When Intervention May Be the Best Approach

You’ve tried everything to get your loved one to stop using drugs or alcohol and nothing has worked so far. Screaming, hysteria, threats, punishment, or withholding affection – whatever tactic you may have used just seemed to make things worse. Does any of this sound familiar? Maybe now is the time when intervention may be the best approach.

Intervention is Not a Dirty Word

Despite the negative connotation many people associate with the word, intervention is a proactive and positive step that family members, friends, and others can take to help someone whose substance abuse or other addictive behavior has totally destroyed – or is in the process of destroying – their life. So, before going any further, start by thinking about intervention as one of the best approaches you can possibly take to assist your loved one or friend to get help to overcome his or her addiction.

What Intervention Really Is

Part of the reason that people are skeptical or fear intervention is that they don’t know what it is or how it works. In essence, intervention is a process to help convince the addict that now is the time to accept and go to treatment. Intervention can be considered the first step in the drug, alcohol, or other addictive behavior rehabilitation process. That’s it in a nutshell.

Can anyone perform an intervention? While concerned family members and friends may think they can do the intervention on their own, the personal connection, emotions, and circumstances may make it impossible to carry out. Unable to separate themselves from the pain and resistance of the addict, they may cave in and allow the addict to go one with his or her life as it is. This only sets back the prospect of getting treatment. It also solidifies the manipulative power the addict holds over the family and friends. And addicts are extremely adept at manipulation. It isn’t that they want to hurt those who love them, but they are incapable of rational thinking due to the fact that they are bound to their addiction.

For this reason, intervention is best conducted by a qualified, trained professional called an interventionist. This individual is highly skilled in overcoming the barriers addicts have to getting treatment. They can often get through to the addict when no one else can, helping them to realize exactly where they stand in terms of their addiction, and showing them there is a path out of addiction – if they’re willing to accept that they are addicted and go to treatment.

Why is an interventionist so critical in conducting an effective intervention? Think of it as experience versus simply wanting things to get better. In addition, being an outsider, the interventionist is not emotionally caught up in the drama that surrounds the addict’s life. The interventionist has years of experience in being able to judge addicts’ psychological and physical conditions. They know how to deal with resistance and denial and objections – and the physical cravings and urges that are pulling at the addict – and help the addict get to the point where he or she is willing to consider going to treatment.

Intervention Goals

While the primary goal of an intervention is to get the addict to accept and go into treatment, there are other goals of effective intervention. These include:

Learning effective tools to not only get the addict into treatment, but to also encourage and support the addict to remain in treatment, and to focus on the recovery of the addict once he or she returns home.

The overarching goal of intervention, then, is to do more than just get the addict to go into treatment. It involves eliciting the commitment from the addict to stick with treatment so that they are better able to learn and apply the fundamentals of recovery, to change family dynamics, and to show the addict that recovery is possible – if they want it and are willing to go through the hard work to apply the principles of recovery upon their return home.

Interventionist Qualifications

At a minimum, the interventionist you choose should have certification as a chemical dependency counselor. However, leading interventionists often go the extra mile to become a board-registered interventionist (BRI-I and BRI-II levels). In addition, you might look for degrees in addiction counseling, psychology, social work, or theology. Some interventionists may also have been employed in other professions within the treatment field, including work as directors, case managers, or substance abuse counselors at drug and alcohol treatment facilities. With experience helping hundreds or thousands of addicts into recovery, qualified professional interventionists know what it’s like to be addicted. Many of them were once addicted themselves, and an interventionist helped them realize that treatment was their best option to healing.

Do Interventions Always Work?

It is important to note, however, that while interventions are very often effective in getting an individual to accept and immediately go into treatment, they don’t always work. Sometimes an individual is too resistant to the idea, or only agrees to go out of coercion, but leaves treatment very quickly. Some are so addicted to multiple substances (alcohol, drugs, gambling, compulsive sex, and other addictive behaviors) that they cannot get past the cravings and urges. They may be so damaged physically and psychologically by their addiction that they cannot go through with getting treatment at this time. Sometimes forced hospitalization is required to deal with life-threatening conditions caused by an addiction. In fact, some families may consider intervention after a series of hospitalizations for overdose, seizures, heart conditions, organ damage or failure, or other mental or psychological conditions attributed to, or aggravated by, the loved one’s addiction.

You shouldn’t look at the possibility that intervention may not work as a reason to not use the process to help your loved one. What you need to remember is that without treatment, addiction is a progressive – and can be fatal – disease. Would you ignore the symptoms of diabetes or cancer in a loved one and refuse to get treatment? No, of course you wouldn’t. Addiction treatment is just as important and critical. Simply put, an addict cannot go into recovery without help. For many, this involves getting treatment.

Duration and Cost of an Intervention

The intervention is a 2- to 3-day process. The first day is devoted to the family meeting (also including close friends, co-workers and other job-related associates as appropriate) where the interventionist goes over the process of the intervention, and everyone practices what he or she will say during the intervention. Many individuals write down their statements, so that they can read it aloud during the intervention. Having it in front of them on paper helps them get through what can be a very emotional and difficult time – especially if the addict becomes confrontational, demanding, and resistant (which often occurs). Remember, it’s not the addict talking, it’s the addiction.

