Implementing an intervention requires as much research on the topic as possible before attempting one. According to the NCADD, “when an intervention is done with a person who is trained and successfully experienced as an interventionist, over 90% of people make a commitment to get help.”
Consulting an addiction professional to assist in arranging the most effective intervention can be extremely beneficial. You may even want to invite this specialist to the intervention to act as a facilitator and keep the intervention on track.
We spoke with Addiction Intervention Specialist Kevin Dixon of KD Consulting to break down the 5 essential components of every successful intervention.
An intervention should never be spontaneous. Careful consideration to who is involved, where it occurs, when it takes place and other details should all be prearranged. Finding a time and date when the addict is least likely to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs is useful so that the intervention is not sabotaged from the onset. “You want to do it when they’re hungover or when they’re in withdrawals,” Dixon advises. “It’s a good time because they’re vulnerable and you have more clarity of thought to the patient and the communication of the participants in the room.” In addition, many believe that a “rehearsal” of the intervention event will increase success.
The people chosen to be part of an intervention may include family members, close friends and/or colleagues. These group members must be willing to be completely candid, honest and unafraid to confront the addict. Anyone who has demonstrated behaviors that have supported the addict in the past (such as providing money, allowing a safe place to get high, etc.) should only be included if they are committed to ending this co-dependent behavior. However, Dixon explains that an intervention is not only about getting the patient into treatment. “It’s also about working with the family during the course of the patient’s treatment.”
3. Positive and Negative Dialogue
During the intervention, not all the commentary should focus on the adverse behaviors of the addict. Every person possesses good qualities. Reminding the addict of their positive attributes during an intervention is important as it gives them hope to return to the person they once were.
Family and friends involved in the intervention must also be ready to confront the addictive behavior in a factual manner and stay on track without being derailed by the addict who may often deny their issues or blame others. This is when having a professional interventionist may come in handy. “The addict has tools: anger, denial, placating, manipulating, guilt, shame, remorse,” Dixon says. “And when you’re too close to the situation, you’re going to need every ounce in transferring emotion.” It may also be extremely useful to write down your thoughts in advance and review them to assure the intervention does not become disrupted by the addict’s arguments over minor events of the past (such as who really paid for the drugs).
Expect anger and resistance during the intervention from the substance abuser. It is essential that everyone participating stay as calm and focused as possible without emotion, yelling or screaming throughout the entire intervention. The addict will naturally put up walls and try to manipulate the conversation off of their substance abuse and onto others. Keep the conversation focused on the facts and remember that the addict has a disease and requires professional help to get sober.
Families may often think they have to exhibit tough love in order to be effective. They may say things like “I’ll never talk to you again until you go to treatment.” Dixon, however, sees just how unrealistic that is. Instead he calls people to be “proactive, not reactive.” This means calling the loved one every day with the simple question, “Are you willing to go to treatment today?” It’s simple and to-the-point and much more optimal than isolation, which actually feeds into the patient’s addiction.
5. Possible Outcomes
If your friend or relative agrees to the path of treatment, be ready with a plan to immediately take them to the treatment center, preferably directly from the intervention. Do not let them go home to pack or call a friend or get involved in any distraction. The risk of them changing their mind at this vulnerable stage could set back all the hard work that has been done to get them to accept treatment.
Dixon also advises having someone travel with the patient if they’re going to an out-of-state program. “Most patients will drink on the plane or try to get one more fix,” he says. “So if you can’t take Johnny or Sue or Mrs. Smith to the airport, there are organizations that can do transports.”
Regretfully, a positive outcome does not always follow the intervention. However, this doesn’t mean the intervention was pointless or that the situation is completely hopeless. Plan in advance exactly how you will respond but make sure you also find support for yourself. As Dixon stresses, “Whether or not your loved one goes to treatment, there are support groups available for loved ones of the active addict and it’s important to go and get that help.”