Drug Addiction Intervention Guide

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Drug addiction intervention can be a life-saving action. Someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, compulsive overeating, or another type of addiction is in serious trouble. If left untreated, addictions kill just as surely as untreated diabetes or high blood pressure. Addiction is a chronic, progressive, and serious disease. A drug addiction intervention can help someone face the fact they have a serious problem and get the help they need.

What is a Drug Addiction Intervention?

You have probably seen intervention situations portrayed in the movies or on television. A circle of concerned friends and family sits with the individual struggling with addiction and confronts them with their behavior. The tearful person being confronted agrees to go into treatment, and the story is over.

In reality, a drug addiction intervention is a structured meeting that takes courage and skill to organize. An intervention is a process in which family members, friends, coworkers, and others who know the individual struggling with addiction gather together and communicate their concerns to that person.

A professional interventionist, or someone trained to lead an intervention, runs the meeting. During the meeting, each person shares their concerns about the person’s behavior. The person is given a choice: face the consequences of their addiction, such as loss of employment, financial support, or other results, or enter rehab.

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What an Intervention is and What It is Not

An intervention is an educational process for both the person suffering from addiction and their family and friends. During the intervention process:

  • Family, friends, coworkers, and others meet with an interventionist. The interventionist’s professional experience with individuals struggling with drug addiction, alcoholics, and others can reassure and reaffirm what family and friends see happening. They can ask questions and get accurate information about the addiction and recovery process.
  • Everyone gets mutual support. When you are dealing with someone struggling with addiction, you may feel like you are the only one experiencing problems with that person. The intervention process enables the person’s entire circle of family, friends, and others to gather and support each other.
  • The person hears honestly how their behavior affects those they love. Individuals struggling with addiction are often firmly entrenched in denial. It is how they continue to justify their addiction and everything they’re doing to continue their habit.
    • During an intervention, concerned loved ones hold up the actions of the individual struggling with addiction like a mirror. If they’re brave enough to look into the mirror and face what they see, they can break through their denial. This may be the first time they learn about the many ways their addiction affects those around them.
  • An individual is given the chance for help. Part of the prep work before the intervention itself is held is to find a rehab center for your loved one. The desired result of an intervention is for the person to agree to go into recovery. The idea is to take care of all objections such as cost, travel, time off from work or school, and other issues to make it as easy as possible for someone to say “yes” to treatment and leave from the intervention for rehab.

That is the basic premise behind an intervention. There are some common misconceptions surrounding the entire intervention process.

An intervention is NOT:

  • The time or place to bring up every single thing that bothers you about the person. You are expected to focus what you share on the person’s behavior as it relates to their addiction and how it impacts your relationship. It is not the time to bring up other behaviors outside of the addiction.
  • It is definitely NOT a shaming circle. The goal isn’t to make the person feel ashamed and hopeless. They probably feel that way already deep down inside. The goal is to present facts so the person struggling with addiction can make a decision to get treatment. Shame, fear, and blame can cause a person to retreat even more firmly into denial to avoid the unpleasant feelings.
    • If you are not sure what this means or how to express what you need to say without blaming or shaming, talk to the interventionist and rehearse what you plan to say. Get some feedback from drug and alcohol counselors who understand the nature of addiction and can help you refine what you need to say so your message comes across compassionately and sympathetically.
  • It is not the time to back down. During the intervention process, each person shares how the behavior of the person struggling with addiction affects them and offers consequences if they do not enter treatment. At this stage of the conversation, the person may push back. It is easy to let your love for someone overwhelm your commitment to the intervention process.
    • After all, that person isn’t just someone off the street. It is your son or daughter, husband or wife, brother or sister, friend or colleague. It is hard. But letting them off the hook for their continued poor choices is just going to make things harder on them in the long run. Stick to the plan discussed with the interventionist and maintain your boundaries and your resolve.

3-plan-an-interventionWhen Should You Plan an Intervention?

It is hard to pinpoint the exact point when an intervention is warranted. Some people have the mistaken belief you have to wait until your loved one reaches “rock bottom” before staging an intervention. The problem with waiting for rock bottom is everyone’s rock bottom is different.

One person’s rock bottom may bring them to their knees in despair, while another’s rock bottom may bring them to the emergency room with an overdose or to the morgue. It is scary, but it is true. You cannot wait for rock bottom.

Usually, family and friends consider an intervention when the loved one’s behavior has gotten to the point where they’re afraid for their health or sanity. You may have tried to talk to the person about their behavior but gotten nowhere. As the addiction progresses, it may be apparent to you that talk alone will not convince your loved one to seek help. Stronger action is needed to save your loved one’s life. That can be a clear sign to call an interventionist.

Signs it may be time to consider an intervention include:

  • Significant changes in mood, appetite, behavior, or weight.
  • Criminal behavior associated with addiction, such as an arrest for shoplifting, drug dealing, or another crime related to their addiction.
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and other social events.
  • Quitting a job without reason, or getting fired for absenteeism and drug abuse.
  • Promises to quit using drugs that aren’t kept.
  • Hiding or lying about drug use.

