How to Stage an Intervention

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a chronic disease that affects the reward center of the brain. It also affects a person’s motivation, memory and the ability to control certain behaviors, which often lead to emotional and interpersonal problems. The disease is progressive and may lead to early death or disabilities if not treated.

An intervention may be needed to confront the addicted individual and help them break through denial. If a direct conversation fails to do the job, a structured meeting can be arranged with friends, family, and an addiction therapist. To know when that time comes, it helps to be able to recognize the characteristics of a substance abuser and the factors that complicate addiction.

What Are the ABCs of Addiction?

  • Inability to abstain
  • Problems with behavioral control
  • Craving
  • Diminished ability to perceive problems

What Kinds of Factors Affect Addiction?

Researchers say that far more is involved in addiction than the reward system of the brain, and early exposure to substance abuse may play a major role in the brain’s development. Other factors include the following:

  • Genetics
  • Biological deficits in the brain’s reward system
  • Distorted feelings and perception
  • Lack of support systems or interpersonal skills
  • Early exposure to trauma or stress
  • Distorted value systems or attitudes
  • Lack of connections to self, others and something greater than the self
  • Co-existing mental disorders

What Behaviors Show That an Intervention Is Needed?

It may be hard for family and friends to talk to a person who has a problem with addiction. It is also common for the user to deny that there is a problem, making the conversation even more difficult. That is why it helps to have an addiction specialist or experienced the professional present. Addicts often have co-existing conditions, such as anxiety or depression, that affect their habit. These connections may be hard to see, but many signs are more visible. While signs of addiction vary depending on the type, one or more of these outward signs could apply:

  • Problems with relationships
  • Secretive behavior
  • Anger and aggressiveness
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Legal problems
  • Health issues
  • Decline in personal appearance

What Is the Difference Between Addiction and Abuse?

Substance abuse occurs when a person uses illegal or legal substances in ways they should not be used. This could include excessive drinking, driving under the influence, taking someone else’s prescription medication, taking over-the-counter medication incorrectly or taking too many of one’s own prescription medication at the same time. Reasons may include wanting to feel better, get away from stress or avoid reality.

Many people recognize these behaviors and stop before the situation gets worse. Addiction happens when a person cannot stop. It continues no matter what it costs in personal welfare of the user, the family and others. The urge never goes away, and the goal of living becomes meeting the need for the substance. That’s when an intervention is needed.

How Does an Intervention Take Place?

An intervention can take place for any of the following reasons:

  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Illegal drug abuse
  • Eating disorder
  • Other compulsive behaviors

What Is an Intervention?

It is a structured, preplanned meeting where people get together to confront a user about the results their behavior is having on them and the people they encounter. It usually helps to have a trusted but neutral person steering the conversation, which typically consists of these carefully planned steps:

  • Providing the opportunity for loved ones to express their concerns
  • Pointing out hurtful patterns of behavior
  • Giving each person a chance to say how they will react if things don’t change
  • Offering a treatment plan or other alternative

A successful intervention includes the following:

A plan

A family member or friend recognizes the need for an intervention and reaches out to others who are affected. Ideally, the group asks an addiction specialist, therapist, social worker, psychologist, mental health counselor or religious authority to act as a liaison. The user may feel angry, resentful or betrayed, so it is good to have a neutral person present. Although some interventions take place without a professional, it is better to have one, especially if the person being confronted has a history of mental illness, violence, self-harm or other complicating factors.

Information about the problem

Members of the group need to understand how bad the abuse is and what treatment plans are available. It may also be helpful to speak with treatment centers and check out details like insurance plans and modalities before the meeting. It is best to have a pre-approved plan beforehand.

The details

The team needs to work together to decide what roles each person will play. Those outside the family, for instance, may decide to focus only on facts. Close loved ones and family members might get too emotional to keep a clear head. Each participant will decide on an action to take if the user refuses to get help. This could include actions like moving out or cutting off financial aid.

“I” statements

Each person needs to plan what he or she wants to say, including stories of specific behavior. It is always helpful to use “I” instead of “you” to avoid heaping blame on the person they are trying to help.