The second day is the day of the actual intervention. A site is chosen that’s convenient to everyone, and it may involve using a rented space such as a hotel meeting room. The addict is brought to the intervention, or goes to a location by invitation (thinking it’s for some other type of meeting or appointment), and the intervention begins. Upon entering the room, the addict sees the assembled group of family members, friends, and others, as well as the interventionist. The interventionist greets the addict, introduces himself or herself, and the intervention begins.

The intervention process lasts as long as it takes for the addict to accept treatment. This may be a couple of hours or less, or it may take longer. For some addicts who outright refuse to consider the idea of treatment, it may be over rather quickly. There is no general timetable that applies on all situations.

As for the cost of an intervention, a quick check on prices available over the Internet shows that the range is between $3,000 and $10,000. Before choosing an interventionist, however, be sure to check all the credentials of the interventionist and the organization he or she works for or who recommends the interventionist. Look for hidden charges – there shouldn’t be any. What costs are involved? There’s the cost of the intervention itself, which should be spelled out in any contract, as well as additional costs for flight, hotel room, meeting room, and air fare and/or rental car, if required. Make sure air fare isn’t first class and that hotel accommodations are reasonable – not five-star properties (unless this is what the family requires and requests). Food costs should not be included in the cost of the intervention.

What Happens After the Intervention?

Once the addict agrees to go into treatment, he or she is immediately taken to the treatment facility. Everything has been prearranged and there is no delay accepted – no going tomorrow or next week or I’ll think about it excuses are tolerated by the interventionist. Either the addict goes into treatment – accompanied by the interventionist right into the admissions center at the treatment facility – or the addict continues in addiction.

How Does the Treatment Process Work?

After the addict gets to the treatment facility and is admitted, usually the next step involves detoxification. This is the period of time required to rid their bodies of the addictive substance. Detoxification may be as short as 1 to 2 days or as long as 2 weeks, depending on many factors: type of addictive substance or substances, length of time addicted, frequency and dose of the substance, genetic factors, family and medical history, past treatments, number of relapses, and others. While detoxification may not be pleasant, it is medically supervised to ensure the patient’s safety and provide as much comfort and relief from withdrawal symptoms as possible. The fact is that addicts have to get clean before they can proceed to the next step of the rehabilitation process.

After detoxification, the patient begins the active phase of treatment. The overall treatment plan is tailored to each patient’s situation, based on needs and requirements. There is no single treatment plan that works for everyone. Generally speaking, treatment consists of a multidisciplinary approach using numerous treatment modalities or techniques. After an intervention, the addict is usually taken to a residential treatment facility. This is to ensure that the person receives complete supervision and has access to all the required services in the same facility – or contracted by the facility.

Some of the treatment approaches include individual and group counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other motivational enhancement training (MET), 12-step group meeting participation, educational lectures and discussions. Sometimes alternative approaches are also utilized such as hypnosis, meditation, or yoga. Certain individuals may be prescribed medication to help reduce or eliminate cravings and urges so that they can get to a point where they can concentrate on learning about their addiction and develop coping mechanisms to deal with them. Medication may also be prescribed to help combat anxiety, depression and/or suicidal thoughts.

The length of treatment also varies. Some addictions, especially polysubstance and co-occurring disorders (substance abuse and mental health disorder), require longer treatment stays than others. Individuals that leave treatment against the facility’s recommendations usually relapse very quickly.

After Treatment – What Then?

During the final stages of active treatment, the addict usually creates a recovery plan, working with his or her therapist or counselor. This is a kind of action plan for how the addict will deal with cravings and urges when they’re back in their community, what first steps he or she will take to resume normal life, reintegration back into the family, going back to work, and so on.

Many treatment plans include aftercare or continuing care counseling. This is considered extremely important for those in recovery, since the first 6 to 9 months post-treatment are the most critical. Whether it is professional counseling alone or in combination with continued 12-step group participation, the fact is that individuals in recovery need a solid support network. Without ongoing support, relapse is much more likely.

Family members and friends of the individual in recovery play an integral role in this support network. Ideally, while the addict was in treatment, family members received some form of family therapy. This is considered key to changing the home environment and behaviors that may have been contributing factors to the addiction – enabling the addict to continue for so long. Following completion of treatment, the addict’s family members can best help by joining and participating in the family component groups of 12-step organizations. For Alcoholics Anonymous, the family group is Al-Anon/Alateen. For Narcotics Anonymous, it’s Nar-Anon. For Gamblers Anonymous, it’s Gam-Anon. Nearly every 12-step group has a family component. A little research (go to the 12-step organization’s main website and search for family groups) will likely pay off. There are also non-12-step groups that offer family counseling.

Making the Decision

In the end, it’s often up to family members to take the difficult step to choose intervention as the best way to get their addicted loved one into treatment. Either the addict cannot, or will not, go into treatment on their own. Do not expect that the intervention will be easy. It usually is emotionally draining for all concerned. But the outlook for the addict without treatment – as well as family members – is a continued downward spiral. Surely the short-term discomfort is worth the long-term recovery of your loved one.
If you have exhausted all other efforts to get your loved one into treatment, maybe now is the time to consider intervention. It may be the only approach that will work to save the life of your loved one.