Loving someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is a confounding, frustrating existence. You’ve tried everything you know to convince them to stop – reasoning with them, getting angry, bargaining, stalking, bribing, crying, yelling, threatening, and even begging – but nothing is working. You may feel that you are at the end of your rope.
Here’s what you need to know – none of these approaches are likely to work. Addiction is a disease, and you cannot bargain, bribe, beg, or reason with a disease.
But hope is not lost – one of the most effective tools for getting through to an actively-using substance abuser is a properly-staged and supervised intervention.
What Is an Addiction Intervention?
An addiction intervention is a coordinated attempt by those closest to the addict/alcoholic – typically, their family and friends – with a goal of compelling the person to seek and/or accept professional help.
Step #1 – Get Professional Help for Yourselves
An addiction intervention can be an emotionally-charged situation. The guidance of a professional interventionist can be invaluable when planning the intervention, and their presence may be absolutely critical during the intervention itself.
Although it is possible to hold an intervention without help, there are several benefits to working with a professional:
- Help with the logistics of planning
- Connection with reputable treatment centers
- Moderates the intervention
- Serves as an authority figure in the eyes of the substance abuser
- Keeps the focus on compelling the addict/alcoholic to accept treatment, instead of letting the event devolve into an unproductive emotional free-for-all
Step #2 – Assemble the Intervention Participants
This is when concerned friends and family members meet to discuss issues about the addict/alcoholic, specifically the harm they are doing to themselves and those around them.
From this group, choose several people who are closest to the substance abuser, such as:
- Adult Offspring – DO NOT include underage children
- Parents/Siblings/other Family Members
- Close Friends
- When appropriate, Employers or Coworkers
A good rule of thumb is to keep the group relatively small – 4-7 people.
At this point, DO NOT let the substance abuser know that an intervention is being planned.
Step #3 – Decide upon a Speaking Order
Once you have decided WHO is going to speak to the substance abuser, you next have to decide WHEN they speak. It is usually a good idea to let the person who is emotionally closest to the addict/alcoholic speak last.
It is also important to be clear about what each person is going to say. It is recommended that each person write down what they want to say in a letter, which they will read at the intervention.
- Try not to be repetitive from person to person.
- Be specific – citing clear examples of ways that each person’s life has been negatively affected by their loved one’s addiction.
- Each person should set firm boundaries detailing the consequences that will result if treatment is refused.
- It is extremely important that each person in attendance is fully prepared to follow through on those consequences.
- Discuss contingencies – what to do if the subject of the intervention gets angry, starts to cry, denies the problem, etc.
Step #4 – Contact a Treatment Facility
Although the substance abuser will have to be the one actually checking into any program, much of the arrangements can be made beforehand – background information, insurance verification, etc.
Since the goal of an addiction intervention is to compel the substance abuser into accepting immediate help, having a treatment facility standing by takes away the opportunity for your loved one to get cold feet and change their mind.
Step #5 – Decide When and Where to Hold the Intervention
You will want a private location where you are unlikely to be interrupted – but not the substance abuser’s residence. Some guidelines:
- Everyone should arrive and decide where to sit before the subject of the intervention gets there.
- Choose a time when you believe your loved one will be sober.
- Ideally, the intervention should be held when any young children are in school.
- Eliminate distractions – everyone should mute/turn off their cell phones.
Step #6 – Hold the Intervention
When the substance abuser arrives and sees everyone gathered, their guard will immediately go up. Now is the time to speak reassuringly to them, letting them know that each person there loves and is concerned about them.
Often, the interventionist will want to introduce themselves at this point and explain what is happening.
Each person, in turn, should read the letter they have prepared to their addicted loved one, paying attention to:
- Use “I” and “we” statements, rather than “you” statements, which can be taken as blaming.
- Each family member/friend in attendance should talk about their feelings and how they have been affected by the addiction. Avoid anger or accusations.
- Each person should also set new boundaries by informing the substance abuser of what will happen if treatment is refused. Examples might include:
- Discontinuation of financial support
- Loss of child visitation
- Breaking off contact
- Involving the police
- Every speaker should conclude by requesting that their loved one accepts without delay the professional treatment that has been arranged.
- Listen to what the addict/alcoholic has to say, but be prepared for resistance, excuses, or even anger.
- When everyone has finished speaking, either the interventionist or the last family member to speak should once again ask their loved one to accept the help that is being offered.
Step #7 – What Happens Next
At this point, there are usually only two outcomes:
- The addict/alcoholic agrees, in which case they should be taken immediately to the treatment facility. Don’t buy into any excuses or delays.
- The addict/alcoholic rejects the offer. If this happens, it is all right to briefly try again to convince them by reminding them of both the advantages of going – their health, their family, etc. – and the earlier-stated consequences.
This is where the services of a professional interventionist matter because a professional will know when to keep trying and when to stop.
If your loved one declines treatment, it is still possible – even likely – that they will come around shortly, once the reality of the newly-established boundaries sinks in. They may realize that going to treatment is preferable than losing the contact and support of their family.
But realize this – even if they completely reject getting professional help, the intervention can still be considered a success, because of those personal boundaries. Each person gets their own life back because they are no longer allowing themselves to be controlled and manipulated by someone else’s addiction.
Step #8 – Take Care of Yourself
Whether or not your addicted loved one accepts your offer, your next step should be to get help and support for yourself – counseling or 12-Step Fellowship meetings such as Al-Anon.
By learning more about the disease of addiction and how to break free of behaviors like codependency and enabling, you are taking the best possible action towards restoring your own mental health.
Then, if and when you or your loved one comes around, you will be in a better frame of mind to support their efforts at sobriety. Remember, you can’t be there for someone else if you weren’t there for yourself first.