How to Launch a Successful Intervention: The Dos and the Don’ts

Many people have come to think of the organized intervention as a last resort, something to turn to when everything else that has been tried has failed to get through to a substance abuser. But this is a mistaken idea, and a counterproductive one as well. In fact, interventions are all about finding a method to facilitate more effective communication; they are designed to make it easier for those who care about an addict to break through the walls of denial and hostility that can make it so difficult to reach someone who has fallen into the sinister clutches of drug or alcohol dependency. Interventions are an alternative to futility, and as such they can be the key that opens the door to sobriety for an addict at any stage of his or her disease.

But as has often been said, in some instances the cure can be worse than the disease. While interventions can make the decisive difference in the lives of troubled individuals, if they are handled poorly they can also backfire, sending addicts scurrying deeper into the holes they have dug for themselves, seeking cover from a truth that they feel driven to deny.

Interventions are serious business, and those planning such an action need to enter into the process with caution. There are a number of important factors that separate a successful intervention from a failure, and if you and those closest to you are planning one in order to help the addict in your family, you need to know ahead of time exactly what the dos and don’ts of intervention really are.

Dos and Don’ts: The Top Ten

  1. Do be sure to contact an addiction counselor or specialist who will help you set up your intervention. Professional expertise should be an essential part of the process – addicts are in a very sensitive psychological state, and they must be handled with great skill and care.

    Consequently, it is important that you don’t try to organize an intervention all on your own. No matter how many books or websites about the subject you may have read, personal advice from a trained expert is vital if you expect to successfully convince someone with a serious substance abuse problem to enter into treatment.

  2. Once you realize your loved one has a serious substance abuse problem, Doinitiate your intervention as soon as possible.

    The one thing you don’t want to do is postpone your intervention because you have managed to convince yourself that you still have time and that the situation is really not so bad. Family and friends are just as capable of denial and rationalization as the addicts they love, which is why you must learn to trust your initial instincts above all else. If your inner voice is telling you that the drug or alcohol use of a person you care about is out of control, you need to listen to that voice and do what you know deep down is right. If you decide to wait until your loved one has truly hit rock bottom to do something, it may be too late.

  3. Do meet with your intervention specialist at least three or four times, as a group, before the intervention, to make sure that everyone is on the same page and in agreement about what kind of approach should be taken.

    There are two reasons why you don’t want to go into it unrehearsed and unprepared. First, the last thing you want is an intervention where the people in attendance are working at cross purposes with each other. This can confuse the addict, cause fighting and disagreement among the participants, and completely undermine the effectiveness of the intervention. The second problem is that if people do not have the chance to prepare and practice what they are going to say, they are much more likely to be nervous and to have a hard time expressing themselves properly. In an intervention, clear and open communication between everyone involved is absolutely essential if you want to be sure that your efforts are going to be successful.

  4. On the day of the intervention, Dolet love and empathy be the ruling emotions in the room. You must keep the bigger picture in mind, and remember that no matter how disappointed you may be in your family member’s behavior, your motives for taking such a big step are entirely altruistic.

    On the other hand, above all else you don’t want to let anger become the dominant emotion in the intervention. When addicts are castigated instead of being encouraged, they will automatically switch to a self-protective mode. Defensiveness and defiance are natural human responses when we feel attacked, and your chances of convincing a substance abuser to seek help voluntarily when he or she is confronted with anger are somewhere between slim and none. You will have plenty of time later to talk to your sibling, spouse, parent, or close friend about how much their actions have hurt you, but before any of that you need to help them get past their addiction first, that must be the main priority.

  5. You Do want to focus on the present as much as possible. Talk to the addict about the problems they are experiencing now, and about the way his or her most recent actions have impacted their relationships with others.

    You don’t want to dig up the past if you can avoid it. Some things may be too big to overlook, but for the most part if you open up that can of worms there is no telling how long the intervention might go on. You don’t want to overwhelm an addict with guilt that will only backfire in the end.

  6. Do give an addict an in-depth description of the treatment/rehabilitation process. You need to convince your loved one that he or she will be in the hands of professionals who have seen it all and know what needs to be done to help a substance abuser beat an addiction.

    An effective sales pitch needs specifics; don’t give an addict a bunch of vague promises about how wonderful and fantastic treatment will be. Never forget, you are trying to convince someone to do something that he or she is likely to find unattractive, so your presentation needs to be thorough and persuasive.

  7. Do engage the addict in a dialogue. Throughout the duration of the intervention, the substance abuser must be given every opportunity to express anything and everything that he or she is thinking and feeling. To do otherwise is to show a lack of respect, which the addict will pick up on and resent.

    don’t lecture, preach, moralize, or condemn. No one is going to respond positively to an intervention if it is something inflicted on them against their will. What is happening may be unwelcome at the beginning, but if you handle things patiently and diplomatically things should change as the process unfolds.

  8. Do let the addict know there will be consequences if the drug or alcohol abuse continues. Boundaries and ground rules must be established and maintained, so the addict knows that your days of enabling and tolerating unpleasant, dishonest, and selfish behavior are over. You must make it clear that you will cut off all contact if the addict does not agree to get help, and that is a promise you must be prepared to keep for the sake of your own sanity as much as anything else.

    don’t negotiate with the addict. If your loved one is able to convince you or the other intervention participants to amend or weaken your ultimatums, it will leave the impression that none of you mean what you say and that all of the talk about consequences is little more than a bluff.

  9. Do what you came to do, which is to get the addict to agree to go to treatment. Once this has occurred, the intervention should stop immediately. At this point, the attitude of the addict is irrelevant; plenty of studies have shown that substance abusers who go to rehab reluctantly or against their will have a recovery rate that is just as high as those who go willingly or enthusiastically.

    Don’t get caught up in trying to get the addict to accept treatment with a smile. If your loved one shows resentment or anger or hostility, try not to take it personally, because that is really the addiction talking. Just get them to say ‘yes’ to rehab, and be confident that the rest will take care of itself.

  10. Finally, Do make sure that everything connected to the rehabilitation process has been planned out and arranged ahead of time. The treatment center you selected should be waiting for you to arrive, and whoever is responsible for transportation should be ready to pick the addict up and take them there immediately after the end of the intervention.

    And whatever you do, don’t agree to let the addict start treatment tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Drug and alcohol addictions are powerful and seductive enemies, and if you give a substance abuser time to think about it the power of the addiction might reassert itself and undo everything you have accomplished.