Drug and Alcohol Interventions
Public awareness of drug and alcohol interventions has increased thanks to the popularity of the television show Intervention. However, many misconceptions and unanswered questions still surround substance abuse interventions and how to conduct them.
This article will answer the following frequently asked questions about interventions for drug addiction and alcoholism:
- What is a drug intervention?
- When it is appropriate to do an intervention for addiction?
- What are the appropriate steps for staging an intervention?
- When is it necessary to seek support from a professional interventionist?
- What are the dos and don’ts of staging a substance abuse intervention?
What Is a Drug Intervention?
A drug intervention is a carefully planned and staged process where family members, friends, and sometimes drug intervention specialists approach a person about his or her alcohol or drug abuse. Substance abuse interventions typically take place face-to-face in a setting where the person feels comfortable, such as one’s own home or that of a family member. Occasionally, an intervention will take place in the office of an intervention professional.
The goals of an intervention are:
- to help the addicted person recognize the negative consequences of his or her addiction and the impact it has on others.
- to enter treatment.1, 2
When to Do an Intervention
Concerned friends and family members may wonder, “When is the right time to stage an intervention?” Generally, it is best to hold an intervention as early as possible. As soon as you recognize a problem, an intervention may be the next logical step.
A person does not have to hit rock bottom to justify an intervention. Rather than waiting for a crisis, it is better to stage an intervention early before the problem worsens. You may be able to prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place.
If you are concerned that a loved one may be struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, here are some common signs of addiction to look for:3
- Poor hygiene and neglected physical appearance
- Lying, unexplained behavior, and secrecy
- Frequent mood swings
- Behavioral changes
- Neglecting other important life responsibilities, hobbies, and activities
- Relationship issues
- Financial problems
- Drug paraphernalia (pipes, needles, bent spoons, short straws, pill bottles, etc.)
- Inability to control drug use
- Needing more of the drug to achieve the same effect
- Withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly stopped or lessened
- Defensive attitude when confronted about use
- Taking significant and unnecessary risks to obtain drugs
Staging an Intervention
Some important steps you’ll need to take when staging an intervention for addiction or alcoholism include:1
- Determining the intervention group. Begin by deciding who will be present during the intervention. It is best to choose only close family members and friends that the person trusts.
- Finding a professional interventionist. To help increase the chances of success, consider hiring a drug intervention specialist to assist you in planning and executing the intervention.
- Choosing a meeting place and time. Choose a designated time and place for the intervention team to meet. Avoid holding an intervention in a public setting. Select a time and place where the person will be most comfortable and thus more likely to be receptive.
- Rehearsing what you’re going to say. Deciding what you are going to say and how you are going to say it is one of the most important aspects of planning a successful addiction intervention. The better prepared you are for the conversation, the more effective you can be. Each person should be prepared to identify specific ways in which the person’s addiction and behavior has affected them. Be sure to express love and concern and explain why you feel treatment should be the next step.
- Choosing a treatment option and preparing to execute it. The intervention team should decide ahead of time what form of treatment (inpatient, outpatient, or other) they feel is best for their loved one. Then, a designated person in the intervention group (often the intervention professional) should take the necessary steps to get the person ready to be enrolled in treatment. Make sure the treatment center you have chosen is covered by insurance and has openings available. Taking care of these technicalities in advance can ease the process of getting a person into treatment immediately if they choose to take your advice following the intervention.
- Deciding on consequences to enforce if the person refuses to get help. Consequences are an important component of successful interventions that many friends and family members may have difficulty carrying out. Choose consequences that the person would want to avoid if at all possible. Be prepared to follow through with the consequence if the person refuses to seek treatment.
Using a Professional Interventionist
A professional interventionist isn’t necessary to execute an intervention. But hiring one can improve your chance of success.When seeking an interventionist, be sure to evaluate the person’s credentials, education, and experience before hiring someone. Some people claim to be addiction specialists, but have no formal training or education in addiction, mental health, or social work.
Professional interventionists are certified addiction counselors and licensed therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or other certified addiction professionals who help friends and family members of addicted persons plan, organize, and execute substance abuse interventions. Interventionists typically provide support, education, and guidance, as well as take care of treatment and aftercare planning.1, 2
A professional interventionist isn’t necessary to execute an intervention. But hiring one can improve your chance of success. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, over 90% of people make a commitment to get help after undergoing an intervention with a drug intervention specialist.2
Some advantages of hiring a professional interventionist include:
- Professional guidance and assistance with planning and execution.
- Professional support in dealing with possible outbursts, threats, or violence.
- Mediation between family members to minimize conflict and promote healthy, nonviolent forms of communication.
- Expert knowledge of addiction and treatment modalities.
- Facilitation of treatment plans following a successful intervention.
Here are some dos and don’ts for staging an intervention:
- Do consider hiring a professional.
- Do rehearse prior to the intervention.
- Do avoid confrontation by being compassionate, loving, and understanding.
- Do be prepared for objections.
- Do provide education, support, empathy, and resources.
- Don’t threaten consequences that you aren’t willing to enforce.
- Don’t do an intervention while the person is high.
- Don’t belittle, shame, or antagonize.
- Don’t do the intervention in public.
. Mayo Clinic (2014). Intervention: Help A Loved One Overcome Addiction.
. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Intervention Tips and Guidelines.
. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2016). Signs and Symptoms.