When Intervention Fails

When the family members and loved ones of someone with a substance abuse problem make the decision to try an intervention, they enter into the process with the highest of hopes. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that an intervention, no matter how well organized or executed, will be enough to convince an addict that the time has truly come to make a change. It all may work out perfectly on television or in the movies, but in real life the powerful influence exerted by drugs or alcohol can be so overwhelming that those who are addicted will be unable to break through the walls of rationalization and denial that separate them from sobriety and healing.

Loved ones can pour out their hearts and their souls to an addict; they can issue threats or ultimatums, or they can promise their unconditional help and support throughout the rehabilitative process. But sadly, in many instances none of this will work, and the alcoholic or drug addict will still refuse to stop using or agree to seek professional help.

Separating Expectations from Reality

For some family members and friends, the failure of an intervention can be depressing and disheartening, while others might become so fed up they decide to wash their hands of the whole business and cut the addicted loved one out of their lives permanently. Both of these reactions may be understandable, but they are both based on false expectations about what an intervention is or is not capable of accomplishing. The truth is that we live in a society that has come to expect instant success and gratification, so if a certain course of action does not achieve immediate results, people have a tendency to get discouraged and give up instead of staying with it and seeing things through to the end.

This is most unfortunate when the subject is an intervention designed to persuade an addict to seek treatment, because the real point of such an action is to shake up the world of a substance abuser by changing the context within which he or she has been operating. An addict needs to know that their continued use of drugs or alcohol will have real and severe consequences, and that loved ones are no longer willing to stand idly by enabling them in any way, shape, or form.

While it would be wonderful if someone confronted in this way were to immediately agree to seek help, in many cases an intervention will not be enough in and of itself to achieve this ultimate end. Some addicts may simply need more time to process everything, or to get past their shock and anger, or to realize that everything they heard was not just talk, and that they really will be cut off financially, or not allowed to see their grandchildren, or be welcome to visit anymore until they agree to enter a treatment program. But just because an intervention does not succeed instantly, that does not mean that it has failed. That idea is short sighted and based on expectations that are entirely unrealistic.

Yesterday’s Failure is Tomorrow’s Success

If an intervention does not succeed right away, it is important that a substance abuser not be completely abandoned. Those who are least likely to face hostility or resentment should stay in contact with the addict, just to let him or her know that everyone is still thinking of them and is still ready to offer unconditional love and support whenever he or she is ready to enter treatment. A second intervention may even be a good idea in some cases, but only after some time has passed and it becomes clear that the first attempt was not enough to achieve the desired result.

But whatever course of action is chosen, the most important thing to realize is that there is actually no such thing as a failed intervention. The process involved in convincing a substance abuser to face up to the true severity of the problem and to ask for help can be long and arduous, and this is something that everyone must recognize going in. But regardless of whether or not an intervention pays immediate dividends, simply letting an addict know that the rules have changed and that nothing will ever be the same again is a constructive step that can play a vital role in bringing about a positive resolution to a complex and difficult problem.