You and everyone else can see it. A loved one’s addiction has them on the edge of ruin. Their drug or alcohol abuse has them missing work, acting out at family functions, and isolating themselves from everyone and everything.

Perhaps their addiction has put them or family members in harm’s way. Maybe they are driving drunk, getting into fights with strangers, or socializing with some unsavory individuals. This addiction has even deteriorated their physical health.

If your loved one is locked in an unwinnable battle with alcoholism, prescription pill addiction, or illicit drug addiction, it is time to get them help before it is too late. The most effective way to get your relative or friend on the path to sobriety is by staging an intervention. For someone struggling with an addiction, an expert-led intervention can establish healthy boundaries, spur the user to seek professional treatment, and promote healing amongst loved ones.   

The fact is, if your loved one does not get the help they need, imprisonment and/or death is imminent.

What Exactly Is an Intervention?

An intervention is a carefully orchestrated session where family and friends gather to confront a loved one about their addiction. In this structured setting, concerned parties share accounts about the impact that addiction has had on them and the person himself.

The goal of an intervention is to heighten the subject’s awareness about the severity of the problem with the hope they will pursue treatment. When loved ones form a united front, it can create a moment of clarity for the user. If the session follows proper protocols, the subject may begin to see the enormity of their addiction and related behaviors, especially how it affects the people closest to them.  

Before intervention can be pursued, it is important to consider the structure, timing, environment, and scope of the session to maximize the chances of the desired outcome, which is to get that person the help they need to end their substance abuse.

Signs an Intervention Is Needed

One of the most critical aspects of an effective intervention is timing. Knowing exactly when to stage one can be tricky. A big mistake many people make is waiting until a loved one hits “rock bottom,” when death or some other life-altering consequence stares them in the face. Waiting too long to take action could literally mean that person’s life.

What’s more, not all “rock bottoms” are alike or discernible. The truth is many people who struggle with alcohol or drugs will not get the help they need on their own, much less admit it. A drug or alcohol addiction is a brain disorder characterized by persistent substance use in the face of adverse consequences. Thus, someone with a substance abuse addiction can overdose or suffer some other life-threatening complication before admitting the need for help. As a result, it is essential to be vigilant in considering the best time to establish an intervention.

A large part of knowing when to stage an intervention is being able to observe the signs that call for one.   

These signs can flash like big, glaring lights. At other times, they can be as subtle as a flicker. If you suspect that someone needs an intervention, here is what to look for:

  • Increased tolerance to alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances
  • Changes in appearance; the person looks disheveled, tired, rundown or haggard; bloodshot eyes
  • Isolation or avoiding interaction with others
  • Displaying forgetfulness or a fuzzy recollection of events that have occurred (Sometimes, these episodes are referred to as blackouts or brownouts.).
  • Risky handling of finances
  • Being negligent when it comes to responsibilities like work or school
  • Participating in risky behaviors that endanger themselves or others
  • Mood swings and/or irrational behavior
  • Decline in mental and/or physical health
  • Sudden health challenges and complications

If you recognize any of these signs or any others that raise concern, consider staging an intervention with your loved one now.

Professional Intervention Standards

There are approaches to consider when staging an effective intervention, so it is up to you to decide which method works best for your situation. According to the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS), there is a regular intervention model and the Family Systemic Model, which involves the family and promotes healing for relatives as well.

AIS states that a standard intervention has five points, which are:

  • Meetings before the intervention only involve the family members. The person who is in active addiction is not told about the intervention.
  • The intervention occurs only once — this is strictly for effectiveness.
  • An intervention occurs in a controlled environment that includes a trained counselor.
  • Once the intervention occurs, daily life must go on.
  • The person in active addiction must choose whether or not to enter rehab. Whether they agree to it or not, the family must stick firmly to the consequences that were outlined during the intervention.

A different intervention approach, according to the AIS, is the Family Systemic Model, which  consists of these steps:

  • There are no planned meetings that are hidden from the addicted person. In fact, when a meeting is set up with a trained interventionist, the person goes to the very first one.
  • During the meetings, all family members and the addicted person openly discuss the way the addict’s behavior has impacted each one’s lives. It is not a one-way conversation — it can go back in forth in a controlled manner.
  • Instead of having one big meeting for the intervention, there could be several meetings a week, and the process can last for months at a time.
  • Both the person in active addiction and family members commit to entering counseling. Most likely, the person of concern will attend an inpatient rehab to work through their addiction. Afterward, the person will join the family therapy sessions that occur while in rehab. The family commits to therapy sessions while the addicted person is in rehab as well as afterward as one family unit.

