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.
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:
Adolescent or adult children
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.
2. 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.
During an intervention, the family members take turns reading their prepared statements and the intervention is over as soon as the person agrees to enter treatment. The order of speakers is important, as allowing the right person to speak at the right time could lead to a successful and almost immediate end to the intervention. If the addicted person has a loving relationship with a child, for example, perhaps that child should speak first. If the person has a close relationship with a spouse, perhaps the spouse could speak near the end, at a moment when the person is feeling most vulnerable to making a change. Families can experiment with scenarios, until they find a match that seems just right. Planning the order with care could bring about other benefits as well. In a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, researchers found that 56 percent of people who had addictions were confronted by their spouses about the issue, and 60 percent were confronted by family members. This seems to suggest that people with addictions are accustomed to hearing about the issue from members of their own families, but maybe not anyone else. Perhaps these people would be persuaded when they heard stories from their friends or their spiritual advisors. Mixing up the order in this way, using members of the family and then members of a larger social circle, could allow the conversation to flow and point out the true depth and breadth of the problem. This might be a side of the issue the person has never thought about before.
During an intervention, emotions can run high and people can quickly and easily lose their train of thought and forget what they had planned to say and how they had planned to say it. Holding rehearsals might make this kind of glitch a bit less likely, as people will have a bit more muscle memory standing behind their statements and their thoughts will be a bit more clear and comprehensible. Rehearsals can also help families to role-play and prepare for any emotional outbursts that the addicted user might emit in the heat of the moment. For an intervention to be successful, rehearsals really are vital. The number of rehearsals can vary, depending on the number of people who plan to speak and the nervousness those participants feel in advance of the talk, but two might be considered the bare minimum. Those people who can’t commit to attending rehearsals might best be left out of the intervention. They are so vital for the success of the intervention, and it’s important for everyone to attend. Those who can’t attend or who don’t find the rehearsals important enough to attend might not be truly committed to the idea of helping the addicted person improve. It might sound harsh, but people who bring up multiple excuses in order to skip rehearsals should be left off the participant list.
Families tend to spend hours on their intervention scripts, carefully detailing everything they want to say and the words they want to use. It’s not uncommon for people to revise their scripts multiple times, as they search for just the right word or phrase to reach the person they hold so dear. When an intervention begins, however, people can develop the urge to adlib, throwing in extra words for emphasis or removing entire sections from their scripts in the hopes of being just a bit more persuasive. It’s understandable, but it should be avoided. The script is the text the person knows best, and the other members of the intervention team likely know that script as well. Adding an element of surprise into the intervention could make everyone feel a little uncomfortable and on edge.
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.
8. 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.
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.