The meeting

Part of planning involves finding a time and place for the gathering and devising a plan to get the loved one there without knowing the reason. At the meeting, everyone speaks before submitting an option for treatment and asking for an immediate response.

The results

There is no guarantee that the user will agree to the plan. While everyone needs to make clear what their actions will be if the person refuses help, the use of threats and anger is counterproductive.

The follow-up

The road to recovery is long, and everyone needs to do everything possible to support the person in recovery. This includes following up via social contact, creating safe situations and offering a kind ear. The more threatened a person is, the more defiant he or she is likely to become.

Who Should Be on the Intervention Team?

Results are usually more successful if the people in the group are loved or highly regarded by the user. This could be a best friend, minister, coach or loved one. It should not be anyone who has uncontrolled anger or emotional issues, a problem with substance abuse, an adversarial role or an inability to control words or actions. It should also not include anyone who might have mixed emotions about the person’s recovery. In other words, no one should have anything to gain if the intervention fails.

What Happens if the Addict Refuses to Get Help?

The possibility always exists that the addicted individual will refuse to accept the advice of the group. The goals of the intervention are to get the user to recognize the problem, see an opportunity for recovery and make immediate changes. If this does not happen, it does not mean there will not be a recovery. It may mean that rehab will take a different path or more effort on the part of friends and family. An alternative might be to gently persuade the person to enter outpatient treatment.

Why Does an Intervention Fail?

Some possible reasons include:

  • Refusal to accept treatment
  • Use of substance prior to or during the meeting
  • Emotional or judgmental participants
  • Refusal of the person to stay for the meeting
  • Aggressiveness or violence by the user

What Happens if the Intervention Fails?

Even if the intervention fails, loved ones may be able to stage another one when the user realizes that they are no longer in control and have more to lose than to gain from addiction. While people can go “cold turkey” sometimes, professional treatment carries a greater chance of success. Threats and bartering never help, and neither does failing to go through with consequences. People who have problems with substance abuse often develop and use the ability to manipulate others. In some cases, getting treatment for a co-existing problem, such as depression or ADHD, may make it easier to approach rehabilitation.

What Happens During Treatment?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 40 to 60 percent of users relapse after receiving treatment. Treatment often involves cycles of ups and downs and may require more than one kind of therapy. The good news is that there are many levels of rehab with various treatment options. The goal is to find the ones that work.

The first step of any treatment plan is detox, and that means quitting the substance and going through withdrawal. When the substance has been totally released, the body can start a new drug-free cycle. Detox can cause severe discomfort or even death and is more successfully done under medical care. Residential facilities can supervise the process, keep patients safe and prevent relapse.

After detox, patients who participate in an ongoing treatment plan have a greater chance of success, but levels of care vary. Therapy may be residential or outpatient, and treatments may include medications to reduce cravings, life-skill coaching or group therapy. Individuals are also encouraged to participate in support groups or engage in activities like journaling, volunteering or enrolling in classes. Part of rehab also includes evaluation for physical or mental conditions that influence recovery.

Why Is Intervention Important for the Family?

Addiction affects everybody in its path, and many families benefit from family counseling. It is not easy to live with people who are abusing drugs or alcohol. If addiction progresses, family members could face problems like unemployment, shame, legal issues, medical emergencies or death. Family members often develop their own conditions as a result of the chaos. These include conditions like anxiety, depression, panic attacks, backaches, headaches, and digestive problems. Children of parents with addiction problems often develop behavioral or academic problems, and they face a higher risk of becoming addicted themselves than their peers.

Unless families are willing to admit there is a problem and get help, things will not change. If the substance abuser refuses to enter rehab, family members can still get help for themselves. This will help restore balance to the family and provide ways to cope with the uncertainty and stress of living with a person with a substance abuse problem. In some cases, volunteering to go to counseling with the user may ease the road to recovery.

Center City Recovery can help you and your loved ones with the process of intervention and entering a rehab. You can call us 24/7 to speak to a caring and compassionate addiction treatment specialist. Also, the Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a wealth of information on resources, including links to self-help groups and peer groups. It also provides a national list of agencies and treatment centers in all 50 states as well as links to emergency hotlines.