Recently, we helped a woman who called us wanting to know if she should stage an intervention for her sister, whom she suspected was abusing alcohol and drugs. We get that question a lot at Alpine Recovery Lodge. It’s difficult to watch a loved one struggle with addiction – and an intervention might seem like the best way to help.
Interventions can be effective, but they’re not always the best choice. In this post, we’ll explain what you need to know about interventions, so you can decide whether holding one is something you should do.
What is an Intervention?
An intervention is a face-to-face meeting between a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and the people who have been affected by the abuse. Most often, the attendees include family members and close friends of the person who is struggling with addiction.
Sometimes, the people who want to stage the intervention will enlist the help of a professional. It can be helpful to have someone there who understands addiction and can guide you through the process.
For that reason, it’s very important to understand when an intervention is appropriate and how to organize it.
When is an Intervention Appropriate?
An intervention may be the best way to get your loved one to confront their addiction and understand the ways it’s affected the people who love them. Let’s review some of the ways to tell if an intervention is appropriate for your loved one.
The first sign that an intervention may be appropriate is denial. If your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol and attempts to address it casually have failed, it may be time to take a more formal approach and stage an intervention. Sometimes, being confronted with all the ways their behavior has affected people may help open the addict’s eyes to the reality of their situation.
Another potential sign that it’s time for an intervention is if the person you love has become a danger to themselves or others. For example, if they’ve been arrested for driving under the influence or if they’ve blacked out, they need help. These behaviors aren’t safe and may cause real and lasting harm.
It’s very common for people who love a person who’s struggled with addiction to enable their behavior in various ways. For example, you might:
- Loan them money even if you know they’re using it to buy drugs
- Make excuses for their behavior and help cover for them when they renege on obligations
- Pick up the slack in caring for their kids or home
- Give them a place to stay when they’re using drugs or alcohol
An intervention may be a way to let your loved one know that the enabling behavior is going to stop. In other words, you can tell them that their addiction is going to have consequences. Sometimes, the threat of withdrawing assistance can be enough to get your loved one to admit that they need help.
Finally, you may want to consider a group intervention if you’ve tried talking to the person one-on-one and it hasn’t worked. It’s possible that the inclusion of other people might get through to them.
When is an Intervention Not Appropriate?
There are times when an intervention is not appropriate. It can be a scary and difficult thing to confront someone you love about their addiction. Let’s talk about some of the things that might mean that an intervention isn’t something you should consider.
The first and biggest issue that rules out intervention is mental illness. It’s very common for people who struggle with addiction to have a dual diagnosis of a mental disorder. In fact, 50% of people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have a dual diagnosis.
The reason that mental illness can complicate an intervention is that the person being confronted may not have the emotional wherewithal to cope with the intervention. In some cases, an intervention with a professional who’s equipped to understand the dual diagnosis may be appropriate, but it’s not the time to try an intervention on your own.
Another thing that might rule out an intervention is your attitude about addiction and recovery. If any of these things apply to you (or to anyone who might be involved with the intervention), you should reconsider:
- You’re angry with the person and unable to control your anger
- You’re judgmental on the topic of drug and alcohol abuse
- You’re scared to the point that you can’t remain calm
Do not attempt an intervention if the person you’re confronting has a history of violent behavior or suicidal ideation. Any kind of confrontation may be dangerous to them and to you. There are other ways to get help if you need to.
Finally, it’s very important to be prepared to follow through on any consequences you mention during the intervention. If you can’t stick to what you say, there’s no point in holding an intervention.
What Can You Do to Increase Your Chances of Success?
Now that you know when an intervention is appropriate and when it’s not, let’s review some of the things you can do to make your intervention more likely to succeed.
- Invite only people who can offer the right kind of support and feedback. Anybody who is angry, co-dependent with the person being confronted, or likely to continue enabling behavior should not be included. An intervention is not meant to shame or confuse the person who’s addicted.
- Learn as much as you can about the substances your loved one is abusing. You’ll be better able to make your points if you understand the dangers of fentanyl addiction or whatever your loved one’s substance of choice is – and knowledge can also make you feel more secure as you approach the intervention.
- Be prepared with treatment options. For example, you might find a detox and recovery program in your area, print a list of local Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and bring some printed resources to share with your loved ones.
- Have a plan. If you’re working with a professional, they should take the lead. If not, choose one person who can be calm and have them run the show. This is not a time when you want participants to be shouting over one another or vying for attention.
- Choose a place that’s comfortable for the person being confronted. Never stage an intervention in a public place or in a place that the addict will associate with addictive behavior.
- Avoid “you” statements that shame and blame the person who’s abusing drugs. Instead, use “I” statements to explain how their behavior has affected you.
- Be prepared to follow up. If you issue ultimatums or arrange for treatment, check in with your loved one and see if they’ve followed through. Make yourself available to help within the parameters you’ve laid out.
- End it if things get out of hand. If the person being confronted becomes angry and lashes out, you should not continue. That may be a sign that you need professional help to confront them in the future.
Even if you do everything correctly, an intervention may still fail. Be prepared for that and make sure that you stay true to whatever you said about ending enabling behavior. Sometimes, the person who’s struggling may come around after having some time to think about it.
Staging an intervention can be a positive thing if you understand the risks and do it properly. The key is to do your best to determine if the person you love might be receptive to a group intervention – and to follow the steps we’ve outlined here to increase your chances of success.
If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, click here to view our treatment options and get in touch with us. We’re here to help.