Families desperate to find help for a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction who refuses treatment may turn to an intervention as a last resort. The truth is that a well-planned and executed intervention can help bring about much-needed change. It is the first step in the recovery process.
What is an intervention?
Although there’s often an element of fear and skepticism over what intervention is, the definition is simple. An intervention is a process used to convince the addict to accept and go into treatment. There are several kinds of interventions: informal ones conducted by the family alone, crisis interventions and classical interventions.
The classical intervention is the one most commonly used for the past 30 years and enjoys a high success rate. While there are variations in the methods used during the intervention, depending on the interventionist and the treatment facility, the overarching goal is the same: to get the addict to accept treatment.
Planning the Intervention
Once the decision is made to hold an intervention, the next steps involve careful planning to optimize the chances for success. In fact, more time is devoted to intervention planning than the intervention itself. Interventions typically take between 60 and 90 minutes. Planning an intervention should take a couple of weeks and include the following steps.
1. Hire a professional interventionist.
While family members could conduct an intervention, it’s generally not recommended. Overcoming the drama associated with confronting an addict in denial and refusing treatment is often too much for non-trained individuals. Professional interventionists, on the other hand, are skilled in overcoming barriers, getting through to the addict and helping him or her understand where they stand with addiction, and showing them that there is a path to overcome addition.
As an outsider, the professional interventionist is not vulnerable to the conflict and drama of the addict’s life. Furthermore, because of his or her years of experience, the interventionist knows how to judge the addict’s physical and psychological conditions, deal with resistance, objections and denials, and the constant strong physical cravings and urges. Helping navigate the addict to the end goal—going into treatment—is the primary reason to use a professional interventionist.
Addiction treatment centers can provide a list of interventionists. Look for one who is board registered and certified by the Association of Intervention Specialists.
2. Make treatment arrangements in advance.
Since the goal of the intervention is to get the addict to accept and immediately go into treatment, it’s necessary to make treatment arrangements in advance. That way, there’s no delay between the addict’s acceptance of help and physically going to the treatment facility. And the addict has no time to back out. The interventionist often accompanies the addict to the treatment facility.
Choose the treatment facility that will best address the needs of the addict. Work with the treatment facility to finalize financial aspects of the treatment, including insurance, payment plans and any available assistance.
3. Decide who will participate.
Interventions for drug and alcohol abuse generally consist of four to six people. These are the ones who know the addict the best, usually loved ones and family members, but also sometimes close friends, a co-worker or boss.
Do not invite individuals the addict dislikes, or anyone with current drug or alcohol addiction. In addition, if the prospective invitee is overly emotional and may cave to the addict’s demands to be left alone, this is probably not someone to add to the intervention list.
4. Provide educational materials.
After finalizing the participant list, gather educational materials and distribute them to each person who will be part of the intervention team. Everyone must take on the responsibility to learn as much as possible about addiction before the intervention takes place. The selected treatment facility is a good source for educational materials, as are the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
5. Arrange a date for the intervention.
Once the decisions about interventionist, treatment arrangements and participant list are complete, arrange a date for the intervention. If some participants need to travel to get to the intervention, factor this into timing of the event.
6. Meet in advance.
The interventionist will coordinate a pre-meeting of the intervention attendees, possibly more than one meeting. This is a crucial part of the intervention planning. During the pre-meeting, the interventionist will:
- Go over details and what each participant needs to do
- Set an agenda
- Encourage agreement on expectations
- Rehearse with participants
7. Prepare written statements.
An important part of a successful intervention is the reading aloud of written statements by each participant. These are personal reflections that voice how the addict’s behavior has hurt the individual and affected their life. The written statements are rehearsed during the intervention pre-meeting.
8. Expect emotional intensity and denial.
Going into an intervention is not something to be considered lightly. This is a time of intense emotions on the part of everyone involved. Participants must expect the addict to yell, argue vehemently, use abusive language and even make threats. It’s important to recognize that this isn’t the addict talking, but the addiction. Unable to think rationally because of alcohol or drugs, the addict cannot see the destruction his or her addiction created, especially on family relationships.
Here is where the interventionist breaks through the addict’s denial and systematically chips away at resistance until the addict begins to see accepting treatment as a viable choice or at least is willing to give it a chance.
9. Be clear about the goal: Going into treatment.
All the intervention planning will be pointless unless each participant is clear about the goal: going into treatment. This should be the only acceptable outcome. Granted, not every intervention will result in success, but a carefully planned and executed one conducted by a professional interventionist has a higher likelihood of achieving the goal.
10. Be firm on consequences.
There cannot be any waffling over the consequences of the addict refusing to accept treatment. Family members, for example, must be firm about what will happen if the addict says “no.” Often, this means completely cutting off the addict from the family: no contact, no financial support, no free ride living in the home. Knowing what consequences the family is ready and willing to impose—and stick to—is an integral part of planning an intervention.
Even if they don’t commit to treatment this time, don’t give up. Your show of support and involvement is still a big leg-up in your loved one’s eventual recovery, regardless of this speed bump on the road to get there. Learn more about what to do when an intervention “fails”.