How Effective are Addiction Interventions?

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About 95 percent of all addicts are in denial, so they’re unlikely to seek treatment completely on their own.[1] They often don’t realize how destructive their habit is to themselves and to others. The primary aim of an intervention is to motivate them to enter treatment. If they manage to stay the course and even achieve long-term sobriety, then the intervention will have far exceeded expectations.

Intervention Strategies

Many intervention strategies exist but these are the most common:

Most addicts don't voluntarily enter addiction treatment programs. Some need a nudge from family, friends, or the court system to get their addiction issues in order.
  • Formal intervention where family and friends, or co-workers, supported by trained interventionists, engage the addict on the destructive addiction behavior and present a treatment plan.
  • Forced court intervention where the addict is suicidal, has a serious mental disorder, or some other condition that’s self-harmful or dangerous to society. Kentucky and 37 other states have laws enabling parents to get adult children into drug centers via a court order.[2]
  • Forced court intervention where the addict has committed a non-violent drug or alcohol-related offence, such as drunken driving. The addict avoids jail time by enrolling in a drug treatment program.

Do These Interventions Work?

Evidence suggests that family and concerned people’s interventions are extremely successful especially when professionals are involved. The success rate may be as much as 90 percent, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) says.[3] Family and friends are important in helping addicts to admit to the destructive nature of their habit and to agree to treatment. But since emotions run high in relationships involving addiction, a trained interventionist should be on hand to guide the proceedings in an objective way so that the addict doesn’t feel ambushed.

A successful intervention involves careful planning by the intervention team. At the subsequent meeting with the addict, the destructive effects of his or her habit are carefully outlined, as are the consequences of refusing treatment, including being deprived of financial assistance, or denied access to children. In the workplace, the worker, normally a key employee, may face the sack for refusing treatment. But the consequences are more effective when presented in a calm, compassionate way so the addict sees that it is for his or her own good. The stakes are also high for the intervention team. Family members want to preserve the family unit, while in the workplace, management want to hold on to a valued employee.

The addict must decide on the spot whether to opt in or out of treatment. If the decision is positive, the addict is immediately checked into a prearranged addiction program which will likely provide counseling for the family, for all they’ve been through, and to make them effective in the recovery process.

Coercive interventions through the courts are extremely successful too, despite the force used. An estimated 60 percent of people enter rehab this way and there’s evidence of lowering crime and substance use among this group. In one study, only 29 percent were found to have subsequently failed drug tests compared to 46 percent of non-treated offenders while 52 percent were deemed less likely to be arrested compared to 62 percent of their non-treated counterparts.[4] A 2005 study found coerced and non-coerced methamphetamine addicts to have similar treatment results and similar post-treatment sobriety levels, while another study found coerced addicts to have achieved even better treatment results than their non-coerced counterparts.[1, 4] The reason for this is not entirely clear. Perhaps it’s because of the constant threat of legal action they face, or because they gradually become aware of the merits of staying clean.

Elements of an Unsuccessful Intervention

Interventions are hard work. They may need constant revision before the right formula is achieved. Here are some reasons why an intervention may fail:

  • Family or friends intervene only when there’s a crisis so the action is a quick-fix and unplanned, so the addict doesn’t buy into it.
  • A professional interventionist is not involved in family or friendly interventions, so there’s little impartiality or clear direction.
  • Family and friends don’t seek an immediate commitment to treatment. So the addict is able to build a wall of resistance to treatment.
  • The consequences for refusing treatment are not presented empathetically, but in a threatening way which only serves to scare off the addict.
  • Once scared off, family members fail to follow through with the agreed consequences of refusal thus enabling the addict to keep abusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Family and friends show lack of interest in court-ordered processes.

Interventions clearly work best when family and support personnel are included, even when they don’t initiate them. Court ordered admissions to treatment programs may be the only resort when all else has failed but tremendous success has been achieved here too. That’s why by mid 2012, over 2000 drug courts were already operational in the United States.[4]

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to speak to a treatment specialist.

References:

[1] The success rates of addiction interventions are higher with professional interventionists. Retrieved from https://www.bhpalmbeach.com/recovery-articles/success-rates-addiction-interventions-are-higher-professional-interventionists

[2] Several states have laws allowing involuntary addiction treatment. Retrieved from http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/several-states-have-laws-allowing-involuntary-addiction-treatment/

[3] Intervention - Tips and Guidelines. Retrieved from https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines

[4] Lee, J. Court-ordered drug rehab and addiction treatment: what you need to know. Retrieved from http://www.choosehelp.com/topics/drug-rehab/court-ordered-drug-rehab

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