Each time a family bands together and holds an addiction intervention, that family is taking one small step toward a better future. They are helping their loved one, the family as a whole and the country at large. Interventions take planning and creating real change isn’t easy, but both are possible with the right professional help, the right compassion and concern and the right intervention script.
When it comes time to discuss touchy subjects such as addiction and mental health, a little preparation goes a long way. Preparing a strong script is a good first step. When the conversation is mapped out in advance, the stress level can drop. Conversation can flow more freely. Encouragement toward recovery and treatment becomes more effective.
Step 1: Open With Affection
Interventions aren’t the dramatic events seen on TV. However they are confrontations about sensitive subjects. Emotions run high. Living with addiction isn’t easy. Living with someone who has a substance use disorder isn’t easy either. Family members and friends may have weeks, months and years of angry, sad or simply overwhelming emotions they want to share.
However starting an intervention with these feelings isn’t the best way to start. People who feel attacked tend to shut down completely and block out the words coming towards them. Others who are attacked respond aggressively. This can lead to people walking out of interventions or create yelling matches that do no one any good at all. Leading with an expression of love and support is a much more constructive route to take. Using terms such as, “I have always believed in you,” or “You’re one of the most important people in my life,” can help the person feel as though the conversation won’t be an attack.
An intervention is a loving, compassionate expression of concern from people who truly respect the person and simply want him or her to be healthy and happy. Sharing kind words is a much more effective way to get things started.
Step 2: Describe Specific Behaviors
Denial is a major part of most addictions. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that of the 23 million Americans 12 and older who needed addiction care, only 2.6 million got that care. Many of those who did not reach out for help said that they didn’t feel as though they needed that help.1 Denial is a major barrier to treatment. It can keep people from getting the professional care they need to get better.
People can change their minds when they’re provided with specific, irrefutable evidence of the truth. For people with addictions, that evidence can come from concerned family members.
Good evidence to bring up during an intervention includes:
- Episodes of impaired driving
- Skipped family functions
- Missed work
- Reduced contributions at home
Each incident should be relayed in detail, with dates and times included if at all possible. The incidents should be relayed in a factual manner, although family members can state how the incidents made them feel. Sticking to facts and statements that begin with the word “I” are most effective here.
When loved ones share the behaviors and consequences they’ve seen on a firsthand basis, denial becomes harder to maintain. Individuals may begin to think more critically about their drug use.
A good example is:
“I got the phone call that you had been arrested for drugged driving when I was putting Megan to bed on Friday night at about 9. I was angry at the idea that driving like that could have caused the death of a little girl like our Megan, and I was worried about your health too.”
Step 3: Detail the Physical Problems Addictions Can Cause
The interpersonal, emotional and financial damage caused by addiction may compel some people to reach out for help. There are others who are more likely to leave drugs behind if they’re asked to think about the health issues that can develop if they continue to use.
While you’d think we all know about the health risks of drug use, that we can all see the changes drug use is causing to a loved one’s health or body, people who have addictions often aren’t aware of these changes or can ignore them. Addictive Behaviors found, “Among current smokers, 38% considered that smoking can cause cancer only for a daily consumption higher than their own consumption, and an additional 22% stated that tobacco-related cancer risk only becomes high for a longer smoking duration than their personal one.”
People who smoke believe it more likely that other smokers will face health problems but that they will remain immune and healthy.2 This belief clearly doesn’t reflect reality. Anyone who smokes or uses a drug is at risk. However addiction clouds rational thought. An intervention can clear these thoughts about personal health and risk.
A family mediator or interventionist will help families effectively communicate the risks of specific drug use or behaviors. A medical professional can talk with a loved one or help families develop a list of specific health problems that are associated with specific types of drug use.
The Internet can also be a valuable resource, as long as families focus their searches on governmental agencies and published journal reports, not chat rooms or private blog sites. The information presented should be as factual and precise as possible, providing the person with specific facts and figures that are hard to ignore.
