The Timing of Alcohol or Drug Intervention Is Critical

Hiring an interventionist to help convince a loved one that she needs to enter treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction can be expensive; the intervention itself can be time-consuming and emotional. The consequences of a failed intervention can be devastating, as it could actually alienate the patient and push her toward less healthy relationships, resulting in a situation that is worse than it was before the intervention. Friends and family who are desperate for a way to help often imagine the course of the intervention playing out in their heads (the end result being docile compliance with the plan for admission to a treatment center), and are crestfallen when the process does not go as planned.

Several factors can cause an intervention to fail. First, most interventions that are conducted without the aid of an experienced interventionist are not successful. Also, it is entirely possible that the patient will not connect with or trust the interventionist or that mental processing has been so damaged by prolonged ingestion of toxic substances that the person is not able to make rational connections between her behavior and the negative consequences playing out in her life. Another common reason for intervention failure is that the cravings for alcohol or drugs, or the fear of being without the feelings they bring, are strong enough to overcome any desire for change.

Intervention vs. drugs and alcohol

One of the most important aspects of intervention, however, is timing. If the intervention happens at the wrong time, it will fail and even the most experienced and trusted interventionist will be powerless to help. For some patients, their lives must be in such a chaotic state that intervention opens their eyes to the precariousness of their situation and overcomes the positive effects of drugs and alcohol — nothing less will get them to admit that they need help.

The reason why people abuse drugs and alcohol is that they become addicted to them, in both mind and body. They crave the mental state they enter when they are drinking or using drugs – it feels better than being sober. However, in addition to wanting to feel “high”, their bodies will become physically addicted to the point where painful withdrawal will take place if they do not continue to drink and use. A successful intervention must, therefore, convince the patient that the need to avoid the negative consequences of their continued behavior outweighs both pleasant feelings and the risk of painful withdrawal. For some, the negative consequences must be very serious to tip the scales.

Is the situation bad enough yet for an intervention?

So, when is the best time for an intervention? Well, it depends. For some, intervention will only be successful after some traumatic or catastrophic event. For others, the whisper of catastrophe on the horizon will be enough.

Many successful interventions occur after drinking or drug taking has resulted in criminal behavior. Being arrested for drunk driving, being charged with a DUI, or being arrested for drug possession can make the patient more amenable to intervention. In these cases, attorneys often act as de facto interventionists by succinctly setting forth the potential ramifications of a DUI or drug conviction. Because many courts consider voluntary admission to a treatment center to be a favorable, mitigating factor during sentencing, the opinion of a criminal attorney that treatment may reduce jail time can lend credibility to the intervention.

Other patients require less drastic situations in order to see the light. For some, marital problems or job performance issues that arise due to the patient’s drinking or drugging will be enough. Simply hearing from her spouse that he will leave her or from her boss that she will be fired if she continues on the present course will pave the way for a successful intervention. For others, actual divorce or unemployment may be the tipping point.

No matter where a patient is on the spectrum of negative consequences due to drugs or alcohol, a good interventionist will be able to identify the most vulnerable aspects of the patient’s life and show the patient that she is on a course for disaster. Success may depend, however, on how imminent disaster appears to be. Several interventions may need to be staged as the patient’s situation deteriorates in order convince her that immediate treatment is required.