Sadly this is often an unrealistic expectation. The addicted person continues to abuse drugs or alcohol, often breaking promises to remain sober or control their addiction. In order to save a loved one's life, an intervention may be necessary.
Getting high is central to the lives of people addicted to alcohol and drugs -- their primary motivation often becomes when and how to get high again. In some instances, behavioral addictions, and mental health issues such as eating disorders, may additionally complicate and consume a person's life. Compulsive, damaging behaviors may ultimately overshadow everything else that is of value to the person, and in these cases it may be critical to seek the help of an interventionist before the addiction worsens.
Interventions may stand the best chance of being successful when conducted under the guidance of an outside professional. An interventionist's assistance may mean the difference between life and death. But first, you'll need to know the signs and symptoms of substance addiction so that you can determine whether an intervention is necessary or not.
How Do I Know if Someone Needs an Intervention?
The majority of addicted individuals are in denial about their substance abuse, and if they do recognize their problem, they are often afraid of attending treatment because they know they’ll experience painful withdrawal. They may also have heard disconcerting stories from others about withdrawal or detox experiences.7
Someone who is struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction is likely to exhibit certain behaviors that friends and family members should be on the lookout for. These behaviors may include:7
- Acting angry, avoidant, or defensive.
- Blaming negative effects from drug or alcohol abuse on other circumstances.
- Attending social gatherings only if substances are available.
- Experiencing a personality change when under the influence.
- Experiencing occupational problems.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time with friends who drink or do drugs.
- Borrowing money constantly or running up a lot of charges on credit cards.
- Driving while under the influence.
- Sniffing constantly or struggling with frequent colds.
- Making many trips to the bathroom in a short period of time.
- Engaging in substance abuse more than usual.
Once you recognize these signs and symptoms addiction, you can begin to plan an intervention, whether it is with your family or through an interventionist. There are some important things to remember before you stage an intervention, though. You don’t want to hold one before you’re completely prepared and educated, because otherwise it could have the opposite effect and potentially drive your addicted loved one away. 7
First, you want to ensure that your tone is empathetic, compassionate, and nonjudgmental. You may want to begin by talking to the person about their drug or alcohol abuse in a one-on-one meeting, instead of within the context of a group. A group intervention right off the bat could be overwhelming for your loved one. Express your concern for the person’s behavior and ask if they’re receptive to hearing your thoughts and feelings. Always use non-blaming language, such as “I feel,” instead of “you are.” Try to discuss the addiction in a collaborative manner. The addicted person is not the enemy; you are on the same team. It can be helpful to list specific situations related to drug or alcohol use that hurt you. If they are open to hearing what you have to say, you may ask if they’d be willing to consider an addiction treatment program. If they respond positively, you can begin to take the next steps, but if not, don’t press the issue. 7
The Work of an Interventionist
People often seek the aid of interventionists for their loved ones when their own attempts to address the problem fail, or they are unable to initiate the conversation to begin with. They may feel they have the same conversation repeatedly, but the behavior ultimately remains the same. Addicted people often deny their addiction, claiming it’s not a problem, that they don't need help, or that they feel they aren’t hurting anyone but themselves. Talking to an addict about the problem and convincing them to seek treatment are rarely easy tasks. Many people find they need intervention services to address the issue effectively.
It is important to stress that the intervention is taking place because all team members love and support the addicted person and want to see him live a healthy life.
Part of the intervention involves providing education and information to prepare the loved ones of an addicted person. Interventionists are experts in how to address both the individuals struggling with addiction and their loved ones, and help everyone persuade the loved one to accept treatment. They are able to run an intervention that is organized and productive, navigating tricky waters when a person responds in a defensive, unpredictable, or even violent manner. An interventionist will work to keep the event on track, and may even escort the addict to treatment following the intervention.
The interventionist's job includes:
- Assessing the addiction and surrounding circumstances.
- Making an analysis based on provided information.
- Developing strategies for an effective intervention.
- Providing direction toward the best approach to treatment and aftercare.
Family, friends, and colleagues can attend the intervention. If you are unsure of who should be involved in the intervention, you can discuss potential team members with the interventionist. As a general rule, people who are important in the addicted person's life, such as a spouse or romantic partner, family members, close friends, and even colleagues are appropriate choices. Children should only be involved if they are of an appropriate age with the ability to understand the event and desire to participate.
Anyone who is actively abusing drugs and/or alcohol themselves or is in a similar situation to the individual in need of treatment in terms of a process addiction or eating disorder should forego participation in the intervention. Similarly, those who have an excessively negative relationship with the addict should be excluded because the focus of the intervention ought to a positive one, designed to help the addicted person help him or herself by getting into treatment.
Family members are often the ones who first contact an interventionist to initiate the event. Since they interact with the addicted person on a daily basis, they are familiar with the damage the addiction is causing to that person's life and to those around them. Family interventions can be held at the family home since it is beneficial for the person to feel comfortable during the process. Families may also choose to hold their intervention in a neutral location, such as an unused office space, church, or healthcare center. Discuss possibilities with your interventionist to determine the best locale.