The Mayo Clinic advises that intervention meetings accomplish the following:

  • Provides the subject with examples of destructive behaviors and how those behaviors have affected the subject with the addiction and the person’s family, friends, colleagues
  • Offers a prearranged treatment plan that includes clear steps, goals, and guidelines
  • Clarifies what will happen if the person refuses to accept treatment

An effective intervention will set clear boundaries for the meeting, which ensures progress. Yet, it is important that these boundaries are enforceable. Empty threats and unrealistic outcomes can damage the credibility of the process or the people conducting the meeting, which can spur your loved one to continue using.  

Tips for Conducting an Effective Intervention

Even with the best intentions, an intervention meeting may not always go as planned. In fact, without the proper steps, an intervention can go completely off the rails.

To ensure an effective outcome, it is vital to implement these key components into your planned intervention. Here are tips that can help improve the experience for everyone involved.

Seek the Services of an Interventionist or Therapist

Seek the services of an interventionist, therapist, or other licensed mental health professional to facilitate the meeting. The job ofa certified addiction interventionist is to make sure the person with a substance abuse problem gets into rehab. The interventionist will help your family prepare for and stage the intervention. They will also help you understand what to do and what to avoid when your loved one leaves for treatment. An interventionist also performs the critical function of helping you arrange treatment options, including where to send your loved one for therapy. They can set this all up before the actual intervention takes place.

Keep the Timing of Intervention in Mind

It is highly recommended that you do not invite the person of concern to an intervention when they are “high” or going through withdrawal. It is also important to remember that a successful intervention will hinge on whether the subject is at their most balanced mental and physical state. If your loved one is high or going through withdrawal, their condition can rob the meeting of its effectiveness and ultimately become a distraction. You have to make sure there is enough time to hold the meeting and that there are minimal to no distractions. What’s more, since withdrawal symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable, someone in this state will be less likely to engage in the meeting.  

Establish a Solid, Actionable Plan Before the Intervention

Careful planning is essential to stage an effective intervention. It is best that you and everyone involved rehearse what they plan to say beforehand. This helps the meeting stay on course. In an intervention setting that means the tone should remain formal and civil. Preparation can have family members and friends rehearse the written letters they plan on reading to the subject. Participants should be well-versed in how they will relay their individual messages. Also, all persons involved should have a clear understanding of how the meeting should play out.

Never Go off Script

Interventions should never, ever be freestyled. There is too much at stake, namely the health and well-being of your loved one. When meetings deviate due to a lack of an actionable plan, it opens up the chance for failure. In this setting, failure could mean that the subject finds an opportunity to divert the focus of the intervention and make a case for why they don’t need treatment. Ultimately, bad planning can sabotage your desired result: getting your loved one to admit they need treatment.

Be Honest With the Person at the Center of the Meeting

Misleading, lying, or equivocating won’t do anything to help the person for whom the intervention is intended. Doing any of that will cause your loved one to resent being there and refuse to participate. The best thing participants can do is talk earnestly about how your loved one’s behaviors have negatively impacted their lives. Doing so can provide the subject with an accurate perspective on their addiction. By seeing the reality of their addiction as opposed to living in denial, your loved one may, in fact, want to change and be willing to accept help.

Anticipate Possible Objections

The subject of the intervention could turn defensive.  Your loved one could utter objections such as, “I don’t have a problem. I can stop at any time.” or “This is my problem, and I can handle it on my own. I don’t need help.” In this instance, it is important to remind your loved one of the times their substance abuse led to unfavorable outcomes. You can also point out patterns of abuse that can be documented. By ensuring that your evidence is ironclad, you protect yourself from any excuses or objections your loved one might lob to invalidate your points.

Keep the Intervention on Track

Never stray from the purpose of the meeting or allow it to spin out of control. After all, the primary purpose of the intervention is to get your loved one the help he or she so desperately needs. When you get off topic, it prevents the issue at hand — your loved one’s addiction — from getting the attention it needs so that he or she can seek help.

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