Troubleshoot an Intervention

An intervention is, at its very core, a confrontation about an issue that is very, very painful.

While interventions involve a significant amount of planning, allowing the participants to rehearse what they would like to say and how they would like to say it, there is always the possibility that the conversation will not go as planned. Addicted people can respond in ways that are difficult, troublesome, unexpected or even frightening. Interventionists do their part to help people prepare for the unexpected, but family members that work hard to brush up on their communication skills can also do their part to stay calm and collected, no matter what twists and turns the intervention might take.

Dealing With Depression

It’s common for people with addictions to develop symptoms of depression.

A study in the journal Addiction found a link between heavy cannabis use and depression, although the researchers weren’t sure if the drug use was responsible for the addiction or if risk factors for addiction were also risk factors for depression, making the two disorders augment one another. Regardless of whether the addiction causes the depression, or the depression and the addiction develop simultaneously, depressed people can be difficult to talk to. In an intervention, a depressed person might simply cry or withdraw, without listening to the statements the family makes or feeling motivated to get help. A depressed person might also plead for mercy, implying that the talk is too difficult and that the family is causing the person too much pain with each statement made.

Depressed people should be approached with a soft, caring and open manner. Family members can use supportive terms such as, “We want to help you,” and “You are not alone,” to help reduce feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

People who withdraw might need time to process the statements made, and allowing them silent moments to collect their thoughts and their composure might be helpful. Just moving slowly, remaining persistent and supportive, might be the best approach to take in these interventions. Physical expressions of support, such as holding hands or hugging the person, might also help the depressed person to feel less isolated.

Angry Explosions

Anger is one of the first emotions humans learn to express, according to an article in The Family Journal, as babies as young as 4 months show recognizable signs of anger when they are displeased. This primal, basic emotion helps people to summon inner strength when they are under attack, and people in an intervention might feel as though they are being attacked.

Expressions of anger might include mild outbursts, such as swearing or yelling, but they might also include physical expressions such as throwing things.

In general, people who have angry tendencies should never be approached in an intervention without the help of a professional, as the interventionist can help the family to prepare, and this person can step in if anger begins to build. But there are some things families can do to keep the situation under control.

It’s common for people to respond to anger with anger, until the conversation builds and builds and then ultimately breaks down. Families can shut this cycle down by refusing to escalate and meet anger with anger.

Family members should try hard to:

  • Use open body language. Crossed arms and legs are subtle cues of anger. Keeping feet flat on the ground and hands flat on the table can help. Using open, questioning expressions might also be helpful.
  • Stay silent. By refusing to respond to angry barbs thrown their way, family members can help the person to calm down. When the person falls silent, the conversation can continue.
  • Give space. Allow the person room to pace and roam, if this helps the person to work off nervous energy and calm down.
  • Speak quietly. Yelling is another form of aggression, and it can cause a fight to begin. Keeping the voice low and quiet can help to deescalate a conversation that is going south.

If the person begins to engage in violent behavior and the safety of the people in the room is at risk, the intervention should be stopped, immediately. Family members should keep their own safety and security in mind at all times, no matter what is occurring in the intervention.

Denying the Problem

Denial is the cornerstone of the addiction process, as people who simply do not admit that a problem exists aren’t asked to deal with that problem in any way.

Some addicted people use elaborate tricks in order to keep the denial process moving forward. For example, in a study in the journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, problem drinkers found it was helpful when people who didn’t drink also didn’t speak to the addict about the addict’s drinking. It’s quite possible that these problem drinkers simply did not want to face the facts of their addictions, and as a result, they didn’t want to discuss the issue with someone who could provide real help. Denial is the key in this process, and it’s something that is addressed, head on, in an intervention.

The best way to deal with denial is to break it down with hard, cold facts.

During the intervention planning process, the family has likely spent hours crafting statements about the addiction that contain specific details about the person’s drug and alcohol use and abuse. These factual statements might also contain opinions about how that abuse is hurting the speaker, as well as the family at large. Addicts in denial may attempt to poke holes in those facts, arguing with the details and haggling over small inconsistencies. In general, it’s best for families to stick with the script, allowing the addicted person to interject, and then moving forward with the statements as planned without responding to the interjections. Over time, as the evidence mounts, the person is likely to stop interrupting and fighting. The evidence will be too hard to ignore.

Downplaying Consequences

Addicted people often place a veneer of confidence over their addictions, claiming that the substance use isn’t as bad as others claim, or that the substance use is really well under control. In reality, these people may feel deep guilt and shame over the pain their addictions have caused, but they may go to great lengths to avoid admitting that they feel this way, deep down inside.

During an intervention, an addict may work hard to keep that veneer intact by:

  • Smirking
  • Laughing
  • Showing no remorse
  • Claiming to pity the speaker

It’s best to allow the addicted person to use these techniques without responding to them. The addicted person might simply be relying on old techniques that have worked in the past, and while the statements can be hurtful, they’re rarely an expression of the truth. Family members should move forward with their speeches, and refuse to react to the barbs the addicted person throws out to make them stop talking. Over time, these comments should ease and then disappear. It’s also important to remember that the addicted person isn’t being asked to “pay” for the addiction during the intervention. An expression of remorse or guilt isn’t necessary, at this point. Instead, it’s vital to simply get the person into treatment. If the person must make a few hateful comments along the way, the family might need to endure them.

Laughing Off Concerns

For some people, humor is the ultimate defense mechanism, allowing them to change the conversation at a moment’s notice.

According to an article in the journal Communication Theory, humor can bring people together, by helping to break up tension, but humor can also single out people for victimization and therefore break people apart. In an intervention, humor is always a bit dangerous, as someone who is the brunt of the joke might quickly respond with anger or hostility. If the confronted person uses humor, too, that person might not be listening to what is said, and might simply be attempting to stop the conversation from moving forward.

The best way to defuse humor is to refuse to respond to it. Family members can remain calm and impassive in the face of humorous attacks, and continue to move forward with their prepared statements. By keeping voices calm, body language open and eye contact firm, family members can help the addicted person to see that the talk is serious, and humor isn’t appropriate at that time, in that place. An interventionist can also intervene if the humor becomes threatening or disrespectful.

Avoidant Behavior

Addicted people might also simply leave the room when they are confronted, effectively ending the conversation before it has moved forward. During planning sessions, families should designate one person who will go after the person if he/she leaves the room. That one person might be able to bring the addict back into the conversation through simple encouragement and support. Sometimes, this one person might also be able to provide a subtle confrontational statement about the addiction that might help to break down denial and encourage the person to get help.

According to an article in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, addicted people respond to confrontations best when the statements come from those they have close relationships with, and those they believe don’t stand to gain from the confrontation. These caring, close insiders can provide the insight the person might need in order to complete the intervention.

As soon as the addicted person returns to the room, the intervention can continue once again, in the same place at which it left off. Some addicted people may need to take multiple breaks before they’re able to listen closely and agree to get help. As long as people return to the conversation, they should be allowed to leave as often as they need to do so.

The Importance of Rehearsals

It’s easy enough to read about interventions and digest tips and tricks that can make the talks run smoothly. It can be difficult, however, to put these tips into practice when the addict is in the room and emotions are running high. All knowledge might fly right out the window when the addict is misbehaving during this important conversation. Some families find it beneficial to run a series of rehearsals in which they act out what the addict might do, and what they might do in return. These rehearsals can help these family members to practice the tips they’ve read about, and put them to use immediately, when a problem arises.

If you’d like to know more about holding intervention rehearsals, or you need to hire an interventionist to help you conduct an intervention, please contact us. We’re happy to provide you with the help you’ll need to prepare for this important day.