Addiction Intervention by Stopping Enabling: A Personal Story

Twenty-four years after my last drink I still remember one of the most important elements that led me to get treatment and work my recovery. It was my dearest friends who, in effect, had a little addiction intervention.  Back in those days, formal addiciton interventions were a rare thing. Usually there were just what’s called a "12 step call" – where someone from AA would show up and talk to you about their experience, with the hope that you would hear that you were not alone and there might be a better way.

I’m using the term addiction intervention loosely here, because this story is more about how family members and friends can help move someone toward recovery with simple changes in how you treat and support the addict.

My friend simply said to me, "Al and I went to an Al-Anon meeting."

Now you might think I would have reacted with, "Why! Who’s the alcoholic!?" But I knew at that point I wasn’t fooling anyone. In fact, my reaction was emotional, but it was an emotion best described as grateful.  I realized my friends really loved me and were worried about me. They had taken time to go to an Al-Anon meeting to get support for themselves, because they wanted to love me regardless of my obnoxious and destructive behavior.

It wasn’t long after that I reached out and asked for help.

Now I don’t for a minute think this will work for everyone, but the point is this: you can, as the person who loves the alcoholic or addict, do things that support the idea of recovery rather than the continued substance abuse.

You can stop enabling – don’t make it so easy for them.  This might take the form of refusing to make excuses for them, or refusing to clean up their messes.

You can’t pay their DUI fines or help them get out of debt – they made that bed, let them sleep in it.

For some, particularly parents or young adults in trouble, might find this almost imposssible. They are terrified of what will happen if they don’t continue to rescue their kid.  But are you really saving them? Or are you actually delaying their need to get sober?  If someone is always fixing up your messes, sending you money, and covering for you, there’s a lot less pressure to deal with the addiction.

A few other friends and family also participated, however unknowingly, is moving me toward recovery. I was very young when I got sober, and my parents cut me off financially. Let me tell you, they did it in a way that scared me. I was suddenly in a very vulnerable position and had to figure out what I was going to do to survive really quickly.  This was definitely another wake up call that precipitated my decision to go to rehab.

So while in some cases a professional addiction intervention might be a very smart move, and the only way to help an intransigent addict, there are little addiction interventions you can do in daily life to keep the pressure on to get help.