Are you tired of sitting back and watching a loved one destroy themselves and everything around them? It’s time for a substance abuse intervention. Here’s how.
It’s scary to think about your loved one dealing with substance abuse. It’s even scarier to think about what might happen if you don’t address the issue.
About 21.5 million Americans struggle with substance abuse, which costs American society $200 billion in healthcare, criminal justice, and lost workplace productivity each year.
Substance abuse doesn’t have to be the story of your loved one’s life. We’re going through everything you need to know about staging a substance abuse intervention, from why you should do an intervention to the steps you need for a successful one.
First things first: why should you stage an intervention?
Interventions are a helpful tool when friends and family have been unable to convince someone to seek support for substance abuse, especially if the individual is unwilling to accept that they have a problem.
It acts as a powerful way to convey a message from friends, family, and often a medical professional that someone needs help and their loved ones want to support them in seeking it.
The premise of an intervention is simple: the individual goes to a meeting with their loved ones, facilitated by an interventionist.
During this meeting, loved ones will read aloud a letter they wrote to the individual about how much they mean to the person, how their addiction has affected that person, and how they hope their relationship can proceed.
Admitting your loved one needs help is the first step towards getting them to admit that they need help. The key is to recognize problematic behaviors and know when to act.
This primarily has to do with recognizing the signs of addiction.
- significant behavioral changes
- significant physical changes
- ongoing deceptiveness
Behavioral changes can include mood swings, irritability, or sudden failure to meet daily responsibilities. Physical changes can include anything from unexplainable weight changes to changes in sleeping patterns to a neglect of personal hygiene.
Now that you know why you should stage an intervention and what to look for as signs that your loved one needs an intervention, let’s talk about what you should do during an intervention.
Remember that the ultimate goal of a family intervention is to get your loved one to agree to treatment. Structure your intervention with that in mind.
If your loved one does need to receive professional treatment for addiction, you can learn more about options with Jacksonville Metro Treatment Center.
Before you write any letters or set a tie, you need to choose the right team for the task.
This isn’t as easy as choosing any family members who are willing to volunteer. You need people who know, love and trust the addicted person. More importantly, you need people the addicted person is most likely to listen to.
People who have strained relationships with the person are not the people you want in the room, even if they’re a close family member. The point of an intervention isn’t to air grievances or mend fences.
You can engage the whole family in recovery once the addicted person agrees to treatment, but that comes after the intervention.
It’s also a good idea to have a professional interventionist in the room to act as an impartial third party and keep the intervention on track and on message.
When we talk about the right time, we’re not necessarily talking about a time of day, though that’s also important.
The bigger point here is to talk to your loved one during a sober moment, or as close to sober as they usually get.
In general, talking to someone while impaired by drugs or alcohol isn’t a great idea, as anyone who’s ever tried to reason with a drunk person can tell you. Besides a lack of rational thinking, drugs tend to impair a person’s ability to reason, remember, and react calmly to something they don’t like.
As a rule, first thing in the morning is usually a safe bet.
You should also find the right place to hold an intervention. Many families try to do this at home, but the family home can actually be too comfortable, as the person could retreat to the bathroom or their bedroom.
Instead, a therapist’s office is a good place to hold an intervention, as people tend to be on their best behavior and they won’t form negative associations with the room.
Next, you need to do your homework.
Gather information about nearby treatment options, as well as information on the type of addiction your loved one struggles with. This will help you have an informed dialogue when the time comes.
Once everyone has the required information and you know where the intervention will happen, you need to figure out the order of speakers.
The intervention ends when the person leaves or agrees to go to treatment. Allowing the right person to speak at the right moment can reach the desired goal much faster.
For example, if the addicted person has a loving relationship with a spouse or child, the child could speak first and the spouse could speak last. That way, the child is speaking when the person is likely most resistant and needs convincing, and the spouse can speak when the person is feeling most moved.
You also need to hold rehearsals, preferably several. An intervention isn’t a school–emotions run high, and you need the speakers to keep emotions in check for the person to be receptive to what they’re hearing.
You also need to write a script, usually a letter to the addicted person. This will be your script. Anything not in the letter shouldn’t be said during the intervention.
Write your script and go through it several times with the interventionist. You want to maintain a calm, loving, nonaccusatory tone that nonetheless expresses the hurt you feel in a way that encourages the person to seek help.
Once you have your script, stick with it, regardless of what you or the addicted person may be feeling. Surprise can make people uncomfortable, and that can lead to critical errors that make the whole thing fall apart.
Your body language should be like the language of your script. It should show your loved one that you want to talk and you want them to change.
Be careful to maintain open, warm body language throughout the intervention. Your arms and legs should be uncrossed, with your hands unclenched. Your shoulders should tilt towards the person you’re speaking to, and you should look at them when you talk to them.
Before, during, and after the intervention, it’s important to keep your expectations in check and realistic.
The person likely won’t do a complete 180 shift in their life after an intervention, and it’s unfair to be frustrated when they don’t. It’s also unfair to be frustrated if they’re unreceptive to what you’re saying, no matter how badly the person has hurt you.
Remember that TV interventions are usually successful because, well, they’re on TV. Even if the whole intervention goes as planned, there’s no guarantee that the person will accept help, acknowledge that they need it, or even stay through the entire intervention.
It’s important to manage your expectations, as this will help you keep your emotions in check.
With that in mind, it’s vital that everyone involved in the intervention keeps their tempers and emotions in check throughout the entire process.
If someone is addicted, chances are they’ve hurt you, intentionally or otherwise. That’s not fair to you or the other members of your family. But you should address those issues in treatment, not during an intervention.
The angrier or more upset everyone gets, the less likely it is for the addicted person to agree to treatment. Resist the urge to lay blame, argue back, launch counterattacks, or make ultimatums. If the person tries to pick a fight, don’t rise to the bait.
If the person picks a fight and manages to change the subject, you’re suddenly arguing about your family issues instead of the problem at hand, and that isn’t productive.
Finally, don’t give up on your loved one, no matter how frustrated you might be.
They may be resistant now, but they need you at this moment more than ever. They need to acknowledge that they have a problem, and they need your compassion in order to do so.
Some people commit to making a change after one conversation. Others take several tries. The key is to keep trying and not lose your patience.
A substance abuse intervention can be scary, but this is when your loved one needs you the most. If you want your loved one to make a change in their life, you need to give them the support and prompting to do it.
If you need more tips for living a healthier, drug-free life, check out our blog for more tips, like this post on what to do if you think your child is on drugs.