Watching someone you love self-destruct and not knowing what to do about it can be devastating, especially when that person is in denial about his or her situation. However, there is something you can do to try and help. It will take joining forces with others, but staging an intervention may be the first step in a long road to recovery. Read on to find out what an intervention is, who may need one, how to stage one and more.
What is an Intervention?
An intervention is a carefully planned process whereby significant family members and friends and sometimes colleagues, clergy members or others who care about a person struggling with addiction, get together at the same time, in the same place and confront the person about the consequences of addiction, and ask him or her to accept treatment. The intervention:[1,2]
- Provides specific examples of destructive behaviors and their impact on the addicted person and loved ones
- Offers clear steps, goals and guidelines as part of a prearranged treatment plan
- Details what each person will do if a loved one refuses to accept treatment
Behaviors Warranting an Intervention
People who struggle with addictive behaviors are often in denial about their situation or are unwilling to accept treatment. They fail to see the negative effects their behavior has on themselves and others. However, it’s important not to wait until the person wants help. Instead, an intervention can give this person a clear opportunity to make changes before things get really bad. Some examples of behaviors that may warrant an intervention include:
- Eating disorders
- Compulsive gambling
- Abuse of street drugs
- Prescription drug abuse
How an Intervention Works
An intervention presents the person suffering from addiction with a structured opportunity to make changes before things get even worse. A successful intervention must be planned carefully to work as intended. A poorly planned intervention can worsen the situation as your loved one may feel attacked and become isolated or more resistant to treatment. An intervention usually includes the following steps:[1,2]
- Planning. A family member or friend proposes an intervention and forms a planning group. It’s best if you consult with an intervention professional (interventionist), a qualified professional counselor or a social worker when planning an intervention. An intervention is a highly charged situation and has the potential to cause anger, resentment or a sense of betrayal. Consult an intervention professional before taking any action if you have any concerns that the intervention may trigger anger or violent behavior.
- Gathering information. The group members find out about the extent of the loved one’s problem and research the condition and treatment programs. The group may make arrangements to enroll the loved one in a specific treatment program.
- Selection and training of the team. The planning group forms a team that will personally participate in the intervention. Team members should consist of all the significant members of his/her family including friends and employers. Each member of a team should understand the nature and severity of the disease. They should all be working off the same page, so to speak, understanding that to do nothing is the worst thing they can do; that waiting for the addict/alcoholic to hit bottom can be fatal. Team members set a date and location and work together to present a consistent, rehearsed message and a structured treatment plan. Do not let your loved one know what you are doing until the day of the intervention.
- Deciding on specific consequences. If your loved one doesn’t accept treatment, each person on the team needs to decide what action he or she will take. Examples include asking your loved one to move out or taking away contact with children.
- Establishing a plan of action. The plan should include selection of a treatment center, after checking insurance eligibility and/or costs involved. It must answer questions such as, who is going to take care of the children, the pets, or water the plants? The plan must answer all the reasons why the alcoholic/addict cannot go into treatment now. The plan must be to take him or her directly to treatment immediately following the intervention. Therefore, an appointment should be made for the approximate arrival time at the treatment center.
- Writing a script. Each member of the intervention team should detail specific incidents where the addiction has resulted in problems, such as emotional or financial issues. Discuss the toll of your loved one’s behavior while still expressing care and the expectation that your loved one can change. This script should be specific to behaviors and connected to the chemicals used. The script also needs to be honest and expressed with feelings. Expressing deep-seated feelings is very healing for family members and/or codependents.
- Establish a bottom line or boundary. Co-dependents have problems with boundaries and selecting a firm one is very healing for them. Enabling behaviors, although well intentioned, are quite destructive.
- Selection of time and place. Never intervene on someone in his or her own home or office. They will be much more vulnerable in someone else’s territory. Select the right time of day and the right day of the week.
- Rehearsal. Use the rehearsal to hear and evaluate each individual’s script, to make sure everyone is trained and understands the disease, and assess that they are for the proper motives. Also set an order of the presentation of scripts. The rehearsal also encourages members of the team to share their feelings in a safe and supportive environment.
- The intervention meeting. Without revealing the reason, the loved one is asked to the intervention site. Members of the core team then take turns expressing their concerns and feelings. The loved one is presented with a treatment option and asked to accept that option on the spot. Each team member will say what specific changes they will make if the addicted person doesn’t accept the plan.
- Follow-up. Involving a spouse, family members or others is critical in helping someone with an addiction stay in treatment and avoid relapsing. This can include changing patterns of everyday living to make it easier to avoid destructive behavior, offering to participate in counseling with your loved one, seeking your own therapist and recovery support, and knowing what to do if relapse occurs.
Consulting a Professional Interventionist
Consulting an intervention professional (interventionist), psychologist, mental health counselor, or an addiction specialist can help organize an effective intervention. Consider having the intervention professional attend the actual intervention to help keep things on track. It’s always a good to get professional help if your loved one:
- May be taking several mood-altering substances
- Has a history of serious mental illness
- Has had suicidal behavior or recently talked about suicide
- Has a history of violence
- Is in denial, likely to become angry or tends to minimize his or her situation
It’s especially important to consult an intervention professional if you think your loved one may react violently or self-destructively.
What if an Intervention is Unsuccessful?
Unfortunately, not all interventions are successful. Your loved one may refuse the treatment plan or may erupt in anger and insist that he or she doesn’t need help. He or she may be resentful and accuse you of betrayal or being a hypocrite. Emotionally prepare yourself for these situations while remaining hopeful for positive change. About eighty-seven percent of interventions result in the admission of the person into a treatment center immediately. Sixty-five percent of those who refused at first to get into treatment eventually do so, if the family sticks to their bottom line. If your loved one doesn’t accept treatment, be prepared to follow through with the changes you presented during the intervention.[1,2]
- Scripps. The Process of Intervention. [PDF]. Retrieved June 9, 2013, from http://www.scripps.org/sparkle-assets/documents/the_process_of_intervention.pdf.
- Mayo Clinic. Mental Illness. Retrieved June 9, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/intervention/MH00127.
By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor