If your loved one is fighting addiction, the last thing you want to do is confront them. Especially if they’ve been battling for a long time or they don’t think they have a problem.
Unfortunately, addiction is not a problem you can afford to ignore. Alcohol and other drugs cost us $740 billion annually in health care expenses, crime, and lost productivity.
At this point, you need options, and you’re probably wondering, “What’s an intervention?” It’s the first step in addiction treatment, and it’s an important step to take. Keep reading to find out what an intervention is, how it works, and how to stage one.
What’s an Intervention?
An intervention is an opportunity for family and friends to offer help to a loved one struggling with addiction. Alternately, it’s the addicted person’s opportunity to accept the help they need.
Basically, it’s an act of love.
How Does It Work?
That’s all fine and good, but how do interventions work?
Most people know interventions from TV, like Christopher’s intervention on The Sopranos in which everyone sits in a circle and reads a letter. But there’s a lot more to it than that.
An intervention is a carefully planned process in which the friends and family of the addicted person confront their loved one about the consequences of their behavior and ask them to accept treatment.
The most common model is when loved ones read from a letter they wrote for the occasion, though there are several types of intervention.
What is an Interventionist?
It is often recommended that interventions are staged under the supervision of a professional interventionist.
An interventionist is a trained professional who helps identify the people who will become part of the recovery team. Once they find these people, the interventionist guides them through the process of staging a successful intervention.
This involves supporting, educating, and training the recovery team so that they can approach the intervention with the right tools. Often, an interventionist will help prepare the script for the intervention and help the family rehearse beforehand, offering coaching and guidance.
It’s often recommended that the interventionist is present during the actual intervention. It might seem awkward to have a stranger in the room during a deeply personal moment, but the interventionist can actually be a huge help in keeping the intervention on track.
Do Interventions Work?
There’s been some debate as to whether interventions work. Part of the problem is defining a metric for success.
If the metric for success is getting the addicted individual to accept treatment, then interventions are often successful. If the metric for success is the success of the treatment, then things get murky.
Keep in mind, however, that the importance of interventions for recovery has less to do with treatment success.
The truth is, interventions don’t have a direct impact on treatment success. They’re not supposed to. The goal of an intervention is simple: to make your loved one accept treatment.
Your loved one’s success in treatment has to do with their commitment to sobriety.
Planning an Intervention
If your loved one does need an intervention, then it might be time to consider planning one.
Interventions are often used as a last-ditch effort when the addicted person has refused treatment several times, fell off the wagon, or refuses to acknowledge that they have a problem at all. However, families shouldn’t wait for rock bottom before addressing addiction.
If anything, you should start the intervention process as soon as you recognize the problem. The sooner addiction is addressed, the easier it will be to recover.
That said, interventions are not spontaneous. They’re planned down to the last detail to convey your message and get your loved one to hear you. Let’s talk about the stages of planning an intervention.
The first step is to make a plan and gather information.
You should also take the time to research the treatment options in your area. It’s a good idea to bring the family in on this if you can, as several different people will be able to provide a comprehensive picture of the person. It’s also easier to get a handle on finances that way.
This is also when you should look for a professional interventionist. Ideally, you should find someone with experience in your loved one’s specific addiction. They can help guide you through the remaining steps.
Form the Intervention Team
From here, it’s time to form the intervention team.
This does not mean it’s time to call in every relative. Quite the opposite, in fact.
An intervention is a highly emotional time for everyone. You’re going to tell your loved one something they don’t want to hear, and you need to make them listen anyway.
When assembling the intervention team, you want to choose the group of people who can best deliver the message. Family dynamics can be a barrier here. If your loved one has a complicated relationship with their parents, it may not be the best idea to have Mom and Dad in the room.
Sometimes, friends are a better option than family members, as they help to focus on facts and shared solutions rather than emotional responses. Children of the addicted person may also be a good option, depending on their relationship.
Either way, try to keep the group small–no more than 10 people at most, including the interventionist.
Write Your Intervention Letters
Once you have your team, it’s time to prepare for the intervention. Part of this process is writing your intervention letters.
The intervention letter is an important tool to keep the intervention on track. The letter is your script, making sure that you avoid tangents and stick to the main messaging. Since interventions are so emotional, this is a vital roadmap.
This will also keep you from becoming overexcited, frustrated, frozen, or bewildered. Letters are written in a relaxed, direct fashion, and that language will help you stay relaxed regardless of what’s running through your mind.
That said, the letter is not the place to air grievances. Save that for therapy. The goal of the letter is to communicate your love and concern for this person and your heartfelt desire for them to be healthy.
