Watching a loved one struggle with drug addiction can be confusing, scary, painful, and overwhelming. It's common for family members or friends to feel helpless and frustrated, especially since those addicted often don't understand how their behavior is affecting those around them. An addict is frequently in denial about their condition, which can make it difficult or even impossible to speak with them about it.
One way to deal with the situation is to stage an intervention. An intervention is when loved ones gather and meet with an addict with the primary goal of getting him/her into rehab or a treatment program. Because addicts often refuse to get help on their own (or simply deny they have a problem at all), an intervention is an important way to impress upon them the gravity of the situation, and what options are available.
There are a number of reasons to stage an intervention, including the dangers the addiction poses to the addict him/herself. Drug and alcohol addiction often only worsens over time, and carries very serious risks. One of the biggest dangers is drug overdose. In 2014, drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached an all-time high. In fact, the leading cause of accidental death for Americans is overdoses of prescription drugs and heroin.
What's involved in an intervention?
An intervention can be done solely with family and friends present, or it can include a professional intervention specialist.
It involves getting one or more of the addict's loved ones together for a planned event that the addict does not know about beforehand. At the intervention, loved ones tell the addict what the impact of their behavior has been on them, and what will happen if they don't seek treatment.
The person is then offered a rehab or treatment plan that has already been arranged, that includes clear guidelines and objectives. If the addict refuses treatment, those present explain the consequences (what they will or won't do as a result of the person not getting treatment). Professional drug or alcohol intervention specialists can assist in the planning and execution of interventions.
How do you stage an intervention?
There are 5 steps to a successful intervention:
- Plan. The idea behind an intervention is to present the person with a united front of loved ones with a common message: We love you, we're worried about you, and we want you to get treatment now. It's good to involve 4-6 people close to the addict; these can be friends, family members, teachers, religious leaders - anyone who cares about the person and whom they trust and love. Avoid including anyone with a drug or alcohol problem him/herself, and anyone the addict doesn't trust or you suspect may cause problems during the intervention.
- Conduct research. You want to come to the meeting with realistic options for rehab or treatment. Having concrete information on rehab programs in your area makes it easier for the addict to get help quickly. You can look for rehab or other treatment program specializing in the specific kind of addiction your loved one suffers from. It's a good idea to contact a drug rehab facility ahead of time, so the addict can enter treatment immediately. There are also drug intervention services that can help you discover appropriate rehab centers or treatment programs.
- Plan what you'll say. Sharing your concern about drug addiction can be overwhelming and emotional. It helps to write out exactly what you'll say during the intervention; this will keep yourself grounded and help you communicate everything you need to. Include how much you care about the person, and how worried you are. Talk about specific times when the addict's behavior caused issues for you or others. This can include physical or emotional effects, such as destroying trust or causing money issues. Let the person know that s/he isn't bad or wrong, but the behavior is unacceptable and you see rehab and/or treatment as the solution.
- Decide on consequences. Everyone coming to the intervention should decide beforehand what he or she will do if the addict chooses not to get treatment. For example, "If you don't accept treatment, I will need you to move out of the house". Other examples include stopping communication with the addict, taking away financial support, and/or withdrawing contact with children. Each person must decide what they're comfortable with (which consequences are appropriate for them), and it's vital that these consequences are acted out (that the person doesn't back out). An intervention specialist can help with this, as well.
- Execute the intervention. Have someone invite the addict to the intervention meeting place (without telling them about the intervention itself). Have everyone present share what they've written, their feelings and concerns. Present the treatment options, and ask the addict to accept them. At this point, everyone present should share the consequences they've already decided on, in the event that the addict chooses not to accept the treatment plan. Remember that you can always choose to involve a professional drug intervention specialist.
What are the risks of an intervention?
It's important that the right people are involved in an intervention, and that it is well planned and thought out. A mismanaged intervention can actually be harmful to the ultimate goal of getting someone into rehab or treatment. For example, if the addict feels criticized, threatened, or ganged up on, they can get defensive and angry, and withdraw even more.
It's also important that those staging the intervention are safe and protected themselves. If you're worried about the intervention triggering a violent reaction on the part of the addict, you should consult a professional intervention specialist. If the person is or has been suicidal, has struggled with mental illness, or has a history of getting out of control or violent, you should also strongly consider having a professional intervention specialist on hand.
You and everyone else involved have the right to safety and security, and you don't have to do this alone. There are drug intervention programs that specialize in helping families and other loved ones find the right treatment programs and stage successful interventions.
What happens after an intervention?
The ideal outcome after an intervention is that the addict goes to rehab and gets the help they need to get sober. This often involves a detox period, followed by therapy and followup. In many cases, those close to the addict also get therapy or counseling (sometimes as a group, such as family system therapy, or individually).
Once the addict completes a treatment program, the hard work of staying clean and sober begins. It's critical that the recovering addict has the right support as they transition back into everyday life.
One extremely effective tool recovering addicts can use is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and other 12-step programs. One study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that 90% of those who attended weekly AA meetings were able to stay completely sober for the entire year after inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.
Loved ones and those involved with addicts (particularly alcoholics) can attend a 12-step program themselves, called Al-Anon. It's often helpful for those within an addict's support system to get help themselves, since the cycle of abuse and addiction is complex and can involve more than just the addict him/herself.
It's not easy, but there is a lot of opportunity for tremendous growth when it comes to getting through the challenge of addiction, and family and friends play an important role.
Addiction to drugs and alcohol can destroy lives. Fortunately, recovery can rebuild them.