Drug and Alcohol Interventions

Most people are familiar with the concept of an intervention, thanks to popular media, but many people are unsure of what actually takes place during one. There are several different methods of interventions, although the most common approach uses an orchestrated confrontation about the addiction problem, attended by several friends and family members. An intervention is meant to help an addict overcome his or her denial about the problem, so that he or she can get the help he or she needs. 

Intervention Statistics

According to the Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 22.2 million Americans (8.5 percent of the population) meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence in the past year. About 2.8 million had problems with both alcohol and drugs, 4.5 million had problems with just illicit drugs, and 14.9 million had problems with just alcohol. However, only 4 million people (1.5 percent of the population) received treatment for substance abuse. This means that only 19.1 percent of those abusing illicit drugs receive treatment, and only 8.2 percent of those needing help for alcoholism actually received it.

The largest reason people did not receive treatment was because the addict did not believe he or she needed it. This was the reason that about 94.6 percent of those who needed treatment did not get any.

Intervention can be one way to help people overcome this denial and actually enter treatment. According to the Association of Intervention Specialist, more than 90 percent of addicts who undergo the traditional model of intervention choose to seek treatment.

Most people who sought help received treatment through a self-help group (2.1 million), while 1.5 million were outpatients at a dedicated facility, 1 million entered a rehab facility as an inpatient, and the rest were treated in a mental health center as an outpatient, in a hospital as an impatient, in a private doctors office, in an emergency room, or in jail.

What is an Intervention?

An intervention is a highly planned and organized meeting in which friends and family members confront a person with a drug or alcohol problem in order to help a person receive the treatment he or she needs. Although it is typically associated with drug and alcohol problems, interventions can be used for almost any behavioral health problem, including sex addictions, eating disorders, gambling problems, and mental health disorders.

An intervention must be carefully planned to provide the right environment. Because an intervention can be an emotionally charged event, when it is not done correctly, it can actually worsen the problem. An addict can feel like they are being ambushed, rather than supported. This could cause further problems in the relationships, and the addict may turn to more drugs and alcohol rather than seeking treatment. Many people choose to use a certified interventionist to help plan and facilitate the event to ensure it is done correctly.

How to Plan an Intervention

The planning stage of an intervention is the most import. The standard type of intervention is planned in secret, but there are types of intervention models that include the addict in at least some parts of the planning stages.

There are a few different stages in planning an intervention. First, the person or persons planning the intervention have to decide whom to invite. It is best to keep the numbers low, and to only invite those close to the addict. Then, each person in the group must plan what he or she will say to the addict during the intervention. Only what is planned beforehand is actually spoken at the intervention, to mitigate the potential for strong emotions. Each person also has to decide upon a unique consequence that they will enact if the addict does not decide to enter treatment. It has to be something that the person will actually do, if the intervention is unsuccessful.

It is also important during the planning stage of an intervention to research the condition in question, such as alcohol or drug addiction. This can provide family members and friends factual, objective information to neutrally discuss with the addict. It also can help an addict know that he or she is not alone, not to blame, and just needs help.

You want to pick a time where the person will not have anything else going on, as well as being sober. An intervention should always happen while an addict is sober, rather than under the influence, to ensure he or she is present, remembers the situation, and will not act outrageously due to the drugs or alcohol. Sometimes, this might mean that the intervention takes place early in the day.

When planning an intervention, it can be difficult to know whom to invite. It is essential to find the right people to create a supportive environment, rather than one filled with accusations, emotions, and negativity. There only needs to be a handful of guests, between 5 and 10. It is best to invite close friends and family members, although a close co-worker might be appropriate as well. For some people, having a spiritual leader, such as a priest or rabbi, would be appropriate. Some of these spiritual directors are qualified to lead the intervention as well.

There are some people who should not be invited to the intervention, no matter how important a role they play in the addict's life. These include people who have drug or alcohol problems of their own, have violent tempers, have trouble keeping their composure, have mental health problems, are disliked by the addict, or will otherwise pose a risk of damaging the intervention. If it is important to have them speak at the intervention, they can always write down what they want to say, and let someone else read it.

When doing a traditional confrontational intervention, it is important to practice the event before hand. The people who are involved with the intervention should meet a day or two before the event, without the addict, to go over everything and rehearse what they will say. This provides the group a forum to discuss the possible reactions of the addict to these statements, and practice how to respond to these reactions. Participants will be better equipped to handle the potentially negative reactions of the addict, which can help them to not become too emotional or angry. This can help the intervention run smoothly.

