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How to Hold an Intervention

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It is hard to watch a loved one grapple with a substance use problem. You may feel useless to help them, and they may not realize or admit to having a problem. You are not alone. One step that you can take to help your loved one is to stage an intervention.

What Is an Intervention?

An intervention is a process utilized by friends and relatives to confront a substance user about their problem. The goal of the intervention to explain to the user what the consequences of addiction are and to ask him or her to seek treatment. In essence, it is a plan to create change, and it can be effective in helping a loved one get help. When an intervention is done with the assistance of a professional trained to deal with addiction, over 90 percent of the addicted individuals who are confronted in this controlled environment do seek help.

Do Your Research

If you want an individual to go into treatment, make it easy on them. Research the treatment options and go into the intervention with solid information, but do not stop there. Spend some time talking to friends and family about their observations and stories. Determine who might be a good ally in your fight to convince your loved one to go into treatment. You will also want to make sure that you are reading the situation properly and not confusing a mental illness for substance addiction.

Here are some behaviors of addicted individuals:

  • Having blackouts or memory loss
  • Frequently lying
  • Borrowing or stealing money or valuables
  • Engaging in risky behavior such as unprotected sex
  • Avoiding friends and family
  • Neglecting hygiene
  • Experiencing depression or mood swings
  • Using alcohol or recreational drugs more frequently
  • Hiding liquor or drugs in the home
  • Using drugs or alcohol just to relax, get through the day or sleep
  • Drinking early in the day
  • Missing work or school frequently
  • Having a lack of interest in hobbies
  • Running out of prescription medications early

Select a Team

When planning an intervention, choose your team carefully. You want to include people who will make the largest impact on the addicted individual. Parents, adult children and close friends are good choices. Make sure everyone understands that this is not the time to point fingers or lash out. Choose people who are like-minded when it comes to the severity of the problem. Avoid including anyone the addicted individual dislikes or who is also dealing with their own substance use problem or mental health issues. Avoid inviting anyone who you do not think can stay calm in a high-stress situation. Consider carefully if children should be included. Keep in mind that you do not know how the addicted individual will react to this confrontation no matter how well-meaning it is. For the team to work effectively, you must create an environment of love and concern.

If you feel insecure in your ability to lead the team, hire an interventionist to lead the group. An interventionist has experience in dealing with addictions, and equally important, he or she can help interpret what the group is saying into terms that your loved one will understand. Additionally, an interventionist is a disinterested third party who can moderate temperaments and keep the group on track.

Time Matters

Intervention is most successful when the abuser is not drunk or high. Typically, meeting in the morning works better than later in the day. If your loved one is incarcerated, holding an intervention as soon as they are released is a good time to catch them sober and more willing to comply.

The intervention itself may last up to 90 minutes, but you will need to devote more time than that to prepare. A good intervention takes a lot of planning and practice. Your team must commit to as many planning and practice sessions as needed for everyone to feel prepared for the big event.

Location, Location, Location

While you may be tempted to hold the intervention at home where you are the most comfortable, that is also where the addicted individual is also most comfortable. It offers them the most opportunity to retreat to the bathroom or a bedroom. Consider going to a neutral location. Your interventionist may have an office you can use. A church or a community center may have a room you can use. The end goal is to find a place that affords you some privacy and security but is public enough that the addicted individual is most apt to behave and stay engaged in the process.

Who Speaks First?

The order that everyone speaks up in the group is important. Typically, you want someone who has the closest relationship to the loved one to go first. That person should set the tone and clarify why the group is there. Each member, in turn, will voice their concerns and give examples of how the addiction has affected their relationship as well as what changes they have seen in their loved one’s health and behavior. However, as soon as the individual has agreed to seek treatment, the intervention is over. You do not want them to feel like the people who love them are now attacking them.

Practice Makes Perfect

Before the big event, hold a meeting with intervention members and practice what you plan to say. This way, you can coach each other on the best way to make the biggest impact, and you will avoid sharing the same examples of how detrimental the addiction is to everyone. You might also incorporate role-playing into the practice sessions so that you can formulate responses to the addict’s possible excuses, questions or emotional outburst. The practice will make everyone feel more confident and allow you to best present a coherent message.

As you practice, fill out cue cards for each member. An intervention is wrought with emotions, and many people get nervous. The cue cards can help them remember what they wanted to say. Your interventionist may suggest that you go beyond cue cards and write out a complete script that everyone agrees to adhere to. This way, there are no unexpected surprises brought up at the intervention that the other members disagree with.

You may need more than one practice session before everyone feels that they are putting their best foot forward. You may find that some of your team members are unwilling to practice. If that is the case, you may be better off replacing them with people who are willing to make the commitment. Odds are that if they do not have the time to rehearse, they may not show up to the real event, either.

Body Language Counts

It is normal to enter a high-stress situation feeling tense, but your body need not show your inner turmoil. In the practice session and the real event, practice open body language that states you are engaged but willing to listen. Consider these five tips:

  1. Make good eye contact that lets your loved one know you are listening and taking their words seriously. It also speaks volumes for portraying your sincerity.
  2. Sit with your arms and legs uncrossed. Crossed limbs tend to portray a feeling of refusal and being closed off to what the speaker is saying.
  3. Lean forward slightly to emphasize your point, such as how much you love the individual and how concerned you are with their well-being. The same holds true of tilting your shoulders toward the person who is speaking.
  4. Avoid clenching your fists. This is a sign of negativity and closure.
  5. Avoid pointing a finger to emphasize your point. Finger pointing indicates accusation and blame.

Keep in mind that you are creating an atmosphere of love and security. You want the addicted individual to feel safe in admitting to substance use and supported in their decision to enter a treatment program.

Calm, Cool and Collected

Be ready for the worst-case scenario. No matter how practiced your technique is or how much you emphasize that your words are coming from a place of love, the individual may react with anger and denial. No matter how he or she behaves, every member of the group must commit to remaining calm and staying focused on the plan. Your ability to remain calm and focused will relay how serious you are. Besides, it is hard to argue with someone who refuses to engage. Your ability to control your emotions will help your loved one control theirs.

Backup Plan

You cannot control anyone but yourself. If the discussion breaks down or the person with the addiction leaves or becomes so out of control that you cannot continue, it is a good idea to have a backup plan. No one expects you to sit there and accept abuse when it is obvious that the addicted individual is not ready to commit to treatment.

Go in with a plan of what to do. Your plan might be to firmly announce that the behavior is not acceptable and walk out as a united group. You may then decide to try again another time. If the addict is too high or drunk to comprehend what you are saying, you may want to delay until they are sober. You may to want to have an ultimatum prepared, such as if they refuse treatment, then they are no longer welcome in the family home.

As important as it is to go in with a backup plan, it is important to follow through with your promises. If you tell your loved one that they are no longer welcome in the family home if they refuse treatment, then you cannot let them return home. You will want to change the locks and refuse them entry. If you threaten to take a teen addict’s car until he or she gets clean, then be prepared to take the car and stand firm that it is off-limits. Giving in to pleas or empty promises to seek treatment later only proves that you will give in.

It is nice to think the intervention will succeed, and many do, but the reality is that until an addicted individual is ready to commit to treatment, there is very little you can do beyond what you are doing: showing how much you care without enabling them, identifying how the substance use has affected them and the people around them and giving your loved one the support to get help.

Addiction is hard on everyone, including the addicted individual, their family, friends, and work associates. An intervention is an excellent step toward ending the harm, but do not proceed without a clear plan on how to follow through with it. You may want to rely on the help of an interventionist and the support of a defined group of friends and family to end the pain.

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