An intervention can be a powerful tool to help a loved one find help for a problem like addiction. When done without the proper planning, though, an intervention can leave the situation unchanged, or in some cases, even worse off than it was originally.
To increase the chances of success, it’s important to understand:
- What an intervention is.
- The planning that goes into one.
- How to follow-up post-intervention.
This information will improve your ability to effectively accomplish the goal.
What Is an Intervention?
With a superficial glance, an intervention looks like a casual meeting that includes someone that is addicted to a substance and people trying to help that person. Upon closer inspection, an intervention is a formally planned meeting that takes days or weeks of preparation to progress from creation to finalization.
- Contact with professionals.
- Contact with to family members and others close to the addict.
- Planning for treatment.
- Determining consequences for saying no and commitment to maintaining boundaries after the intervention.
Interventions share the common theme of insistent communication with a substance abuser to find treatment, but interventions can be used to address a variety of concerns beyond drug and alcohol abuse like:
- Addictions to gambling.
- Addictions to sex or pornography.
- Physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive relationships.
Interventions and Denial
An intervention is seen as a needed tool in situations like these because of the level of denial experienced by the target of the intervention. People that are actively abusing drugs or alcohol may not see their use as problematic even if it has lead to financial, social, employment, or legal issues.
It is the goal of the intervention to present information to the addicted loved one regarding the negative impact of their use in an honest and straightforward way. By doing this, the intervention can move past the denial and towards understanding and acceptance. With this, the addict is more likely to go to treatment.
Planning and Staging an Intervention
Knowing the definition of an intervention is the easy part. The development and arrangement of the intervention is more complex. Though the complexity may be overwhelming, following established steps and principles will improve the odds of a desirable outcome.
At the onset, an important choice will be whether to employ a professional interventionist. An interventionist or intervention specialist is a trained and experienced professional that can help in many aspects of the intervention — from the planning to the actual meeting to the follow-up care. Their experience can make the planning more efficient, and their skills can help mediate the session.
Typically, an interventionist will increase the likelihood of success and will ease the stress of those attempting to organize the intervention. Payment rates and availability of interventionists vary greatly by region.
Whether the plan is moving forward with or without an interventionist, the same steps can be followed:
1. Create a group. Creating a group will be the formation of the team working together to benefit the target of the intervention. These people will be united by their shared concern and love for the user. The group can consist of friends, family, coworkers, and others that are currently or formerly in the addict’s life.
Participation in the group is voluntary, with the best candidates being those who the target of the intervention loves and respects. Someone that triggers feelings of anger or frustration may not be a good choice. Likewise, someone that is highly emotional and will not be able to focus on the task should not be included. Once formed, the group should then appoint a speaker, sometimes called a liaison, to take charge and lead the group.
2. Collect information. Since people cannot combat something they do not understand, collecting information is the next step. If the group does not understand addiction, the drug of abuse, and the level of dependence, there will be a poor success rate. Consulting trusted sources on the particular drug or drugs can yield helpful tips regarding the best course of action.
3. Formalize the goal. Now that the group is assembled and information has been collected, the emphasis should shift to establishing a goal of the intervention.
The best goals are specific, clear, realistic, and timely. If a goal is not established, there will be no way to tell if the intervention was successful. Even if an interventionist is not involved, this is an appropriate opportunity to contact another mental health or drug and alcohol specialist to receive feedback regarding the group’s goal.
4. Plan the session. At this stage, the specifics of the meeting will be discussed including:
- Where it should be.
- Who should be in attendance.
- How you will lure the subject there.
- What will be said.
Each aspect deserves attention since any problem may derail the event. A home may be the best option for an intervention if the addicted person is calm and safe, while having it at a neutral location would be ideal if there is a risk of escalation or violence.
The people in the intervention group should be in attendance unless there is the chance of disrupting the outcome. Since people experiencing an addiction can seem secretive and unpredictable, it can be difficult to bring them to the meeting place. At times, being deceptive may be necessary to accomplish the goal.
5. Plan the message. Knowing what to say can be a challenging situation. The tone and the content need to convey the message accurately to eliminate the denial.
The messages should be based in fact with strong emotions tied to them. A good way to do this is with assertive communication using “I messages.” An “I message” is a statement expressing the feeling, the trigger of the feeling, and the desired change. An example of an “I message is: “I feel frustrated when you continue to use heroin despite the harm it has caused our relationship. I hope you will consider rehab.”
6. Plan for the worst case. For any intervention, there is a chance that the substance abuser will refuse the message and turn down treatment. Good interventions plan for this scenario and describe to the addict what will occur if treatment is not accepted.
Sometimes this will include ending the relationship completely. Other times, it will include limitations or sanctions of finances or housing. In any case, the goal is avoid any harm to the person you love, only to protect the members of the group while making treatment more appealing.
Finding a Treatment Program for Your Loved One
The goal of the intervention almost always centers on the target entering some type of treatment. Depending on the drug of choice and the level of use, the user may require detox, which is the medically-assisted removal of the substance from the body.
Detox is important in cases of alcohol and sedatives like barbiturates and benzodiazepines since the effects of stopping use can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous. Other drugs like opiates can lead to extremely uncomfortable symptoms but not necessarily life-threatening ones. In any case, supervised detox is often preferred to avoid any danger to the patient or risk of relapse.
There are several ways to find available treatment programs including:
- Consulting with mental health, drug and alcohol, and medical professionals.
- Learning which programs and forms of treatment are covered by the insurance carrier.
- Checking trusted, online sources like national and government organizations.
Since treatment will ideally begin immediately after the intervention, checking for availability and transportation before the meeting will help make the transition smooth and more successful.
Do not focus too much on finding the “right” program, as there will be tremendous amounts of variability. Do avoid programs that sound too good to be true or offer promises about recovery. There are no guarantees when it comes to drug and alcohol treatment.
Ensuring a Successful Intervention
When entering into any intervention experience, it will be invaluable to set reasonable expectations. There is no true way to ensure success. There are only steps to improve the likelihood of success. Following the tips above will bode well for the intervention being successful.
On the other hand, there are several mistakes that can be made before and during the intervention process. They include:
- Performing the intervention when the addict is high or experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms.
- Having the intervention informally or without preparation. It is advisable to rehearse prior to the event and maintain the formal nature to avoid it becoming a conversation.
- Being confrontational, aggressive, or overly emotional. This can trigger a defensive stance.
- Allowing the intervention to spiral out of control or deviate from the goal.
- Letting your loved one leave the intervention to think. Ideally, the decision to go to treatment will happen at the intervention and quickly.
- Ignoring possible objections. By anticipating these, the team will be prepared to refute them.
To learn more, visit our page on frequently asked questions on interventions.
After the Intervention
If the intervention does not go as planned, it will be up to the team to follow through on the consequences previously outlined. If it does go well, the next hours will be a flurry of movement and activity. Ideally, all of the arrangements will be made in advance to decrease the hectic nature of this. The addict will move directly from the intervention to treatment.
Of course, the role of the intervention team does not end here. During and following treatment, they will be responsible for checking in with treatment to track progression, attending family sessions to process thoughts and feelings regarding addiction, and working to provide a safe, supportive environment for the person to return to after treatment has ended.
This last factor is very crucial. The best interventions and treatment programs are useless if the person is allowed to return to a chaotic, triggering environment. Loved ones of the addicted person should understand the role they play in addiction and recovery.
In the end, formal interventions are critically important tasks that require high levels of attention, effort, and skill. When done well, they can lead to dramatically positive results.
- Mental illness. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451
- Drug and Alcohol Interventions: Do They Work? (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201408/drug-and-alcohol-interventions-do-they-work