There are various techniques involved when staging an intervention. Team members commonly read letters aloud that they have written to the addicted person, detailing how the addict's behavior has hurt them. These letters are written beforehand, with the help of the interventionist and may be revised based on feedback from the entire team. It is important to stress that the intervention is taking place because all team members love and support the addicted person and want to see him or her live a healthy life. An effective intervention should also plan for what happens if the addicted person does not accept help, and detail the consequences from loved ones.
Workplace interventions take place when a boss or coworker notices persistent addiction issues with someone in the workplace. Oftentimes addicted people have trouble maintaining their jobs. They may show up under the effects of the substance, come to work late, or miss work altogether due to their addiction issues. Since addiction takes priority in a person's life, other responsibilities take a backseat to the addiction.
When those at work can no longer ignore their colleague's addiction, they may choose to stage an intervention. Professional interventionists have experience in conducting workplace interventions, which have different dynamics than family interventions. In a workplace intervention, it's important to only involve those who are close to the addicted person. Having casual acquaintances at the intervention can do more harm than good. As interventions may often take an entire day, it's advisable to hold it in a location where privacy is available. Reserving a conference room for an entire day can work well.
In the United States, workplaces often use the screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) strategy to identify addictions or those who are at risk of developing addictions. The SBIRT strategy applies early intervention techniques, and motivates addicted people towards accepting treatment services. This method involves the development of a workplace management plan and contains guidelines on how to perform an intervention. All workplace interventions should include efforts to educate the addicted person about the dangers associated with their behavior, and offer clear steps they can take to seek treatment after the intervention.
Types of Intervention
There are many different approaches to interventions and it's important to choose one that you feel would be most effective for your loved one. A professional interventionist can help you with this process. The main types of interventions include:
- The Johnson Model.
- The Systemic Model.
- The ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement) Model.
The Johnson Model
When most people think of an intervention, they likely picture something similar to the Johnson Model. This type of intervention involves family and friends confronting the addicted person about their behavior. Loved ones are educated on the risks of their enabling behaviors, desired outcome of the intervention, exploration of their needs, and a plan to conduct the intervention beforehand.
The intervention team members make it clear that they fully support the addict in their recovery. However, consequences are spelled out should the addicted person choose to not seek treatment. These consequences may include no longer providing him or her with housing or money. It's important for team members to enforce the consequences if the addicted person does not seek treatment.
While the Johnson Model is effective in many cases, it doesn't work for everyone. Some addicted people feel great shame and anger at being confronted in this manner and may become defensive.
The Systemic Model
This type of intervention works better for those who don't respond to confrontation well. The addicted person is involved in all meetings with the interventionist and loved ones, where all participants, including the addicted person, speak about how the addict’s behavior has affected them, allowing for a discussion rather than a confrontation.
This process may take several months, and the preferred outcome is that all involved commit to receiving counseling services, such as the addicted person attending a rehab facility and the family members attending family therapy sessions.
The ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement) Model
This type of intervention is still aimed at getting the addicted person into treatment, but is less confrontational that the Johnson Model, does not incorporate the element of surprise, and takes into account the needs of the loved ones along with the addicted person’s needs. This model has three stages, the first of which is a call from a loved one to a specially trained ARISE interventionist.
The second stage involves 3 to 5 meetings between the support network, the addicted person, and the interventionist, and the third stage is the actual ARISE intervention, although he or she can accept treatment at any stage. The intervention itself employs a range of pressure that matches the level of resistance the addicted person displays to receiving help, by discussing how the addiction has affected loved ones, consequences if the support network is willing to enforce them, and a discussion and negotiation of treatment options.
There are some types of interventions that don't fit a specific model. A professional interventionist can assess the situation and then opt for a strategy that will work best. Since the ultimate goal is for your loved one to seek treatment, it's important to approach them in the best possible way.
Finding Help for Addiction Intervention
Interventionists go through specific training to utilize the main types of intervention models and are involved in new, cutting-edge treatments to help your loved one accept the consequences of their addiction and become willing to attend treatment. Seeking professional support is vital to ensuring the best possible outcome for your loved one struggling with addiction and everyone else involved.
Addiction recovery begins with treatment, and oftentimes treatment is sought after a successful intervention.
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Intervention: Tips and guidelines.
- Mayo Clinic. (2014). Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). About screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT).
- American Psychological Association. (2016). Johnson intervention.
- Association of Intervention Specialists. (2012). What is the family systemic model?
- Garrett, J., Landau, J., Shea, R., Stanton, D., Baciewicz, G., & Brinkman-Sull, D. (1998). The ARISE intervention: Using family and network links to engage addicted persons in treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 15(4), 333-343.
- American Addiction Centers. 2018.