If your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and refuses to seek treatment on their own, you may be considering staging a drug addiction or alcohol intervention. As an outsider, you may recognize how their behavior is negatively affecting their life, as well as the lives of those around them, and desperately want them to stop using. The trouble is, many people battling addiction are in denial about their addictive behavior and refuse to acknowledge it.
Sometimes a simple, heart-to-heart conversation with an individual battling drug or alcohol addiction is all that’s needed to start the recovery process. However, because so many addicts struggle to see their addiction for what it is, often they will refuse to seek treatment. This is where a drug or alcohol intervention comes in.
What is an intervention?
A drug or alcohol intervention is a formal, pre-planned, in-person meeting between an individual struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and their loved ones, where the primary goal is to convince the individual to seek professional help for their addiction. As mentioned previously, many people grappling with addiction are in denial about the severity of their substance abuse and may not be aware of the negative effects their behavior is having on friends and family. Consequently, the purpose of a drug or alcohol intervention is to inform the addicted individual how their drug or alcohol use is negatively affecting their own life and the lives of those around them and to offer a structured opportunity to get help.
An effective drug or alcohol intervention is typically the result of careful planning over a period of days or weeks. The more prepared friends and family are before the intervention, the more likely they will be able to communicate their message clearly to the addicted individual. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that their loved one will be open to entering treatment.
Planning a drug or alcohol intervention may seem overwhelming, but there are a series of steps you can take to help make your intervention more effective.
10 Steps for Staging an Effective Drug or Alcohol Intervention
- Consult an addiction professional
When starting to plan a drug or alcohol intervention, it can be extremely helpful to consult an addiction professional. As each situation is unique, professionals who work in the field of addiction can provide guidance for planning and staging an effective drug or alcohol intervention for your specific circumstances. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and drug and alcohol counselors are all wonderful resources.
For some individuals, however, it’s worth looking into hiring a professional interventionist. These addiction specialists take full charge of planning and staging the intervention. Although some successful drug or alcohol interventions are staged without the assistance of a professional interventionist, there are certain circumstances in which hiring a professional may be the safest and most effective approach. Having an interventionist help plan and be present at the intervention is particularly recommended if your loved one has a history of violence, a mental health condition, or has suicidal tendencies. If you’re concerned that your love one may hurt themselves or others during or after the intervention, having a professional present is crucial.
- Form a team
Gather a team of people who have been affected by the individual’s addiction and who have a strong stake in his or her future. Parents, siblings, spouses, adolescent or adult children, significant others, and close friends are common participants, but co-workers, employers, or members of the individual’s faith community may also be recruited. It’s important that those involved are trusted by and have a good relationship with affected individual.
Choosing an intervention team takes time and careful consideration. Keep in mind there may be people who are close to and care deeply for the individual struggling with addiction, but may not be able to communicate effectively under such emotionally charged circumstances. If this is the case, people can also write a letter or record a statement to be read or played at the intervention.
- Gather information
Understanding the extent of your loved one’s drug or alcohol addiction is important. Members of the group should work together to discuss specific incidences or behaviors they’ve noticed over time. This may help shed light on your loved one’s level of dependence to drugs or alcohol. The team should also research the condition, educate themselves on the nature of addiction, and start to discuss treatment options.
- Plan for treatment
Having a plan for treatment in place prior to the drug or alcohol intervention ensures that your loved one can start getting help as soon as possible. Proposing a specific treatment plan at the intervention may also make your plea to the addicted individual more effective. There are several options for drug and alcohol treatment, including:
- Long-term residential treatment
- Short-term residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Individualized drug counseling
- Group counseling and support groups
Since there are many options, it’s important to determine which one works best for the individual struggling with addiction, as well as his or her family. While deciding which avenue or treatment is best, some questions to ask during this process include:
- Will your loved one need medical supervision while detoxing?
- If proposing residential treatment, who will drive the individual to the facility?
- If proposing outpatient treatment, who will drive the individual to the facility on a regular basis?
- Does your loved one have health insurance that will cover treatment costs?
- If not, how will treatment be funded?
While planning treatment, it can be helpful to speak with a treatment facility to discuss your options. Nexus has trusted recovery advisors who are able to answer your questions and, if necessary, provide referrals to outside resources.
