
An intervention is necessary when an individual:
- Becomes secretive or isolates himself from others
- Borrows money without reason or even resorts to stealing or pawning household items
- Lacks physical energy or is not motivated
- Performs poorly at work, school or even at home
- Forgets or neglects family responsibilities
- Develops health problems such as cardiac or respiratory issues
- Changes his/her outward appearance. These changes include: such as lack of hygiene, blood shot eyes, continuous shaking or smelling of alcohol
Expressly declares the inability to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Do not wait for an addict to reach rock bottom before intervening. A lot of people think this is the way to go but it’s not. Do it early enough for an individual to get treatment before his/her condition takes a plunge for the worst. In fact, the earlier treatment is started, the better the chances of recovery.
How to do an Intervention for a Friend – The Steps in Detail
- Choose an intervention team
These should be people who truly love and care for the addict. They can be family members and friends, excluding children. They should be people able to commit to the involving pre-intervention planning and to make it to the actual intervention.
Meet with the team and inform them of the intervention. Discuss the individual’s addiction problem, how his/her behavior has hurt each of you, and the urgency of the situation. Then, follow up with planning the next steps of the intervention process.
Select one person to be in charge of communication and scheduling. Remind the team members to maintain confidentiality.
2. Select and meet with a professional counselor or interventionist
With the team, meet a professional counselor and inform him/her of the intervention. Discuss why it is necessary and seek help from him/her.
The counselor may ask you to write the harmful behaviors of the addict and the negative impact these behaviors have had on you. The counselor may also ask you to state which behaviors will not be tolerated any longer and the consequences for non-compliance.
3. Discuss treatment options
With the counselor, go over the treatment options available and settle on a rehabilitation facility to accommodate the individual addict. Visit the facility to learn about its inpatient versus outpatient programs and the accommodation options available. Many rehabilitation centers offer programs that last 30-90 days. Do not be tempted to go for shorter stays. According to researchers, longer rehab stays have better recovery rates than shorter stays.
4. Conduct a rehearsal intervention
With the team and the counselor, conduct a rehearsal of the intervention. Each of the team members should write a letter detailing the negative impact the individual’s addiction has had on them, the habits they will not tolerate and the consequences of non-compliance.
These experiences should be detailed, not vague. Rather than saying, “Your addiction is straining our marriage,” say “Your addiction has led you to mishandle our savings and not pay attention to the children.”
Remember that these statements are made out of love, not blame. They are meant to share insights on the addict’s actions so that he/she can fully realize the impact of his/her choices. The counselor can help you decide on what to say and how to frame it.
Decide on a script to follow during the intervention and the order in which you will speak. In your rehearsal, prepare for any possible outcomes. Anticipate possible reactions by the addict. He/she may feel threatened or pushed to a corner, prompting him/her to act out, have an outburst or go into a fit of denial. Develop a plan to counter each of the possible reactions.
5. Choose a place and time to hold the intervention
Do not hold the intervention in your home or somewhere the addict may be tempted to retreat to a “safe” location such as a bedroom. An ideal location is somewhere formal and quiet, away from any interruptions. It can be a conference room, a therapy office or even a church classroom. It should be accessible to all team members and accommodate all of them.
Decide on a time to hold the intervention. Do not schedule the intervention at a time when the addict will be unavailable or when he/she is likely to be stressed or high. If the individual has just undergone a break up or has lost a job, he/she may be too overwhelmed to listen to you during the intervention. Make prior arrangements for the addict’s transportation to the venue on the day of the intervention.
6. Hold the addiction intervention
When the individual arrives, inform him/her that it is an intervention. Speak calmly and without judgement. Explain that you are doing this out of love and concern for him/her. Do not yell at the addict or accuse him/her. Your mission is to get him/her motivated enough to enter treatment not send him on a guilt trip. The counselor can moderate the intervention.
Let each team member read out his/her letter to the addict. Be as specific as possible. Opt to start sentences with “I” or “We” rather than “You.” For example, you can say, “I felt truly hurt when you ignored the kids” rather than “You hurt me when you ignored the kids.”
Be realistic during the intervention. The addict may feel overwhelmed and react with an outburst or by shutting down. Follow through with the counter actions you had agreed on during the intervention rehearsal.
Have each team member state the actions they are willing to take if the individual does not accept help. These consequences can include withdrawing financial support or taking the children away.
Do not make threats you are not willing to keep. These consequences are meant to set a firm tone that things will not be the same unless the addict joins a drug and alcohol rehab. Deliver them in a loving but firm way.
7. Inform him/her of the treatment options
After the intervention, the addict may be motivated to join rehab. Inform him/her that his/her bag is already packed and that arrangements have already been made to accommodate him/her in a rehabilitation center.
It is not enough for the addict to say he will attend rehab soon or after he sorts out a few things. The intervention is an ultimatum. Offer immediate treatment and be ready to follow through with the consequences if treatment is opposed. The addict may feel angry or hurt. Do not cave in.
Sometimes, though, the addict may accept his/her drug addiction and ask questions such as where the facility is located, the programs offered, what happens in rehab and who will guide him/her in the recovery process. It’s a good sign that he/she is reaching out for help.
Other times, the addict may need a little more pushing. If he/she says no, be prepared to follow up on your threats. Whether the addict accepts to join a treatment facility or not, by coming together for a common goal, you as his/her family and friends will have made the first step in the journey to addiction recovery.
A&E Intervention Deaths – When Interventions went well but Recovery didn’t
Sadly, not every intervention ends with the complete recovery of the patient. Some patients complete their rehabilitation stays and end up relapsing after returning home, others do not get the chance to complete their rehabilitation programs.
On the Intervention TV show, some participants profiled over the course of the show’s 14 seasons passed on. Here are a few:
- Austin P., from Season 10, Episode 3
A resident of Colorado, Austin went into rehab for alcohol addiction in 2011. Sadly, two months after completing the program, Austin died of a heroin overdose.
- Megan W., from Season 10, Episode 5
Megan, 27, from North Carolina, was a victim of domestic abuse when she was young. She found comfort in drugs such as heroin, cocaine and opioids. Megan completed her rehabilitation treatment but died of a heroin overdose in 2014.
- Charles W., from Season 4, Episode 62
A 23-year-old California resident, Charles was a talented motor cross rider. A victim of child abuse, Charles found temporary escape in heroin. He completed his treatment but died six years later of an unknown substance overdose.
- Brooke B., from Season 4, Episode 53
Brooke was 26-year-old resident of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis while still in school, Brooke began taking prescription pain killers to relieve her pain. She later became addicted to the pain killers. She died in 2014 from a meth overdose.