If you’re worried about a loved one with a drug or alcohol addiction, you may be wondering how to help them without violating your personal boundaries or enabling their addictive behaviors. One of the best ways to help someone with a severe addiction is to stage an intervention — an attempt to make someone with a substance use disorder understand the effects of their addiction on family members and friends. During an intervention, you’ll have an opportunity to share your feelings and explain exactly how your loved one’s addictive behaviors have affected you.

Because an intervention is such an important step, it must be planned carefully, ideally with the assistance of a professional counselor who has experience conducting interventions and helping people with substance abuse problems get the treatment they need.

Intervention Overview

A formal intervention is a well-planned event that gives family members, friends and colleagues the opportunity to confront a loved one with some type of addiction. Group interventions can be used for addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping and other types of addictive behavior. The main reason a group intervention should be planned well in advance is because it’s important to stay on topic and avoid making statements that can hurt the person with the addiction or someone else in the room. Planning a formal intervention in advance gives everyone time to prepare their talking points and present a united front when it comes time to confront the person with the addiction.

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Determining If a Family Intervention Is Needed

It may become necessary to have a family intervention when a loved one starts showing signs of a severe drug addiction or alcohol addiction. The signs of addiction vary from one person to another, but you should watch for the following to determine if an intervention is necessary.

Sudden Behavioral Changes

An addicted person may exhibit sudden behavioral changes due to severe alcohol or drug use. For example, someone who’s always been responsible with money may start spending more than usual, missing payments or making late payments. A reliable worker may start calling in sick at the last minute, disappearing from work for hours at a time or missing important deadlines. In a younger person with a substance abuse problem, you may notice poor academic performance or a lack of interest in school or social activities.

Changes in Appearance

Substance abuse makes it difficult to maintain a normal routine, so some people struggling with alcohol or drug addiction have poor hygiene. Your loved one may avoid showering, wear the same clothing several days in a row or develop strong body odor. In some cases, an addicted person doesn’t trim their nails or get their hair cut, causing their appearance to change over time.

Social Problems

People struggling with alcohol and drug addiction can have a wide range of social problems. Many people isolate themselves from friends and family members because they don’t want anyone to know about their substance abuse. Drinking and using drugs can also cause conflict to develop between someone with an addiction and their friends, family members, coworkers and community members, leading to frequent arguments or even physical altercations. In severe cases, people struggling with addiction get into legal trouble, making it difficult to maintain friendships or positive relationships with family members.

If you’ve noticed any of these changes in your loved one, it may be time to have a drug or alcohol intervention.

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Steps in a Drug or Alcohol Intervention

1. Seek help from a professional

Planning an intervention is a serious undertaking. If you try to do it alone, you may make critical mistakes that make it less likely your loved one will be willing to listen to what you have to say. Before you do anything else, contact a professional interventionist or a mental health professional with experience working as an intervention specialist. A professional interventionist can help you plan a successful intervention and get your loved one into treatment.

2. Form an intervention group

If you plan to do a family intervention, you may want to include parents, siblings, cousins, children and any other family members who’ve been harmed by your loved one’s addictive behavior. In some cases, it’s helpful to include friends, colleagues and social acquaintances in the intervention group, as these individuals can share how your loved one’s behavior has affected them. For best results, include an intervention specialist in the group.

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3. Plan ahead

Once you choose an intervention specialist and have your group members in place, it’s time to plan the actual intervention. Your plan should include the date and time of the intervention, a list of people invited to participate and notes about what each person will say. Having a road map makes it more likely that the intervention will be successful.

4. Educate yourself on addiction and recovery

You may know how your loved one’s addiction has harmed you, but it’s important to learn about the physical and emotional aspects of addiction. The intervention professional should be able to point you toward some good resources for the family members and friends of people with addictions to drugs or alcohol. Before the intervention, take time to research addiction treatment programs and determine which treatment options are likely to be the best fit for your loved one.

5. Write a letter to your loved one

One of the main goals of the intervention process is to persuade your loved one to seek treatment or accept treatment offered by the intervention team. It’s important to write a letter outlining how addiction has hurt your loved one or harmed their relationship with you. This type of letter is often called an impact statement. When you write your letter, refrain from personal attacks and hurtful language. The goal is to get your loved one to agree to participate in a treatment program, not to hurt them or get back at them for how they’ve hurt you.

6. Think about how you can help your loved one

Many people refuse to accept treatment because they’re worried about how going to rehab will affect their jobs and their families. Before the intervention takes place, think about what kind of support you can offer if your loved one agrees to go to a treatment facility. For example, you may want to offer to provide child care or financial support. If your loved one knows their children will be safe and they’ll have the financial resources they need to get back on their feet when they get home, they’ll be more likely to accept treatment.

