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Interventions: Frequently Asked Questions

What is an intervention?

An intervention is a planned meeting directed at someone with an addiction to enable change towards recovery and healthier choices. The meeting will involve people that are important to the target person discussing the impact of addiction in an honest, direct, and nonjudgmental way.

An intervention will involve a great deal of planning and forethought since the subject matter is sensitive and emotionally provoking. It is not as simple as having an informal or impromptu conversation with someone. It is formal in that it will have a set agenda with someone acting as the main facilitator that directs and mediates the flow of the session.

Most importantly, an intervention will have an established goal that is concrete and easily defined.

What are they used for?

Interventions are primarily used to encourage someone that is addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, whether they are illicit or prescription, to seek treatment. However, the process can also be applied to other areas.

People with other addictions like gambling, eating, and pornography can also benefit from an intervention. People in abusive or dangerous relationships may warrant an intervention from loved ones. Also, people with untreated mental health issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), mania associated with bipolar disorder, or a psychotic disorder are good candidates to help them acknowledge their symptoms and seek the appropriate level of treatment.

Why is an intervention needed?

An intervention is needed when you feel that the valued person in your life is on a self-destructive path of poor decisions that could eventually end in significant physical or mental injuries, legal issues, or death.

Oftentimes, patterns emerge as the person struggling with addiction cycles through periods of addiction and recovery. If their attempts to get clean and remain abstinent from drugs or alcohol are unsuccessful, an intervention may move them towards recovery. Many people experiencing dependence on a substance are unaware of the full impact that substance is having on their lives. Interventions help push past this denial to gain a better understanding and acceptance.

Do I need an interventionist?

An intervention is an important event in your life and the life of the addicted person. Adding to the significance is the limited opportunities to effectively complete one. For this reason, seeking the services of an interventionist or specialist may help ensure success. These professionals are specifically trained in this area and have the needed experience to produce the desired change in the addict. Some studies show that interventions done under the guidance of an interventionist are up to 90% successful.

Beyond the success rate, employing an interventionist will ease the process and take the stress of organizing the event off your plate, since they will lead you through the steps from formulation to completion.

How do I prepare ahead of time?

If you have an interventionist, she will control the process. If you are doing without, the preparation will need to be your focus.

After you establish the need for an intervention, you will need to create a plan with a goal. From there, you will amass information about them, ways to increase success, and potential treatment options like detox and rehab.

Along the way, you will need to educate yourself about addiction so your efforts are more efficient. At this point, you begin planning by deciding:

  • Who will attend?
  • When it will be
  • Where it will be.
  • The treatment program.

An essential part of the preparation is to choose the repercussions that will be carried out if your loved one does not comply with the requests made during the intervention.

Effective preparation will take far longer than the actual intervention, but being thorough in your planning will help to create the desired result.

Do they work?

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Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if your intervention will work ahead of time. Additionally, there is not a lot of data from reputable sources regarding success rates. Some reasons for this are the differing goals of people holding interventions and the relapses that are associated with addiction.

This is why clearly establishing your goal will benefit you. If your goal is that the addicted person enters treatment, that will be your proof that the intervention worked. If your goal is that your loved one will never use their drug of choice again, you may see their use after 2 years of recovery as a failure.

How do I get the person with the addiction to attend? Usually, the subject is asked to attend the intervention without their knowledge of what is going to happen. Often, the target is lured to the location under false pretenses of getting money or some other gathering that they are more likely to join. Some models of interventions actually involve the addict from the planning stage, but this method might not be ideal in all situations.

When is the right time to have an intervention?

There are several schools of thought regarding the best time to have an intervention. One school believes that one must reach “rock bottom” in order to be receptive to the change proposed in one. The other school recommends an intervention at the earliest signs of addiction to the substance to prevent further damage from being done.

Problems with the “rock bottom” approach include the notion that it is impossible to tell where “rock bottom” is and the risks associated with continued use and poor decisions. Problems with the second school of thought include the potential for resistance from the addict if there is not sufficient evidence to support the level of addiction.

The truth is that there is no “right” or “wrong” time to hold an intervention. With appropriate planning and preparation, you can make the most of any situation.

When is the worst time to have an intervention?

If the target is currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol or showing signs of detox, the intervention is at risk because there will be little carry-over when sober. Likewise, encountering the subject during times of high stress or increased mental health symptoms will reduce the possibility of positive results.

An interventionist is an invaluable asset in determining an appropriate time to hold an intervention and for dealing with the target if he is high or agitated.

Who should come to an intervention?

The best people to attend an intervention are the ones that have a close, loving relationship with the addicted person and who have been personally affected by the addiction but can also express their concern in a loving and nonjudgmental way.

Parents, children, siblings, coworkers, teammates, and religious officials are just a few options. An interventionist, doctor, or mental health professional could help mediate the proceedings.

People to exclude are ones that trigger only negative reactions in the addicted person or ones that will not be able to follow prompting from the leader of the session due to being highly emotional or aggressive. Though the situation lends itself to extreme emotionality, there is a need for a controlled release of these feelings.

What if key family members are reluctant to come or join?

You cannot force someone to attend an intervention, but it is important to understand their rationale and discuss other options to allow their attendance. Let them know the potential positive impact they could have on the situation.

If they are still unwilling or unable to attend, ask if they would like to write or record something that can be used during the intervention so that they can still portray the influence the addiction has had on them.

Where is the best place to hold an intervention?

The answer to this question is based on the tendencies of the addicted person. If there is a history of violence or property destruction, holding the meeting in a safe place like a church or a professional office will be best. If the person will have a desirable reaction to the intervention in their home or a family member’s home, then this is advisable.

Any location can be a good location as long as the session is controlled and focused on the goal at hand.

What happens afterward?

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Most successful interventions end with the person leaving for treatment immediately following the session. This also calls for a bit of preparation to establish treatment options and openings prior to the meeting.

Never go into an intervention without a plan for treatment.

Someone from the intervention should accompany the directly to the treatment facility by car or plane if needed.

The team should routinely follow up afterward to maintain knowledge of the recovery process.

What if my loved one says no?

Having a negative response to an intervention is the worst-case scenario for the team. As long as the team prepared exhaustively, they will have an appropriate consequence for this decision.

In some cases, people choose to end all contact with their loved ones. In other cases, they severely reduce financial or emotional support.

The goal of the consequence is not to elicit anger but to preserve the well-being of those that love the user, while also making treatment appear to be the best choice.

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Amanda Lautieri is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for DrugAbuse.com. She holds a bachelor's degree and has reviewed thousands of medical articles on substance abuse and addiction.
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