In a preface to the National Drug Control Strategy, written for members of Congress, President Barack Obama wrote these words about the fight against addiction in the United States: “To succeed, we will need to rely on the hard work, dedication, and perseverance of every concerned American.” These are strong words, and for people who live in families that have been touched by addiction, these are words that are easy to take to heart. Each time a family bands together and holds an addiction intervention, that family is taking one small step toward a better future for a person in need, and for the country as a whole.
While holding an intervention might not be easy, as interventions take a significant amount of planning and discussing a touchy subject with someone who is upset can be difficult to accomplish, preparing a strong script can be a good first step. When the conversation is mapped out in advance, the stress level can drop just a touch and the conversation might flow a bit more freely.
Step 1: Open With Affection
Interventions are confrontations in which emotions run high. Living with an addicted person is not easy, and people who have been forced to do just that for weeks or even months on end may have a significant backlog of angry feelings that they may want to vent. Starting a talk with a flurry of negativity isn’t a good idea, however, as people who are attacked tend to shut down completely, blocking out all of the hateful comments that stream toward them. Others who are attacked respond with their own attacks, and this can lead to a protracted yelling match that does no one any good at all.
Leading off with an expression of love and support is a much more constructive route to take. Using terms such as, “I have always believed in you,” or “You’re one of the most important people in my life,” can help the person feel as though the conversation won’t be an attack, but an expression of concern from people who truly love and respect the person. It’s a much more effective way to get things moving.
Step 2: Describe Specific Behaviors
Denial is a common part of the addictive disease process, and it can keep people from getting the help they’ll need in order to get better. For example, the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that of the 23 million Americans 12 and older who needed addiction care, only 2.6 million got that care. Many of those who did not enroll said that they didn’t feel as though they needed help. As any professional speaker or rhetorician knows, people can be persuaded to change their minds when they’re provided with specific, irrefutable evidence.
For people with addictions, that evidence should concern behaviors family members have seen on a firsthand basis. When addicted people are shown that their behavior is both obvious and distressing, they might begin to think more critically about their drug use.
Good incidents to bring up include:
Episodes of impaired driving
Skipped family functions
Reduced contributions at home
Each incident should be relayed in detail, with dates and times included if at all possible. The incidents should be relayed in a factual manner, although family members can state how the incidents made them feel. Sticking to facts and statements that begin with the word “I” seem to be most effective here. A good example: “I got the phone call that you had been arrested for drugged driving when I was putting Megan to bed on Friday night at about 9. I was angry at the idea that driving like that could have caused the death of a little girl like our Megan, and I was worried about your health too.”
Step 3: Detail the Physical Problems Addictions Can Cause
The emotional and financial damage caused by addiction might compel some people to change, but there are some people who might be more likely to leave drugs behind if they’re forced to think about the health issues that can develop if they continue to use drugs. Research suggests that people who have addictions might not even think about this possibility on their own. A study of the issue in the journal Preventive Medicine found that smokers who were asked to estimate the probability of health consequences due to smoking found it more likely that other smokers would face health problems, but that they might remain immune.
This is nonsense, of course, as health problems can impact almost anyone who smokes, but addictions seem to place a veil between an addicted person and rational thought, making nonsensical ideas like this all the more likely.
Families that hire a family mediator can work with that professional to develop a list of specific health problems that are associated with specific types of drug use. The Internet can also be a valuable resource, as long as families focus their searches on governmental agencies and published journal reports, not chat rooms or private blog sites. The information presented should, once again, be as factual and precise as possible, providing the person with specific facts and figures that are hard to ignore.
Step Four: Outline Treatment Options
At the end of a successful intervention, the person who needs care will go right into a treatment program and begin the work of recovery. In fact, as soon as the person agrees to get help for the addiction, the conversation is over and the family takes the person to the treatment facility right then and there. Obviously, this means that families that are planning to hold interventions should also be looking for the right treatment facility, and they should be working on smoothing the admissions process for the person they love. At this point in the intervention, the family can begin to outline how treatment works and why it should be considered beneficial.
Details about the treatment facility can be helpful. Telling the person where the facility is located and what the treatment rooms look like might help to ease the person’s mind and push the person to enroll in care. Discussing statistics about the effectiveness of addiction care might also be helpful. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that every $1 invested in addiction treatment programs yields between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime and criminal justice costs. Sharing stats like this can help to reduce skepticism some people might feel about the effectiveness of addiction care.
Step Five: Express Love and Support
Providing facts and figures may be persuasive, but simply expressing how much that person is loved might be persuasive in its own way. At this stage of the conversation, it’s appropriate for family members to talk about how much they love and respect the person who needs care, and how much they want that person to overcome the addiction and move forward with a healthier and happier life. Placing blame and using guilt should be avoided, but expressions of love, support, admiration and simple affection can be persuasive. Family members can also use this time to outline how they plan to help the person to recover, both when the person is in treatment and when the formal treatment program is over. Recovering from an addiction is hard work, and some people spend years trying to get control over their urges and move forward with their lives. These people will need the help of their families in order to improve, and family members who promise their ongoing support could help these people to feel more comfortable with accepting care.
Optional Step: Set Consequences
If the person has not agreed to enter treatment, some families choose to outline specific consequences that will take place as the addiction continues to move forward. It might seem harsh to threaten someone who is dealing with an addiction, but it’s important to remember that addictions can cause people to make decisions that can be difficult for the family to endure. People who are addicted might:
Steal from the family.
Drive while under the influence.
Leave dangerous drugs in open spaces, where children might find them.
Get arrested, and subject the family to harsh legal consequences.
These aren’t minor problems, and they could cause the family to experience a significant amount of distress. When put in this context, it’s easy to see why families might choose to place harsh and negative consequences on the people they love. Without treatment, these people could destroy their families.
Consequences can vary, but families could use almost anything to reach the person they love. Some choose to keep addicted family members away from small children. Others ask addicted people to leave the household altogether, or they outline ways in which they’ll refuse to shield the person from the consequences of the addiction. These families might not cover drug expenses, for example, or they might not call in sick for a person who has a drug hangover.
This tactic can be effective, a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment reports, as long as the person knows that remaining in treatment will keep the bad things from taking place. Pushing a person to stay sober or not ever talk about drugs might not be realistic, as the person might need several months of care before that kind of recovery can take place. But asking the person to just stay enrolled might be a good first step. Some families never outline consequences, however, as they feel that threats and coercion would push the person they love into the arms of the addiction. It’s a personal decision, and each family is likely to be just a little bit different. An interventionist can outline the risks and benefits of this step and help the family to make the right decision.
Putting It All Together
Coming up with a script that contains all the right elements is important, but even the best scripts won’t be effective unless the family makes a point to hold practice sessions and really understand what they’ll need to say and how they’ll need to say it. Practice sessions can also allow family members to advise one another on their scripts, and tweak individual messages until they seem perfectly calibrated to reach the person who needs help. Practice sessions can also help family members get used to speaking their innermost feelings out loud, so when the moment comes, they’ll be less likely to trip on their words and lose their train of thought.
Interventions can be complicated, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, there is help available. A trained family mediator can help your family to plan for this talk and hold the conversation with polish and skill. If you’d like help in finding the right professional for your family, just call us. We have many family mediators who would be willing to help you.