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The Drug and Alcohol Intervention Process

Addiction interventions are not about forcing people into treatment. They’re about applying love and accountability so that you can help loved ones improve their lives and restore relationships to healthier levels. There are many factors to consider when doing a drug abuse intervention for a loved one.

Getting Started Finding Treatment Resources

You do not need permission to save someone’s life.

An intervention is not about a father stepping in, taking control and giving “the speech.” Nor is it a mother offering the hug, hoping that giving them one more chance will work. Nor is about the loved one finding the right job, or believing a new boyfriend or girlfriend will fix the problem – or believing that leaving a husband or wife is the solution. And it’s definitely not a friend saying the loved one just needs to want help or hit bottom, and in the meantime, doing nothing.

In fact, none of those things really solve the problem or fix what isn’t working.

Think about the treatment needed for any other fatal illness. Addiction is no different.

Step-By-Step Process

How to Do a Drug and Alcohol Intervention

The First Meeting

Addiction intervention specialists first meet with the family to educate them and help them see the roles they have played and why nothing has improved, despite hundreds of promises (since broken) and numerous attempts to talk the loved one into rehab.

The family has to change its own behaviors for a drug abuse intervention to be successful. Professional specialists are trained to look for and teach you how to recognize behaviors and symptoms that are enabling the addiction; codependent behaviors must also be identified and addressed.

A drug and alcohol intervention is something that occurs in the life of every person who becomes addicted. Of the millions of Americans who struggle with a substance use disorder of some kind, all of them will face this inevitable fact.

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The Planning Stage

An addiction treatment plan needs to be set in place and ready to implement even before any attempt to intervene is made.

Much of what is involved in staging an intervention may seem insignificant and not important to the outcome. Some of the chief considerations include:

  • Who should be at the intervention
  • Seating arrangements
  • The order in which letters are to be read
  • What the letters should say
  • When to do the intervention
  • The time of day to start the intervention

Because of the volatility involved, it is of the utmost importance to have a professional intervention counselor lead the family through the process.

Consider, for example, the seating arrangements. If a family member is present with whom the addict or alcoholic is angry, that person should not be placed in direct view of the loved one. The intervention can begin badly with something as simple as this being overlooked.

The reading of the letters is also extremely important, as the family must go in an order that appropriately engages the loved one. Several factors regarding the letters need to be considered, such as the way the letter is written, its length, what it says and who is reading it.

Because you only have one shot at doing this the right way, every detail matters. Despite what family members think or what you have been told by others, interventions are not as simple as assembling a group of people, confronting the addict or alcoholic, and talking him or her into rehab. The family can’t possibly understand what their loved one is going through, nor can the addict or alcoholic understand what the family is going through.

In order to stage an intervention correctly, professional help is needed. The emotional attachment of the family to the loved one makes it impossible to achieve this absent outside guidance.

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The Addiction Intervention

After a detailed plan is in place, the drug abuse intervention meeting takes place with the family, the professional and the addict or alcoholic.

Something that all families should be aware of is when addicts feel that they are in jeopardy of losing the things that allow them to keep using, they will often start making it appear that they’re doing better – at least for a short period of time. We call this damage control.

A great example is when a husband with the drinking problem gets confronted by his wife about his behavior. He swears to her that he’ll straighten up and not drink as much, saying that he’s just had a tough time at work and will cut back.

Instead, he only lets her see him have a drink or two, meanwhile he’s hiding bottles of liquor around the house and sneaking extra drinks, especially after she goes to bed. She thinks he’s doing better for a bit, until it becomes obvious that he has been getting drunk and hiding it from her.

There are numerous other examples of how addicts and alcoholics will try to implement some damage control when they feel their comfortable world closing in on them. It is important to understand this behavior and how they will use it over and over again in different ways to try and fool people into thinking that things are better, but nothing really changes.

People often fall for this because they want to believe in their loved ones, to give them the benefit of the doubt and to hold on to hope. The problem with that usually stems from their lack of understanding about the nature of addiction, which is why a professional addiction interventionist is needed to help end this repeating pattern so that both the addicts and their families can begin to heal and change for the better.

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Getting into Treatment

The meeting can be emotional and difficult at times, and the overwhelming majority of successful addiction interventions end with the addict or alcoholic entering treatment the same day or shortly thereafter.

A lot of people want to know what the success rate of addiction interventions is. The short answer is that more than 90 percent of professional interventions result in the individual successfully enrolling in treatment.

Many families shy away from having a drug and alcohol intervention specialist help them because they have tried repeatedly and haven’t been able to get them into a program. “They’ll never agree to go,” they say. Well, that’s precisely why having an experienced interventionist there to guide the process can be so incredibly helpful.

One of the biggest problems with family members trying to conduct an alcohol or drug intervention on their own is that there are so many emotions involved that it almost always turns into someone blaming another person, being resentful, getting defensive or otherwise highly confrontational.

It can turn into punishment and immediately ineffective, or one or more family members will sabotage the intervention in some way and continue enabling the addicted person by providing an “out” – such as more time or more money, etc.

A reputable addiction intervention professional helps to ensure that none of those outcomes happen during the intervention process. Not only are they present to guide the family, but they can also be advocates for the addict in helping to create an environment that is more conducive to accepting the help the family is offering.