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Serious man reading a book about addiction recovery

7. Identify your personal boundaries

You also need to identify your personal boundaries just in case your loved one refuses to get help. It’s important not to enable addictive behavior or become codependent in your relationship with an addicted individual, and setting boundaries can help you avoid these problems. If your loved one won’t enter treatment, you may want to stop accepting their phone calls or refuse to continue providing shelter or financial support.

8. Practice what you’re going to say

Once you choose an intervention site, it’s important to rehearse the event at least once. Practicing for the intervention can help the group avoid common mistakes and make it easier to share your impact statements without resorting to personal attacks. To ensure a successful intervention, have the interventionist attend the rehearsal and give the group tips for improvement.

9. Set realistic expectations

Interventions don’t work 100% of the time, no matter what you may have seen on television or in the movies. Even with the best intervention specialists and a dedicated group of family members and friends, it’s possible for an intervention to fail. Keep this in mind as you prepare for the scheduled intervention. You want to be hopeful, but you don’t want to be unrealistic about the potential outcome.

10. Follow through on your statements

If your loved one doesn’t accept help, make sure you follow through on the statements you made during the intervention. For example, if you said you would stop providing financial support, then stop giving your loved one cash or paying their bills. If you don’t follow through, your loved one will think they can continue using drugs or alcohol without any consequences.

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What to Avoid During an Intervention

When you’re planning an intervention, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what you should do. Follow these tips to make the intervention as successful as possible.

  1. When you’re ready to create an intervention team, avoid choosing people who have trouble keeping their emotions in check. Although it’s okay to share how your loved one’s behavior has harmed you, it’s not okay to express anger, use foul language or engage in personal attacks. The intervention team should be made up of people who can communicate their feelings in a calm, controlled manner without resorting to screaming or swearing at other people in the room.
  2. Don’t try to hold an intervention with someone who’s drunk or high. You want your loved one to understand what you’re saying and have the capacity to give you a “yes” or “no” answer.
  3. Don’t use guilt trips to coerce your loved one into starting a treatment plan.
  4. Avoid spontaneous interventions. As noted earlier, intervention groups should plan ahead to ensure everyone stays on message and delivers their impact statements calmly. Planning ahead also makes it easier to determine who’s going to lead the intervention and what the consequences will be if your loved one refuses to get help.
  5. Don’t deviate from the script. The reason you write your impact statement ahead of time is to ensure you can share your feelings without berating your loved one or making them feel guilty about their behavior. If you don’t stick to the script, you’re more likely to say something you might regret later.
  6. Avoid panicking or shouting if your loved one doesn’t react well when they arrive at the intervention site and realize everyone is there to talk about their drug or alcohol use. It’s natural for an alcohol or drug addict to leave the room, start crying or act out in an attempt to take the focus off their addiction. Stay focused on sharing your impact statements and getting a “yes” or “no” answer about seeking treatment.

Intervention Approaches

Intervention isn’t a one-size-fits-all process that works for everyone. That’s why there are multiple intervention approaches available.

  • Family systemic intervention: Addiction has a significant impact on the entire family, not just the person using drugs or alcohol. People with substance abuse problems may engage in behaviors that harm their relationships with parents, spouses, siblings and other family members, leading to ongoing conflict. Family systemic intervention includes family members in therapy and seeks to heal families from the effects of addiction.
  • ARISE: The ARISE approach includes the whole family and aims to persuade someone with an addiction to enroll in a treatment program.
  • Johnson model: This is the most common approach to interventions in the United States. Under the Johnson model, addicts learn that they have support from their loved ones, which may convince them to seek addiction treatment.
  • SMART: The SMART approach aims to set goals for each intervention session. These goals must adhere to the SMART framework, meaning they must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific.
  • Crisis intervention: Crisis intervention is usually carried out by police officers, social workers and other professionals who work with individuals in crisis. The aim of crisis intervention is to coordinate resources to ensure people can get help for addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Brief intervention: During a brief intervention, someone struggling with substance abuse may meet with a doctor or counselor to determine if additional treatment is needed. After an assessment, the individual may be referred to drug rehab or alcohol rehab as needed.

Explore Our Treatment Options

If you’re planning an intervention and need more information about the options available at Virtue Recovery Center, contact us at (866) 461-3339 to speak with one of our admissions coordinators. We’d be happy to tell you more about our residential rehabilitation center and its alcohol and drug rehab programs

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