An intervention is a pre-planned meeting where people who care about an addict express their feelings about that person and the addiction, while encouraging the addict to get help. The most successful interventions tend to be facilitated by professionals, but they don’t have to be. Interventions are structured opportunities to provide a “reality check” to an addict so that he or she makes changes before things get any worse.
What Makes Up An Intervention?
The three main parts of an intervention are:
- Telling an addict that you love him or her, but that the addiction has become destructive. Specific examples are given of how the addiction has negatively affected others.
- Offering a prearranged treatment plan complete with steps, goals and guidelines.
- Specifying what will happen if the addict refuses treatment.
How to Plan and Execute an Intervention
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are seven steps in planning and executing an intervention. They are:
- Planning: Form a group of people who will plan the intervention. It’s best to consult with a professional at this stage. Professionals who may facilitate an intervention include interventionists, counselors, addiction specialists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. In some cases it’s important not to let the person with the addiction know about the intervention ahead of time.
- Gathering information: Research the extent of the loved one’s problem, the addiction itself, and treatment options. The intervention planning group may make arrangements to enroll the addict in a specific treatment program.
- Deciding who will attend the intervention: Form a team of people who will personally participate in the intervention. This team typically includes family members as well as other people close to the person with the addiction. Non-family members can be valuable, as they can keep the discussion on-topic and help diffuse extremely emotional responses.
- Mapping out specific consequences: Each person who attends the intervention needs to decide what he or she will do if the loved one refuses treatment. Examples include asking the person to move out, stopping financial assistance, or revoking access to children. Never create a consequence unless you are prepared to follow through on it.
- Making notes on what to say: Each person needs to talk about specific incidents in which the addiction negatively impacted the situation, while still letting the addict know that he or she is loved. It’s important to stick to facts and feelings as these are unarguable. Think about starting your sentences with, “I was upset and hurt when you…”
- Holding the intervention: The addict is asked to join the group without knowing why. Those at the intervention express their concerns and feelings, and then the person with the addiction is asked to accept treatment on the spot. The specific consequences are discussed if the addict does not immediately accept the plan.
- Following up: If the intervention is successful then it’s essential for loved ones to stay involved during the treatment process. If it’s unsuccessful, the participants may wish to follow-up with each other or with a professional to deal with their own feelings around the intervention.
A carefully crafted and followed intervention plan is essential, as a poorly run intervention can make the problem worse. It’s recommended that you include a trained and experienced professional, such as an interventionist, as over 90% of addicts make a commitment to get help in these situations.
A professional is particularly critical if the person with the addiction:
- Has a history of serious mental illness
- Has a history of violence or may react in a violent way
- Has shown suicidal behavior or has recently talked about suicide
- May be taking severe mood-altering substances
How Might the Addict React to an Intervention?
An intervention can be an overwhelming experience, both for substance abusers and their loved ones. It’s common for the addict to act irrationally, emotionally, and even abusively during an intervention. The person with the substance use disorder may feel “ganged up on” or that “no one cares about him or her” in spite of the fact that everyone in the room is a person who cares deeply.
Some other things an addict may feel during an intervention:
- Shock: Addicts often think they are hiding their addiction well, and they are surprised to learn that so many people know about it and have been negatively affected by it.
- Anger: Some people feel cornered when confronted and may lash out in anger. They may think that no one has the right to question their choices or their lifestyle. This is especially common if the person with the addiction is older or in a position of authority.
- Sadness, grief, or shame: Sometimes people with substance use disorders truly aren’t aware of how much they have hurt others, and hearing about it can cause deep emotions. Other addicts may be aware of the hurt but have suppressed it. Either way, this can lead to a spiral of self-hatred as they are confronted with reality.
- Quick agreement: While an immediate “yes” would seem to be the best reaction, it’s possible that the addict is just agreeing with anything that’s being said just to make the intervention stop. It’s important that the person truly be on board in order for treatment to have the best chance of success.
While all of these emotional reactions are normal, it’s important not to engage on an emotional level and, rather, reengage with facts and with feeling statements. It’s also a good idea to plan for what to do if the person with the addiction acts in an emotional way.
Remember, the goal isn’t to “win” an argument here or to prove a point. The goal is simply to get the person to agree to treatment. Everything else, no matter how hurtful it might feel in the moment, is irrelevant.