Another factor in the success of a drug abuse intervention is the ability for family members to stick to their bottom lines. Consequences still have to be set and adhered to in order for the enabling to stop. In the same way, accountability must continue after the individual completes treatment.

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Until the person needing help agrees to accept treatment, and until family members understand how they have been obstacles to long-term success and wellness for all involved, the healing process can neither begin nor be sustained.

Why You Need a Professional Intervention

Once a family has decided to follow through with a drug abuse intervention – which is the hardest part – members of the family may feel as if they can conduct the intervention process themselves. They believe that addiction is a decision or a moral dilemma that can be overcome by a speech or by enforcement of ultimatums, rules and consequences.

After several attempts at trying to intervene with the addict or alcoholic followed by failed attempts at treatment, families will come to realize what a true addiction intervention is and what it entails.

It isn’t about a family member giving a speech or enforcing consequences. Rather, it’s realizing the family needs help from a professional interventionist. 

This is not to say that words and consequences don’t help, but it does matter who delivers them.

Addicts and alcoholics believe that the family and everyone else is the problem. When that perceived “problem” attempts to talk them into treatment or delivers harsh ultimatums and tough love, it has a reverse effect on the addict, confirming in their mind what they already feel: namely, that the family is the problem.

A family trying to perform a drug and alcohol intervention without a professional is equivalent to defending oneself in a court of law without an attorney. The family is thinking, “How do we move an elephant on our own, without help?”

Another issue families may face comes from friends and family members who allow themselves to be talked out of participating in the intervention by one another, or by the addicted loved one.

If there are family members who don’t want to participate, then leave them out of it, as you don’t need them.

Keep this in mind: you do not need permission to save someone’s life.

Addiction Intervention Guarantee

As in life, there are no guarantees, and at no time can addiction counselors, interventionists, therapists, doctors, psychiatrists and even lawyers guarantee successful outcomes with any certainty.

The only sure thing is: This will not work if you don’t try. What we offer is closure in knowing that you did everything you could to stop it.

An interventionist can’t guarantee that someone is going to accept help for two primary reasons: The first of these is the volatility and current state of the addict or alcoholic; the second is whether families are able to guarantee doing everything suggested of them to make the intervention a success.

In what other circumstances when treating a life-threating problem does one ask for a guarantee and then not try everything to help, even if there can be no guarantee? If you were charged with a serious crime, would you fail to retain counsel because there was no guarantee you would be spared from going to prison?

The whole purpose of the intervention is to educate and heal the family system that is broken, and to know you did everything you could to save your loved one.

The process of intervention is not about “what if they don’t accept help?” It should be about “what if we don’t try?”

For most families seeking a successful outcome, this is not their first attempt. We discuss those earlier efforts with clients and walk them through why they were unsuccessful. In just about every case, the family did little or nothing to change their behaviors, which enabled the addiction, and they could not get on the same page as to what to do.

If family members don’t change their behaviors, fail to hold their loved one accountable, and continue to provide comfort, things will inevitably stay the same.

What If They Say No and Refuse Help in the Intervention?

Why Drug Abuse Interventions Fail

Many families feel the hardest part about staging an addiction intervention is getting their loved ones into substance abuse treatment when, in fact, that’s the easiest part.

The difficult part, other than getting family members on board, comes after the loved one gets sober or cleans up and then wants to leave addiction treatment earlier than planned, or feels they’re ready to undertake recovery on their own.

Families allow their loved ones to cross boundaries repeatedly and dictate the course of action they will take in their drug abuse treatment.

Countless times, we hear families say the loved ones went into addiction treatment, but it did not work, or they asked their loved ones to leave the house, but they would not. This is because the family has allowed the addict or the alcoholic to be in control. His or her stubbornness will last longer than the family’s threats and ultimatums.

And there is also this: Many families let the loved one pick the drug and alcohol treatment center and the type of treatment, the location and the length of stay.

Following defeat and frustration, the family hears, “It didn’t work.”

The primary reason why any addiction intervention fails is because one or more family members backslide on the group agreements. Someone steps in and provides another “out” for the addict to give him or her a way to delay the inevitable.


Drug and Alcohol Intervention FAQ

There is big difference between those who go to treatment through an intervention process and those who do not.

With an intervention, the family is involved in getting well, too, and it significantly impacts the loved one’s chance of success. Doing everything they can to help means surrendering and hiring a professional from the start of the intervention through the recovery process. This is the only fatal illness where people try to fix it on their own or by consulting with others not qualified to give advice.

When and what time should we do the intervention?
What is the success rate of interventions?
How can we tell if they are drinking or using ‘too much’ to even need an intervention?
What if they say they don’t have a substance abuse problem?
Do we still need an intervention if they have not been drinking or using drugs in several days?
Don’t they have to hit rock bottom before we have an intervention?
Do we need an intervention if the loved one is already willing to get help?
What if the addiction intervention doesn’t work?
Don’t we need an assessment?
What if they say no at the drug abuse intervention?
What if we’ve already done everything?

Intervention Stories

Successful Drug and Alcohol Intervention Stories

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