If you are unsure of your next step, contact a drug and alcohol rehab center, addiction specialist, interventionist, or psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. Make an appointment and talk to them about your concerns. They can walk you through the intervention process and connect you with the best resources and professionals to help the person you love.

Intervention Risks and Benefits

There are few risks and many benefits of staging an intervention. Conducting an intervention cannot make a drug addiction worse, nor can it cause any psychological harm to the person struggling with addiction. Although your loved one may storm angrily from the room and threaten never to talk to you again, chances are good once they calm down, the lines of communication will be open once again.

There are many benefits of an intervention. While you do not have to wait until someone is seriously ill from drug addiction to stage an intervention, many families do wait until it is apparent nothing else is going to convince their loved one to get help. At that point, the benefits of the intervention far outweigh the risk. Someone’s life is in danger, and the intervention is like a life preserver thrown to a drowning person. Whether or not they grab the life preserver is up to them.

One of the least-talked-about benefits of an intervention isn’t for the individual struggling with addiction. It is for the family.

Addiction is a disease of isolation and loneliness. Often, families and friends of individuals fighting an addiction feel like they’re the only ones dealing with this issue. It is still socially unacceptable to talk openly about addiction and recovery in many circles. People act as if addiction is a failure of willpower rather than a disease, and it can be hard to find someone sympathetic and understanding with whom to discuss your feelings and worries about your loved one.

The intervention process brings many people together to discuss the situation, so you will feel less isolated and alone. There’s strength in numbers. By sharing your stories and love, you will support each other and find ways to give the loved one struggling with addiction support, too. Social networks and supports can help them recover and thrive. The entire intervention process can be beneficial to all involved.

4-typical-processA Typical Intervention Process

A typical intervention begins long before the actual meeting. Here’s what to expect during the intervention process.

  • Your first step is to find a professional interventionist. You can contact the Association of Registered Interventionists to find a board-registered interventionist. Alternatively, you can contact the admissions office of a rehab center you are considering for your loved one. Most can put you into contact with an interventionist to help you.
  • You will meet with the interventionist and make a plan together for the intervention.
  • A list of people who might attend the intervention is created. The group meets to discuss the person’s behavior and learn more about their condition. Treatment options are discussed.
  • A core team is created from the larger group of people who will attend the intervention. This team sets the date, time, and location for the intervention. The person struggling with addiction is not told this information.
  • The team presents a consistent message to the person. Most intervention meeting participants write down what they plan to say so they do not forget anything and can stay on message.
  • Specific consequences are identified. These will be presented to the loved one struggling with addiction if they do not enter treatment.
  • The intervention meeting is held. Members of the intervention team express their feelings and desire for the person to stop taking drugs. Consequences are shared if they refuse treatment.
  • The person must decide on the spot to enter treatment. If they do, the interventionist or someone else can drive them directly to rehab and help them through the admission process.
  • If the person doesn’t accept rehab, then the consequences discussed during the intervention must be enacted.
  • Lastly, family and friends may consider therapy or a program such as Al-Anon to help them understand the best way to support the loved one without enabling them. It is important for family and friends to learn how to support and encourage an individual in recovery to help them stay on the path of sobriety.

Does Intervention Work?

Some family members may be skeptical about interventions. But with a trained interventionist leading the meeting, 90 percent of people commit to receiving help following an intervention. That’s a promising number and a sign that investing the time and resources into a professionally led intervention is worth it.

5-intervention-and-relapseIntervention and Relapse

An intervention isn’t just for individuals who have just begun struggling with addiction. Interventions can also be staged for those suffering from a relapse. A relapse means someone who has been clean and sober for a period of time has returned to using drugs.

Relapse rates among drug addicts are about on par with relapse rates of other chronic illnesses. Those being treated for diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension are said to relapse when they return to their pre-diagnosis lifestyle and stop taking medications. The rate of relapse for drug addicts is between 40 to 60 percent. For those with type I diabetes it is 30 to 50 percent, and for hypertension and asthma patients, the relapse rate is between 50 to 70 percent.

Relapse isn’t a sign of moral weakness. If you have ever gone on a diet, changed your eating patterns, food choices, and exercise habits, lost weight, and then gained it back again, you have experienced what countless relapse sufferers have experienced. You know you have just done the exact same thing over again that caused your problems in the first place, but it was hard to maintain new lifestyle habits.

Addiction and recovery are no different. New habits, ways of thinking, friends, and situations must all be learned and embraced to support a full recovery. While relapse isn’t inevitable, it can and does happen to many people.

Individuals who have relapsed know they’re in trouble. An intervention can be an effective way of helping them face the struggle of admitting once again, they’re powerless over drugs, alcohol, and other addictions and need help.

Act Now

If someone you love is struggling with drug addiction, the time to act is now. The sooner you act, the faster they can embark on the road to recovery. An intervention may be what they need to acknowledge their addiction and enter treatment. Find an interventionist who can help your loved one now.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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