What is an Intervention?

Addiction is a destructive, downward spiral that destroys careers, friendships, marriages and lives. If you’re waiting for a loved one to reach rock bottom, you may wait for years as the damage grows worse and worse. The isolation, loneliness, depression and helplessness an addict experiences often prevents him or her from seeking help. It may be up to you to step in, confront that person and convince them that the time for treatment is right now.

That’s what an intervention is. It’s estimated that interventions, as an initiation to treatment, are between 80 and 90 percent effective. More than simply holding a meeting and showing concern about an addict’s behavior, an intervention is a carefully planned event that can change a person’s life for the better. It is not without risks, and it does not always succeed. It is, however, often the last-ditch effort on the part of families and friends to save relationships and lives.

It’s estimated that of the almost 22 million people in the U.S. who were in need of drug treatment in 2011, only about 2.3 million received it. If you’ve reached the point where an intervention for a loved one is needed, learn about the following strategies. Good preparation will give you the best chance of success.

Enlist the help of professionals

Many rehab centers either have trained interventionists on staff or can guide you to an experienced professional. This person will meet with you as a group to tell you what to expect, how to organize a persuasive plan, how to get the addict to attend the intervention, and answer any questions you may have about the process. Interventionists will often have a degree in social work or psychology, with expertise in the problems and challenges of addiction treatment. They will not tell you exactly what to say or do, but will guide you to the most effective path. Those who have suffered years of physical or emotional abuse, or who are codependent will have a chance to explore those issues. Those same issues will ultimately shape the narrative of what happens next.

Research and education

During this stage, educate yourself on the type of substance abuse and addiction you’re dealing with. Alcohol addiction is different from cocaine. Methamphetamines have different effects and consequences than heroin. Learn as much as you can. Many search engines will direct you to local websites, government institutions and universities that have a wealth of information to share.

Create a team and make a plan

Choose people for your intervention team that have been impacted by the addict’s behavior. Ideally, the best mix is family members, friends and coworkers. Coworkers and friends are more likely to be less emotional than family in a charged situation like this. Along with the interventionist, they can help keep the meeting focused and on track.

Once your team is chosen, let each person decide on specific consequences for the addict if he or she refuses treatment. Take notes. These must be real consequences. Loss of a marriage, loss of home, loss of friendship, loss of employment. You’ll want to project the idea that if drugs win, the addict will lose you. Make that choice as clear as you can, and don’t threaten a consequence that you are not prepared to act upon.

Next, choose a time and date to rehearse what each one of you will say, so you will know the space, what is going to be said, and ensure that there will be no surprises. Choose a time and date for the intervention itself, and a rehab facility so that treatment can begin immediately afterwards.

Rehearse the intervention

This practice session is very important. Emotions will run high on the day of the event, and a rehearsal will help to calm nerves, increase confidence and lay out a framework to follow. One of you may wish to role-play the addict and improvise their response, which can be angry, submissive, or argumentative. Again, this type of rehearsal is meant to prevent surprises and help you be better prepared for any situation that might arise.

Holding the intervention

Invite the loved one to the meeting without telling them what it’s about. Once they arrive, take turns calmly telling them what their addiction has done to you, personally, and how you feel about it. Then, present the option for beginning treatment immediately, and explain what will happen if treatment is refused.

Following through

If the intervention is successful, your loved one will agree to enter treatment. Then, the real work of recovery begins. With an involved, engaged and committed family, chances of recovery are much higher. After intervention, those who have suffered from the addictive behavior of a loved one can seek ongoing treatment to resolve issues of guilt, depression and codependency.

The statistics on drug and alcohol dependency continue to rise. Don’t let your loved one sink into the deepening spiral of addiction. More than 80 percent of interventions succeed in getting addicts into initial treatment programs where they can find help and gain a foothold in their fight against this terrible disease. Though the prospect of confrontation and intervention may be daunting, it may be, finally, the first step on the path to recovery and healing.