Seeing loved ones who are consumed with addiction can be heartbreaking. It leaves family members and close friends feeling helpless. As the addiction worsens, the more alarming it gets, and most of the time the addict will not be ready to admit the fact that they have a problem. If you are dealing with an addict in denial, it may be time to set up an intervention. But are  interventions actually effective? What can family or friends do to help? Here’s what you need to know about drug and alcohol interventions so that you can decide if it is indeed an appropriate approach to take to help save a loved one. 

Everyone has their own idea of what intervention looks like. In order to stage a successful intervention, it’s important that you know the true definition. An intervention is a meticulously planned process in which family and friends of a person with an addiction gather at a pre-arranged date and time. They will then invite the addict to the gathering for the purpose of having a discussion about the consequences of their addiction. Usually, the addict does not know this is occurring until the moment they walk into the room. This is done in order to prevent them from avoiding the confrontation. Once everyone is settled, family and friends are encouraged to express their feelings and concerns surrounding the addict’s wellbeing. The key to a successful intervention is a large amount of forethought and careful planning. 

When to Call an Intervention?

There are plenty of misconceptions about conducting an intervention. One of them is that many think that the drug addict must first hit rock bottom before anyone should intervene. However, this is not true. You can stage an intervention at any time, and in fact should be done soon after you realize the addict is in full denial. Waiting for the person to hit rock bottom could put them in harm’s way unnecessarily. Early intervention could be the difference between life and death for someone struggling with addiction. 

The first step should be to talk to your loved one who is struggling with addiction. It should be brought up in a casual, non-confrontational way. Feel it out, then express concern. If they explode on you, know it is not a reflection of your actions. In most cases, vehement denial and anger is a clear sign that an intervention may be the next logical step. Often times, no matter how much a loved one asks, pleads or begs the addict to change their ways, they will still continue doing what they want because they truly do not see the weight of their actions. They may think that they are still in control, or perhaps they just know that the drug or alcohol makes them feel good, and they are not ready to give that up. No matter the reason, if they are deep in denial, it may be time to consider a true intervention.

Staging an Intervention

If you have brought up getting help in a casual, non-confrontational way and received a negative or even aggressive response, it is time to move through the next steps of staging an intervention.

Step 1: Seek professional help.

Your loved one has proven themselves to be in denial of their addiction, as well as resistant and perhaps even hostile to talk of seeking help. This is where the problem can be much too complex for one person to handle, and you will want to consult a mental health professional, interventionist, doctor, social worker, etc. This person or people will be able to help you to better understand what the addict is going through and also provide emotional support to you and everyone else involved. This person can also act as a mediator during the intervention process to keep the peace when the tough discussions are occurring. 

Step 2: Form the intervention team.

Once you have identified a professional mediator for the intervention, you may start reaching out to the addict’s friends and family and ask if they would like to take part in the process. Ensure that all of these people are good role models, and are generally well-adjusted in their own lives. Those with unresolved addictions of their own should be excluded, as it may make the person in question feel unfairly singled out or provide a negative influence. Also be sure that anyone you invite is a part of the person’s inner circle, and that they have a good relationship with the addict, built on care and trust. 

Step 3: Make the plan.

You will set your intervention up for success if you make a solid plan. This will include the date, time, and location of the meeting, preferably a day and time when most of the invitees will be able to attend. Try and pick a place where the person you are confronting will feel relatively secure and comfortable, such as the home of someone they love. Ask your invitees if they could prepare notes for what they plan to say at the intervention, and request they send them to you for approval first. It is important that they say the right things and remain positive, as to not derail the process. 

Step 4: Get informed. 

For this step, you will want to set aside some time before the intervention occurs to research addiction — particularly the specific addiction that the person in question is struggling with. You can lean on the mediator you have enlisted to help walk you through the details of the addiction, and teach you how to speak to the person in a way that will be effective. You can also do your own online research. It would also be beneficial to encourage the invitees to do their own research as well to avoid any misconceptions being brought into the room with them.

Step 5: Prepare your speeches.

Your talking points, referred to as impact statements, should be prepared by everyone in attendance. These will usually detail the invitee’s personal experience with how they see the addiction has harmed the person they love. These can be extremely powerful in demonstrating to the addict that their addiction doesn’t just affect them, it has a profound impact on all of the people they love and care about. These statements should come from a place of concern and love. There is no place for personal attacks in these statements.

Step 6: Figure out how you can offer help. 

There are many ways you can offer help to someone struggling with an addiction. For example, giving them rides to counseling appointments, pitching in for treatment costs, or simply lending an ear when they need to vent.

Step 7: Set boundaries.

It is crucial to set boundaries in the event that the person refuses treatment. Actions that you think may be in the best interest of the addict (i.e. giving them money, providing them a warm bed, etc) can actually enable their destructive behaviors to continue. Every person in the addict’s circle needs to commit to ending codependency and enabling behaviors to show the addict that they will face consequences if they do not seek help.

Step 8: Rehearse.

Going into the intervention blindly could leave you susceptible to being overcome by your strong emotions, potentially leading you to say things you may regret. If you practice what you are going to say, you will be better prepared to speak honestly, yet in a way that is measured, calm, and helpful. 

Step 9: Manage expectations.

You must be ready to accept the worst-case scenario. Addiction is a nasty, powerful, all-encompassing disease that can cause people to become the worst versions of themselves. Because of this, not all interventions are successful. The person often has to experience “rock bottom” in order to realize that something needs to change. Until then, they may be highly resistant, defensive, hostile, even aggressive and accusatory. You must be prepared for the person to say hurtful things to everyone in the room. Just know that this is their addiction speaking, and it does not reflect on you in any way.

Step 10: Follow up and follow through.

No matter the outcome of the intervention, it is important that even if the addict does not uphold their promises, you must uphold yours. You have to demonstrate to them that you are going to remain faithful to your promises, and thereby faithful to them. Showing up as a firm, but loving, presence in their life is paramount in the turbulent existence of an addict.

The Risks of Intervention

Conducting an intervention does not really pose a serious health or psychological risk, especially if done in a safe setting. However, know that some addicts will respond in anger and even walk out even before the session is completed. In some cases, the addict may refuse to even speak to the entire group even before the session begins. You must keep in mind that addiction is a disease, and it does cause people to lash out in ways that they never would have before. This is not a reflection on you, you are just doing what you can to help a loved one. In time, they will understand and be grateful.

Do they REALLY work?

The truth is, there is no simple answer to this question. Whether or not an intervention works is truly up to the addict. Evidence does show however that familial involvement in terms of seeking treatment are often successful, so you can say that this part is successful. While this is helpful in getting an addict the treatment he or she needs, it is not a factor in the eventual outcome of the rehabilitation.

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