10 Tips on Holding an Intervention

People who live with someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol can feel hopeless and helpless, as though nothing they can say or do will make the situation change and force the person to get the help needed to leave the addiction behind. Interventions can change this pattern, allowing families to take a proactive stance and reach through to the person who needs help. According to a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, about 75 percent of families who hold an intervention for alcoholism are able to encourage the person they love to get care.

People who live with someone addicted to drugs might get the same kinds of results. These 10 tips can help families design an effective intervention, with the best chance of reaching the person who needs care.

girl who needs intervention

1. Choose Your Team Wisely

An intervention is designed to be a persuasive conversation in which people who know, love and trust the addicted person come together to persuade that person to get help. The people who participate in an intervention should be chosen with care, ensuring that those who have a meaningful relationship with the addicted person are present, but people who don’t have a good relationship with the addicted person are asked to stay away. This isn’t the place to mend fences or allow people to gawk at someone’s private pain.

This is designed to be a motivating talk, and only those who can reach through and motivate should be invited to attend.

Common participants include:

  • Spouses
  • Adolescent or adult children
  • Parents

  • Siblings
  • Close friends

When pulling together an intervention team, some families hire an interventionist. This professional has advanced training in the science of addiction, and knows how to plan and hold an effective talk. This person might be a vital part of the group if the person has an addiction as well as a mental illness, as sometimes talks with these people can be a bit more unpredictable and slightly more dangerous. For example, a study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that people who had post-traumatic stress disorder often had difficulties with anger control, leading some of them to be described as a “ball of rage.” Confronting people like this could lead to nasty physical confrontations. Interventionists can help families learn how to hold these talks without placing themselves in danger. Anytime a person has a mental illness as well as an addiction, or the person has a history of responding with violence when under stress, an interventionist should be part of the team.

man who needs intervention2. Find the Right Time to Talk

Talking to a person about addiction at a moment when that person is high or impaired isn’t a great idea. The drugs are likely to reduce the person’s ability to think clearly and react calmly, making a nasty or out-of-control reaction all the more likely. In addition, the drugs might make the person unable to truly focus and concentrate, and this could place the work the family has done in jeopardy. To avoid these issues, families should plan to hold their interventions at times in which the person they love is likely to be sober and in control. Holding talks first thing in the morning, for example, might allow people to reach the person without having to reach past a haze of drugs.

Holding an intervention after a major drug-related incident might also be an excellent idea. A person who had recently been charged with driving under the influence, for example, might be willing to discuss the addiction and how such problems might be avoided in the future. The incident can provide a moment of vulnerability that the family can build upon in their intervention.

It might be tempting to hold an intervention in the family home, as the speakers will be comfortable in that environment and it would be relatively easy to begin speaking as soon as the person appears, with no advance planning needed. Unfortunately, the person who needs care is likely to feel just as comfortable in the family home, and that person could easily retreat to a bedroom or a bathroom when the conversation starts, and the talk could be over well before it begins. Additionally, families often spend months in negotiations with the people who need care, and many of those talks are negative. The memory of those talks can hang in the air, and can allow everyone involved to feel tense and upset before they talk. Retreating to a neutral space could be an ideal way to solve all of these problems.Formal spaces such as therapy offices or conference rooms are designed to bring people close together so they can discuss their concerns. People tend to be on their best behavior in these spaces, and it can be hard for people to simply walk out and hide when they’re in new surroundings. Interventionists can help families to find a spot like this, or families can reach out to their churches or to community centers for assistance.

7. Use Open, Warm Body Language

The intervention script and the words it contains are quite important. The delivery of those words, however, can also be vital to the long-term success of the intervention. While delivering lines, it’s ideal for speakers to use open and warm body language.

They can focus on:

  • Keeping arms and legs uncrossed
  • Looking at the person they’re speaking to
  • Keeping hands unclenched
  • Tilting the shoulders toward the person they’re speaking to
  • Leaning in for emphasis

The script likely contains multiple words of love, support and understanding. People who use these body language cues are matching the motions of their bodies with the words they’re saying. It reduces confusion for the person being spoken to when the body and the words match.

anger8. Keep Tempers Under Control

In an article in Counselor magazine, authors outline old methods of speaking to people who had addictions. At one point, according to the authors, people were encouraged to “tear ’em down to build ’em up,” and they may have used abusive language or even physical punishments to entice people to accept help for their addictions. With the advent of modern medicine, and the realization that addictions stem from chemical changes in the brain and not defects of character, professionals have steered clear of punishments and nasty altercations as they treat their patients. It’s not considered humane or effective.

As a result, most people are advised to keep terse statements of blame out of their addiction scripts. But when an addiction is in progress, people may fight fire with fire, launching attacks when the addicted person does so. Keeping cool can be difficult, but allowing the addicted person to start a fight means changing the subject, and dropping the addiction issue altogether. It’s best to resist the temptation to participate in a fight.

9. Develop a Backup Plan

People with addictions can respond in all sorts of unpredictable ways when they’re confronted by family members in an intervention. They might:

  • Leave the room
  • Yell and scream
  • Cry hysterically
  • Say ugly things that aren’t true

Families that develop backup plans for each and every nasty scenario that may take place will be prepared to handle almost everything that comes their way. But not all reactions are so easy to predict. On the day of the intervention, families should simply steel themselves for the realization that anything might happen, and that they’ll get through it together. Staying flexible and being prepared are the two best things family members can do to handle the stress of an intervention.

10. Don’t Give Up

A study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that people who were confronted about their addictions were more likely to stay sober than people who were not confronted. The study doesn’t point out, however, how many confrontations were needed in order for people to see the need to change their ways. Some people might have been convinced after that very first talk. Others might have needed multiple chats before they could really see how much their addictions were hurting others and why they needed to change. If the person refuses care the first time, perhaps a second talk will do the trick. Perhaps a third talk will be needed. Families shouldn’t give up, no matter what. Treatment works, and people can be persuaded to make the needed changes.

If you’d like to learn more about holding an intervention, or you need help finding the right interventionist or family mediator to help your family reach out to someone in need, please call us. We maintain an extensive database full of the names and contact numbers of professionals who are willing to help.

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