Most people’s only understanding of interventions is from the scenes that they’ve seen on television and in movies. Hollywood loves the intervention trope. There’s the famous episode in How I Met Your Mother, where a group of friends becomes obsessed with interventions and eventually needs to stage an intervention for interventions … or, the intervention with Alan in the movie The Hangover (III) … and, the more serious intervention for Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos.
These scenes always follow the same outline: Someone with a drug or alcohol addiction is confronted by a group of friends and family. Everyone shares how the person’s addiction has personally impacted them, and the intervention either gets through to the person or fails. But, is that really how it happens, and, for that matter, do interventions actually work in real life? The question is one that friends and family members affected by drug or alcohol addiction may be asking. Here are some answers that may help.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is a carefully planned event that typically brings together friends and family with the guidance of a professional addiction professional to confront a loved one about their drug or alcohol problem. (While interventions are most commonly staged for drug and alcohol addiction, there are also interventions for mental health conditions.) The word “confront” can sound hostile, but an intervention isn’t a time to pass judgment or criticism on the person. Instead, this is a time for friends and family to share how the person’s addiction has impacted them. The ultimate goal of sharing these thoughts and feelings is to encourage and convince the loved one to seek professional help and begin the road to recovery.
Do Interventions Work?
Are interventions effective, or are they mainly useful as an exaggerated Hollywood trope that generates laughs? Here is the good news: Those who say interventions don’t work are speaking to outlier cases; the data shows that interventions do work in most cases. In fact, most interventionists report a success rate between 80-90 percent.
What this means is that approximately eight out of 10 individuals who are confronted about their drug or alcohol use in an intervention will choose treatment in that moment. Of the remaining two individuals who don’t choose treatment immediately, one will opt for treatment a week or two after the intervention.
What Makes an Intervention Successful
How do interventions work, and what ingredients make for a successful intervention? Getting someone to accept they have a problem and understand they need treatment can be one of the most challenging steps towards recovery. A person struggling with addiction may be in denial about how bad things are or already feel guilty for their actions. An intervention is meant to help them get to this point of acceptance that treatment is necessary.
Interventions are most successful when family members and loved ones share how the addiction has impacted them and made them feel. It’s important to use “I” statements (“I feel, I think, I am”) so the addicted individual understands how their substance abuse is affecting those around them.
An intervention should never be about sharing stories from a place of judgment and accusation. This doesn’t help the addicted individual feel supported and will likely result in them lashing out. It’s essential to remind everyone participating that this is the time to share their honest feelings but from a place of love and concern, not bitterness and contempt. The ultimate and unifying goal for everyone involved is to get the addicted individual to agree that they need professional help.
How to Plan an Intervention
Planning an intervention for a loved one can be stressful. This is especally true when the stakes are high or you worry that it could be your last chance to get through to the person and convince them to seek treatment. (In reality, it’s not; you can stage future interventions if needed or try different approaches.)
Preparation via the following steps can help to reduce stress and increase the likelihood of a successful intervention:
1. Make a Plan
The first step is to make a plan for the intervention. You’ll want to identify:
- Who should participate in the intervention
- When it should happen
- Where it should happen
- What the ultimate goal is for the intervention
2. Find an Intervention Specialist
Next, you’ll need to find an intervention specialist. Interventions can sometimes get off track when emotions are high. A third-party specialist can help keep everyone on the right path and chime in when they think people are crossing over into unhelpful territory (such as getting overly angry, accusatory, etc.).
A specialist can also help everyone beforehand by answering any questions they may have and reviewing the things people want to say. Additionally, a specialist can help the group identify which type of intervention they want to hold. Some of the most popular types are:
- Crisis intervention
- Tough love
- ARISE intervention
- Johnson model
- First love
- Systemic family approach
- Confrontation model
The type of intervention chosen will help dictate the approach to personal letters. For example, some models call for a list of ultimatums at the end of the intervention. These ultimatums are rules and consequences that will happen if the addicted individual doesn’t seek treatment. Other intervention models are softer and don’t choose ultimatums. The chosen model should depend on the addicted individual’s personality and what you believe they’ll respond best to.
3. Enlist the Right People
An intervention can leave the addicted individual feeling very vulnerable and emotional. To encourage these feelings of openness and vulnerability, the right people must be in the room. This isn’t a “the more, the better” scenario. Everyone there should be close to the person, have witnessed the downfalls of their addiction, and genuinely want them to get help. This will be a hard ask of family and friends, and if someone declines, it’s important to respect those wishes too. Everyone sharing a story in the room should be a willing and prepared participant.
4. Write Letters
To help people express themselves well, it’s highly recommended people write out a letter that expresses how they feel. An intervention specialist can help review everyone’s statements to ensure they are in the right tone and will achieve the desired effect. It can also help to rehearse as a group and know what others are going to say, so that everyone can focus on making different points.
5. Find the Right Time and Place
When it comes to planning out the actual intervention, there are a few things to consider:
- Choose the right time with the highest chances of the addicted individual being sober.
- Choose the right place – there should be an element of surprise and comfort. Some experts don’t recommend the addicted person’s home because they can easily storm off into their room. A neutral space is best.
6. Be Flexible
When dealing with someone in the throes of an addiction, you’ll often find that they struggle to keep a schedule and meetings. Everyone must understand the initial meeting time might not happen, and everyone will need to be flexible and try again.
7. Be Prepared for Various Outcomes
Each individual may react to an intervention differently. The group should have a common goal: to get the addicted person to accept they need treatment. But, it’s also crucial to understand that this might not happen in quite the way that they envision it. Some individuals respond well to intervention and agree to treatment immediately. Others respond with anger but, within a few days, change their mind. Everyone should understand that more than one outcome is possible.
FHE Health Offers Addiction Treatment for Your Loved Ones
Addiction treatment can help your loved one reclaim their life. At FHE Health, we understand that a drug or alcohol problem can look different for everyone and believe treatment should be personalized. Individuals can enlist in the type of program that best suits their needs and lifestyle and optimizes their chances of recovery. To find out more, call us at (866) 653-6220.