A professional interventionist is not required, but it is recommended. A professional interventionist can help to plan the event, and facilitate the statements so that everything will run smoothly. Interventions naturally trigger strong emotions, and they can quickly become filled with anger, hurt, shame, and fighting if not led correctly. A professional knows how to diffuse a situation before it gets out of hand.

A professional will also help the group to practice the intervention beforehand and prepare the participants for what type of response to expect during the actual intervention. If the addict has a history of violent behavior, it is best to work with a professional.

It is often best to work with an interventionist, although they are by no means required. Many rehab centers offer intervention services, or will connect prospective clients with an interventionist.

What to Expect from an Intervention

The actual process of an intervention depends on the method. The most common method uses carefully planned confrontation to help a person acknowledge the problem. In this method, the invited parties meet at a particular location and time. Then, someone will bring the addict to this location. Most of the time, the addict will not know what to expect, although some methods include telling the addict what is happening beforehand.

Once the addict arrives, the leader of the group or the interventionist will explain to the addict why everyone is gathered. Then, the intervention will proceed as planned. This will include each person at the intervention making his or her prepared statement, followed by a detailed consequence. Then, the addict is provided details about a treatment program and an ultimatum: either they enter treatment right away, or they will face the previously stated consequences.

The intervention might hit some hiccups, especially if the addict responds and behaves badly. It is important for those in attendance to not say anything that has not been planned beforehand, as this can lead to even more anger and resentment. Instead, it is essential to keep the intervention on track, according to plan.

Care should be taken when planning what each person will say at the intervention. It should be a simple statement that provides an example of behavior that concerns the individual. The statements should concentrate on being "I" statements, rather than "you" statements. They should not blame, guilt, shame, or otherwise emotionally harm the addict. Instead, they should present a concerning behavior pattern to the addict to try to get him or her to see and acknowledge the problem. Examples include:

  1. I get concerned about you when you miss work in order to drink.
  2. I get scared that you will hurt yourself when you drive after having used drugs.
  3. I feel like you care more about getting high than being with me.
  4. Your children get scared when they see you drinking.

The consequences are an important component of the intervention. These dictate what will happen if the addict does not enter treatment. They need to be severe, but not too severe. Their purpose is to stop the enabling of the addiction and protect the victims of the drug and alcohol abuse, in the case that an addict does not seek treatment.

They must be something that the person will actually act out; otherwise, there is no benefit to the intervention. The consequences should always emphasize the love and support of the addict. A person should emphasize that they cannot handle the abuse or addiction anymore and must act to help his or herself. Examples of consequences include:

  1. Taking away custody of children
  2. A partner moving out of the house
  3. Ceasing to financially support the addict
  4. Taking away a person's car

Interventions can get very heated and emotional, especially when they are done without the knowledge of the addict. Many addicts live in denial of a problem, and when they get confronted with the problem, their first reaction is anger and resentment. This covers up the guilt, shame and other emotions they often feel about their problem.

An addict will most likely respond with anger and resentment, and might even try to leave the intervention. They might say vicious things to each person, potentially furthering relationship damage. They might act out, get violent, or otherwise show anger. However, they might also cry, get sad, feel rejected or unloved, or otherwise feel left out or unsupported. An addict might also just sit and listen to everything and agree. How an addict responds largely depends on the addict's personality, the level of denial, and other facets of the situation.

Although many interventions go smoothly, there is the risk that it will go badly. Careful planning and using a professional can help to ensure it will go well.

If the addict does not accept the treatment option, everyone must still go through with the consequences. An intervention is just as much about stopping the enabling of the addict and helping the victims, such as children and spouses or partners, as it is about getting the addict help. If anything, an intervention will help the loved ones find a way to move on with their life and no longer be harmed by the addict's behavior. Additionally, an intervention will often plant a seed in an addict's head, and he or she will seek treatment further down the road.

It is natural to feel dejected after a bad intervention. The relationship between the loved ones and the addict will often feel damaged beyond repair. However, those who have taken part in the intervention should remember that in the long run, the addict will recognize the intention behind the intervention.

