Could an Intervention Save Your Family from Financial Ruin?

By Millie Anne Cavanaugh, Esq.

Given that use of alcohol or drugs can impair the parts of the brain responsible for rational thought, it is no surprise that some people suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction cannot recognize when the time has come to seek treatment. As such, it is typically up to family and friends to identify the need for drug or alcohol rehab and take the steps necessary to make it happen. However, since alcoholics or drug addicts are still legally permitted to make health care decisions for themselves, a patient’s unwillingness to engage in the treatment process can quickly thwart even the most well intentioned loved ones.

Enter the interventionist. A person who stages an intervention seeks to insert himself into the patient’s current cycle of addiction in order to effectuate treatment and recovery. In many instances, the support of an interventionist may give loved ones the confidence they need to refuse take no for an answer with regard to drug or alcohol rehab. In other cases, the interventionist may be the only person able to break through the muddled thinking common in substance abusers and get them to see the wisdom of entering an addiction treatment program.

Whether they stage their own meeting or hire a professional to handle the job, loved ones who engage in drug or alcohol intervention show incredible fortitude in the face of almost impossible personal conflict. For most, the reluctance to intervene is based on the fear that the substance abuser will resent them for the intrusion into their personal affairs. A good interventionist works with loved ones prior to the intervention to alleviate these fears and develop strategies to help minimize the damage to personal relationships. A drug or alcohol interventionist will also be able to show loved ones that the alternative to intervention could be serious injury or death; this is one of the most effective motivators for reluctant participants.

Unfortunately, the need to intervene in substance abuse may not be self-evident. Some loved ones may not recognize the danger signs or even be familiar with addiction. While medical professionals may see an advanced alcoholic on the verge of disaster, family members may see Uncle Joe, having one too many beers again at this year’s Fourth of July barbeque. In other cases, “loved” ones may just not care enough to get involved in, or pay for, someone else’s personal demons.

However, in some situations, loved ones have more than just an emotional interest in an alcoholic’s or drug addict’s recovery from substance abuse. To be blunt, failure to intervene in a loved one’s addiction can cause financial ruin.

Drug or alcohol intervention can help prevent financial damages related to drunk driving injuries

Failure to address substance abuse issues in spouses, children, or employees can have disastrous legal consequences. Drunk or drugged driving is one of the most dangerous activities that a substance abuser can undertake as it puts innocent victims at risk. When third parties get hurt, those responsible must typically pay money to compensate the victim. Although the driver of a vehicle obviously bears the brunt of criminal and civil liability if a collision occurs, they are not the only actors who are on the hook for the behavior. In some cases, those defendants with the deepest pockets may be left holding the bag.

If the drunk driver is driving a vehicle owned by a parent, spouse or employer, the owner can be sued in court for damages simply because they owned the instrument that caused the harm. This kind of liability is typically covered by car insurance.

However, if a person allows an intoxicated individual to drive their car, they can also be sued for negligence in lending the vehicle to someone who drove under the influence. If the owner was not aware that the driver was drunk at the time the vehicle was lent, but did know the person had a previous incident or was a substance abuser, liability can also attach. Whether or not automobile insurance covers this type of liability would depend on the wording of the policy. Many people do not realize that if the victim sues for punitive damages, no insurance policy will cover that. Spouses and parents of drunk drivers can find themselves in any one of the above scenarios if they own any part of the vehicle involved in the incident. Could you cover a multi-million dollar lawsuit if your teen paralyzes someone during a DUI?

If your husband hits a pedestrian while under the influence, could your family weather the financial costs that come, especially since the husband will be in jail rather than earning an income? Even if a spouse does not own the vehicle driven by the drunk driver, victims may still be able to access the innocent spouse’s assets if they are co-mingled with the driver’s assets. This can lead to financial disaster for the family, including loss of savings and even the family home.

Drug or alcohol intervention can prevent financial ruin by helping the addict keep his job

If the drug or alcohol abuser is also the family breadwinner, failing to intervene can have devastating financial consequences, even outside of a courtroom. Although many drug users and alcoholics in the early stages of addiction manage to hold a job and perform adequately enough to avoid being fired, as the disease progresses job performance typically becomes so unacceptable that the person is no longer employable. If they do manage to hang on to their job, they will often be underemployed due to their substance abuse. High-functioning alcoholics may be in high-powered jobs and seem immune, but even for them the substance abuse will eventually have an impact.

One of the most common job-performance issues associated with substance abuse is attendance. Addicts and alcoholics often find themselves unable to wake up and get to work on time due to hangover or late-night partying. As the months progress, employers become less able or willing to overlook absences and tardiness. The most senior executives may find themselves with a pink slip if they are unable to get themselves to work on time.

Even if attendance is not an issue, a substance abuser is rarely able to maintain their pre-addiction levels of job performance for very long. Changes in brain chemistry and body function can lead to problems with accuracy or efficiency. These changes, whether dramatic or gradual, will eventually come to the attention of powers that be. If managers and human resource representatives have been trained to detect substance abuse issues in the work force, the employee may be able to get treatment without losing his or her job. More commonly, however, the employer will simply fire the employee without even attempting to determine what has caused the change. Going forward, the employee will find it hard to get a new job without a positive reference for the most recent employer. If they do manage to land a new position, attendance and performance issues will quickly resurface.

Another way alcoholism can undermine a career is when the abuser drinks to much at an office party or at a business lunch or event. The alcoholic may get sloppy or say the wrong thing; they may reveal something that harms the company or a deal that is in progress. They may simply embarrass the company by acting inappropriately.

If a breadwinner is suffering from alcoholism or drug abuse, an intervention may be a critical step to ensuring that the person gets the treatment he needs without bankrupting his family. A professional interventionist may be able to communicate directly with supervisors and co-workers to both gather background information about the person’s current stage of addiction and, more importantly, encourage the employer to hold the job open and support the employee during treatment and recovery.