Step 4: Outline Treatment Options
Ideally at the end of a successful intervention, the person who needs care will go immediately to a treatment program. In fact as soon as the person agrees to get help for addiction, the conversation is over. Things left unsaid can remain unsaid for now. Families need to take advantage of this moment of clarity and motivation. This mean before an intervention begins, families need to have treatment options ready. While planning the intervention, they should be working on smoothing the admissions process for the person they love.
During the intervention the family can begin to outline how treatment works and offer details about the specific programs they’ve researched. Details about the treatment facility can be helpful. Telling the person where the facility is located, what it looks like and what a typical day in treatment is like will help ease any worries they might have.
Choosing a facility for him or her, smoothing admissions and insurance processes and taking care of details like travel, pet or child care makes it harder for a loved one to refuse the gift of recovery.
Step 5: Express Love and Support
Providing facts and figures can be persuasive. Simply expressing how much a person is loved can be even more powerful. Family members should talk about how much they love and respect the person who needs care. They should express how much they want that person to overcome addiction and move forward with a healthier and happier life. Placing blame and using guilt should be avoided. Expressions of love, support, admiration and simple affection are much more effective.
Family members can also use an intervention to outline the work they plan to do. They can offer help at every stage of recovery, both when the person is in treatment and when the formal treatment program is over. Friends and family members who pledge their ongoing support and their own participation in treatment, therapy and aftercare help loved ones feel more comfortable accepting primary care.
Optional Step: Set Consequences
All interventions are successful in that they open the door for communication, increase awareness and set the course for future action. Most intervention also end with the person with addiction agreeing to treatment. However if the individual is still resistant to the idea, friends and family may choose to outline specific consequences. This isn’t intended as harsh punishment or a threat, but it does set clear and firm guidelines for what the future will look like without treatment. Addiction harms loved ones, not just the person using drugs or alcohol.
People who are addicted may do the following:
- Steal from the family
- Drive while under the influence
- Leave dangerous drugs in open spaces where children might find them
- Get arrested and subject the family to harsh legal consequences
- Cost the family time and money
- Cost the family emotional health and wellbeing
It might seem harsh to threaten someone who is dealing with an addiction, but it’s important to remember that addictions can cause people to make decisions that can be difficult for the family to endure. Families need to protect themselves, and in doing so, they actually encourage future treatment.
Consequences can vary. Some families may choose to keep addicted family members away from small children. Others ask addicted people to leave the household altogether or pledge to no longer offer any money for any reason. Families outline ways in which they’ll refuse to shield the person from the consequences of the addiction. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment reports that setting firm consequences encourages individuals to both enter and stay in treatment.3
However setting consequences is a personal decision. Each family can work with their interventionist to weigh risks and benefits and determine the best options for their unique situation.
Putting the Intervention Together
Creating an intervention script that contains all the right elements is an important first step. However even the best scripts won’t be effective unless the family practices, plans for a variety of outcomes and really understands what they’ll need to say and how they’ll need to say it.
Practice sessions also help family members make sure they present a united message of concern and communicate the same goals and consequences. Practice sessions are also good times to get used to talking about addiction, a disease that otherwise thrives on denial, silence and secrets. This helps keep interventions from getting too emotional and makes it less likely that participants will lose their train of thought or trip over their words and feelings.
Interventions don’t have to be complicated or overwhelming. They can be kind, compassionate and carefully planned. Reach out to us at 269.280.4673 to learn more about interventions, interventionists and the best treatment options for your loved one.
By Alanna Hilbink, Contributing Writer
1 Cooper, Aaron. “Study: 22 Million Americans Use Illegal Drugs.” CNN.com. 8 Sep. 2011.
2 Peretti-Watel, Patrick, et al. “Smokers’ Risk Perception, Socioeconomic Status and Source of Information on Cancer.” Addictive Behaviors. Sep. 2014.
3 Miller, Norman and Flaherty, Joseph. “Effectiveness of Coerced Addiction Treatment (Alternative Consequences): A Review of the Clinical Research.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Jan. 2000.