It is also important to remember that only a person can change him or herself, no one else can. When a person is determined to ruin his or her own life through drugs or alcohol, there is only so much a loved one can do. It is important to take a stand and not let it ruin other people's lives as well. It can feel bad to see a loved one suffer, and it can be tough to bear the brunt of the addict's negative feelings, such as anger and resentment about the intervention, but it is important to remember it was done for a reason.

Researching Treatment Options

Before an intervention, it is important to research treatment options and find the right one for the situation. It is important to set everything up so that as soon as the intervention is over and the addict has agreed to treatment, they are transported to the treatment. This prevents the addict from changing his or her mind between the intervention and entering treatment.

There are several options for treatment, including hospitalization, partial hospitalization, residential rehab, and intensive outpatient programs. For most cases, intensive treatment, either inpatient or outpatient, at a dedicated facility works best. When deciding upon a treatment facility, it is important to decide whether a person should go to treatment near their home or out of state, what type of program will work best with the person, and more. By doing some basic research online and talking with the facilities, families can find the best option for their situation.

Treatment facilities are familiar with the intervention, and most will help with the whole process. They will easily be able to prepare for the arrival of the addict once the intervention is over.

Intervention Methods

There are several different models for an intervention. Although most interventions will follow one specific type, some professionals will change the method depending on the situation at hand, which is known as the field model. Some interventions last longer than just the one event, especially for some of the models such as the ARISE and Systematic methods.

An intervention can either be direct or indirect. A direct approach focuses on the addicted individual to get him or her into treatment. An indirect intervention is for the co-dependent family members in order to improve their effectiveness at getting the addict help.

The Johnson Model of intervention is the one with which most people are familiar. It began with Dr. Vernon Johnson in the 1960s. This is the method where friends and family members surprise an addict and confront him or her about the problem. There is some criticism that this method negatively affects the addict rather than helps, because of the ambush and feelings of being attacked.

The Systemic Family Model typically uses the direct approach, rather than indirect. Instead of having one meeting that confronts the addict, this approach takes place during ongoing meetings with a therapist. In these meetings, the entire family talks about everyone's contributions to the addiction, and what they need to do to solve the problem. The focus is on encouraging the addicted person to cease using the substance, rather than confronting the denial. Instead of focusing merely on the addict, it looks at what needs to change to stop the problem and get help for the whole family. This method works best on those who are overly defensive or hostile.

The ARISE model is very similar to the Johnson model, but the addict is invited to the intervention, rather than surprising him or her. With the model, the addict is invited with full disclosure of what is going on. If the addict does not come, the intervention will go ahead as planned, with the focus on helping the loved ones know how to stop enabling the problem, turning it into an indirect intervention.

This model also involves the whole family in the recovery phase, in order to take the focus away from the individual addict by demonstrating that the entire family unit must change for everyone to be healthy. Therefore, this model includes much more than just the intervention itself.

When is an Intervention Necessary?

An intervention is not always necessary. Some people recognize their problem on their own, and choose to enter treatment without any input from anyone else. Other people can be reached through a one-on-one conversation between a loved one and the addict. However, for people who have not had help with a one-on-one conversation, who seem to be stuck in denial, have suicidal thoughts or tendencies, or who might become problematic or violent, an intervention is necessary.

Does an Intervention Work

An intervention does not work 100 percent of the time. There are many reasons why an intervention might fail. However, overall interventions have a good record of success. What is more, even those who have been "forced" into treatment after an intervention can still succeed with recovery.

Common Myths about Interventions

There are several common myths about interventions that should be dismissed. First, many people assume that the only way to get a person into treatment is to wait until he or she hits rock bottom. This is often too late. It is important to get person help as soon as possible, as he or she will have a better chance at recovery. Additionally, it can be difficult to really know when rock bottom is. Therefore, it is best to perform an intervention as soon as a problem is recognized.

Many people believe that rehab will not work if an addict has not chosen to go, or if he or she has already relapsed. Both of these are untrue. Many people who enter rehab after an intervention have succeeded in overcoming their problem. It takes some people several attempts at rehab before finally being on the right track to a long-lasting recovery, so just because they failed one time, does not mean they will fail again. Both of these should not stop a person from trying to get help for his or her addicted loved one.

Some people believe that an intervention will cause the destruction of a relationship, so they do not plan one out of fear. Although in the short term, an addict might resent those who stage an intervention and be angry, in the long run he or she will recognize the well meaning behind the action and reconcile the relationships.