Work with the interventionist in crafting your letter. Include statements of love and support along with specific examples of your loved one’s behavior while on drugs (not accusations). The letter should not contain an ultimatum, as this will only make your loved one defensive.
Rehearse with a Professional
Once everyone has their letter, it’s time to rehearse with the interventionist. Ideally, this should occur several times so that everyone is calm and confident during the actual intervention.
During rehearsal, you should establish a clear order of speaking. This is for your benefit–if everyone knows the order of speaking, then they can patiently wait their turn instead of worrying.
Decide on Specific Consequences
You should also decide on specific consequences if your loved one does not accept treatment.
If these consequences are mentioned during the intervention, they should not be couched as ultimatums. Instead, phrase them as ways to help the family stay healthy if your loved one won’t get help.
For example, you might say that your loved one has to move out if they refuse to get clean. Work with the interventionist to figure out how to phrase these consequences.
Do not threaten a consequence unless you’re prepared to follow through.
Intervention and Follow-Up
Once you’ve rehearsed, it’s time to stage the intervention.
Ideally, the intervention should occur when your loved one is most likely to be sober. People under the influence aren’t good at emotional regulation and may agree to something that they don’t remember later. If they’re defensive when sober, they’ll be even worse when drunk or high.
Besides, it’s hard to calmly ask your loved one to seek help when you know they’re drunk or high.
Usually, this means first thing in the morning, before your loved one has had a chance to start using. Probably when they first wake up.
It should also be in a neutral location that’s soothing without being too comfortable. Many families want to stage an intervention in their homes. The issue with that is that it’s easy for your loved one to flee to their bedroom or the bathroom and the whole intervention falls apart.
If you attend church, you might ask your pastor if you can use a spare room in the church. You could also use the interventionist’s office. Ideally, it should be somewhere private that won’t immediately alert your loved one to what’s happening (or feel like an ambush).
Once there, everyone proceeds through the intervention as rehearsed. The intervention is over as soon as your loved one accepts treatment, so in the best possible scenario, you won’t need to go through everyone.
What to Do (and NOT Do)
Interventions are highly structured processes with clear rules. There’s a reason for this.
Emotions run high on all sides during an intervention. The rules and structure of an intervention exist in order to keep everyone calm, even if your loved one does get combative.
With that in mind, let’s talk about what you should and shouldn’t do during an intervention.
DO Communicate Calmly and Stick to the Script
The point of writing a script is so that you know what to say. If you go on tangents, there’s a stronger chance that you’ll get distracted, get upset, or start making accusations.
No matter what you may feel during the intervention, stick to the script. Read your prepared words and then let the next person take their turn.
That said, you don’t necessarily need to remain silent the whole time. If you do say something, though, it should be constructive. Your interventionist can help you figure out what you can and can’t say beforehand.
And throughout the intervention, you should communicate calmly and openly, even if you are frustrated.
DO NOT Yell, Raise Your Voice, or Get Upset
However, there is a good chance that you will become upset, angry, nervous, frustrated or anything in between.
Whatever you might be feeling, it’s important that you do not raise your voice, yell, or vent your frustrations.
Interventions come at a difficult time for families. Everyone in the room has as many grievances as you do. But speaking in anger or passing judgment won’t make your loved one listen to you.
As soon as you yell, you open the door for your loved one to start arguing. Soon, everyone will be yelling and there’s little chance your loved one will agree to treatment.
DO Maintain Open Body Language
Everything you say in an intervention matters. Even the things you say unconsciously.
Body language goes a long way towards making a person receptive. Try to maintain open body language throughout the intervention.
Your arms and legs should not be crossed in any way. Crossed arms are the biggest indicator of hostility, so keep your arms at your side, in your lap, or moving as you talk.
You should also try to look around, especially at the other person. Looking off to the side of the person is a major sign of being closed off or a lack of receptiveness.
If possible, try to wear loose clothing, as this will help you relax. Take off your jacket or unbutton the top button of your shirt collar so you have room to breathe.
DO NOT Accept Excuses
Finally, you don’t need to be harsh during the intervention, but you shouldn’t accept excuses.
It’s common for people on the receiving end of interventions to try to negotiate. They’ll try to negotiate the circumstances of going to treatment, or offer excuses like “I can’t go until after X is done,” or, “I can’t leave my job/kids/pets.”
Be prepared for these excuses, and don’t accept them as reasons to back down.
You know your bottom line. You knew it before the intervention. Don’t fall back on it now.
After an Intervention
Now that you know the answer to the question, “What’s an intervention?” you might be preparing to stage one.
If so, you need to be prepared for the next step in treatment.