- Discuss consequences
While hoping for the best, members of the group should be prepared that their loved one may not accept treatment. If that’s the case, each person needs to decide in advance what their action will be if the addicted individual refuses help. This may mean asking the person to move out, imposing financial limitations, restricting time with children, or ending the relationship completely. Whatever the consequences are, it’s important that they are enforced. Keep in mind, this is not meant to be “punishment” for the addict. Following through with consequences may help your loved one realize how their behavior is negatively affecting their life, motivate them to seek treatment, and also helps protect members of the group.
- Make notes on what to say
During a drug or alcohol intervention, emotions tend to be running high. In these tense circumstances, it’s easy to feel emotionally overwhelmed, which can lead to a loss of words or outbursts of anger or sadness. While it’s important to be honest with your loved one in regards to how their addiction makes you feel, you want to ensure you’re able to get your message across to them clearly without being confrontational or overly emotional. Consequently, prior to the intervention, it can be helpful for each person in the group to make notes or write out a script of exactly what they want to say during the intervention.
These messages should be factual and mention specific incidents where your loved one’s addictive behavior caused problems, but still acknowledge that you believe the individual is capable of change. Using “I statements” can help members of the group communicate assertively without making accusations. An example of an “I statement” is: “I feel upset that you continue to drink even though it’s hurt your relationship with our children. I think rehab can help.” Start with a feeling, what triggers the feeling, and end with the desired change you want the individual to make.
- Hold rehearsals
In addition to having notes or a script, it can be beneficial to “rehearse” the intervention with the team before staging the real thing. These rehearsals can help members of the group get more comfortable communicating their message clearly. The team can also role-play ways in which the addicted individual may react and practice responding to them. The reality is, there is no certainty as to how your loved one is going to react during the intervention. However, by role-playing different scenarios, everyone can be prepared if the addict chooses to:
- Walk out
- Deny everything
- Become violent
- Cry uncontrollably
- Make threats
- Say hurtful things
- Refuse treatment
Since drug and alcohol interventions can be highly charged situations, practicing speaking in front of the group and anticipating possible objections is crucial. Without rehearsals, it’s easy for the intervention to spiral out of control. Try to aim for at least two rehearsals prior to the intervention, but feel free to have as many as needed to in order for you to feel comfortable and prepared for the real thing.
- Decide on time/place
Choosing a place to stage the intervention takes some consideration. For some people, it’s best to do it in an environment where the individual battling addiction feels safe and comfortable, like a loved one’s home. For others, it may be more effective to hold the intervention in a more formal, neutral setting such as a conference room, church, or therapist’s office. If you’re working with an addiction specialist, he or she can offer advice as to which setting will be best for your specific circumstances.
In addition to choosing a time where everyone in the group can be in attendance, it’s also important to consider a time where the addicted individual is most likely to not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Being drunk or high can impair the person’s judgment, mood, and behavior, making them less receptive to the message and more likely to say hurtful things or engage in violence.
- Stage the intervention
On the day of the intervention, the person struggling with addiction should be invited to the agreed upon location without being told what’s going on. If they are informed that they’re going to a drug or alcohol intervention, they may choose not to come. Invite them in a way that feels truthful and organic. It doesn’t need to be anything out of the ordinary. You may ask them to your house for dinner or say you’re going to spend time with family.
When your loved one arrives at the intervention site, all members of the group should already be there. Once inside, the person is then informed that this is an intervention and that everyone has something they want to say. As rehearsed, each member of the team shares their statement and finally presents the individual with a treatment option. Everyone will also say what actions they will take if the addicted person refuses treatment. Once again, only present consequences that you’re willing to follow through on.
Whether your loved one agrees to treatment or refuses help, there are actions to be taken once the intervention is complete. If the addict refuses treatment at this time, the next step is to enforce the consequences you’ve already disclosed to them. Even though this may be emotionally challenging for everyone, it will show your loved one that you are serious about them getting treatment and help them make the connection that their behavior has consequences.
If the person struggling with addiction agrees to seek help, he or she should be taken directly from the drug or alcohol intervention to treatment. Ideally, all arrangements for this will be made in advance in preparation for this outcome. Once your loved one is in treatment, friends and family should work to create a safe, supportive environment for the person to return to. This is incredibly important. You may need to recognize what patterns or behaviors are triggering for the individual, make changes if necessary, and educate yourself on what to do in the event of a relapse. Friends and family may also be involved in the treatment process through individual or group counseling sessions. Don’t be afraid to seek your own recovery support, as well—it is just as important for loved ones of addicts to heal the wounds that addiction may have caused.