Understanding why interventions work can be important if you have a loved one struggling with substance abuse and addiction. A drug or alcohol intervention is a way to encourage someone with a substance use disorder to acknowledge a problem and get treatment or at least attend something like an Alcoholics Anonymous program.
Of course, as with anything, a formal intervention process may not be right for everyone. How well intervention for an addict will work and its effects depend on the person and the situation.
Below, we discuss why interventions work for some people, how they happen, and how they might impact your relationship with the person dealing with substance abuse.
What Happens During An Intervention?
Interventions at their core are a form of peer pressure. The loved ones of an addict come together to encourage the person to admit they have a problem with substance abuse and seek treatment. When an intervention occurs, close family and perhaps friends gather. This gathering may or may not surprise the person with the addiction.
Typically, each member of an intervention team will go over the harm the substance abuse causes them and its effects on their lives. The group members will ask the person directly to seek treatment and outline the negative consequences they’re willing to enact if they don’t decide.
For example, if an intervention is for a wife and mother, her husband could point out the specific ways the addiction affects the family. He could then say that he’ll leave the marital home without his spouse getting treatment.
An actual intervention sparks heightened emotions, and it’s important to go into specific details about the consequences of substance abuse issues and the impact.
A mental health professional, social worker, or interventionist is an experienced professional who can help a group prepare for intervention and guide it along.
If the person with a drug or alcohol addiction agrees that they will get treatment, they typically go right after the intervention. Someone who says no to the treatment plan during an intervention should experience follow-through of the consequences outlined.
Addiction treatment centers have counselors and intervention specialists who can help prepare for an intervention.
Types of Intervention
While we most commonly think of the surprise intervention like what’s portrayed on television and in movies, there are actually different types. Some types of intervention are surprises, others aren’t.
The right option depends on various individual factors like what your goals are, the family dynamics, and everyone’s experience with addiction.
Theory-based interventions for substance abuse include:
- The Johnson Model – This is the most commonly used version for alcohol and drug addiction. In the Johnson Model of intervention, the family and intervention professionals confront the person with the drug abuse or alcohol problem without knowing it will happen ahead of time.
- Invitation Model – AKA Systemic Family Intervention, This family-focused model includes attending a workshop that an interventionist leads. The group discusses how a drug use disorder or alcohol use disorder affects the entire family unit during the workshop.
- The Field Model – A confrontational approach that happens without the person’s previous knowledge and is good for potentially complex interventions. The difference in the Field Model is that the interventionist is specifically trained in crisis management during and after the process. A family could choose this option if they believe their loved one could be a danger to themselves or someone else. This model might also be a good option if the person has unmanaged co-occurring mental health issues like bipolar disorder along with substance abuse or alcohol addiction.
Preparing for an Intervention
Not every intervention will have the desired outcome, but the more prepared your group is ahead of time, the better the outcomes are likely to be. One of the primary reasons some interventions don’t have positive outcomes is that the group didn’t plan properly for unintended consequences.
Other reasons they fail include hosting an intervention where the person doesn’t feel safe or staging the intervention when the individual is experiencing withdrawal symptoms from substance abuse or is high or drunk.
Another reason for failure comes from blame, shame, or anger. If you approach an intervention with aggression or defensiveness, the addicted person will likely match your emotions. Individuals with substance use disorders are quick to become defensive or even hostile.
An intervention will be best when you come from a place of patience, understanding, and compassion. Work to be non-judgmental in your approach.
Specific steps to take as you prepare intervention strategies include:
- Research treatment programs and options. The goal of effective interventions is always to get the person to agree to go to a treatment center, so you need to have options available. You should try to have a specific treatment option prepared so that that action can occur right away. Beforehand, you can start working on the logistics, like whether or not insurance will cover the treatment program and the types of services it offers.
- If there are medication-assisted treatment options for the particular addiction, you can learn more about those. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these can significantly help someone with opioid addiction or alcohol addiction and may be an important part of the early days of recovery.
- Create a team including a professional interventionist. Some people shouldn’t be part of your formal intervention groups, such as people who don’t get along with your loved one, or someone who has their own substance use disorder or unmanaged mental health condition.
- Create real consequences that you’re willing to follow through with for improved outcomes.
- Know there are risks. According to the Mental Health Services Administration and empirical evidence, a successful intervention can happen, but it can also backfire and make the person feel attacked. Again, working with an intervention or addiction professional can help you mitigate the risks.
Why Interventions Work
In the addiction treatment community and among health care professionals, interventions are seen as a useful strategy to encourage someone to seek help for substance abuse.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, based on a commitment to seek treatment, has more than 90% success rates. The caveat is that the success rate relies on the appropriate performance of the intervention according to behavioral health statistics and well-supported scientific evidence
Again, careful planning and research are key here. Having a good rehab center ready and waiting can help improve the chances of success for an intervention.
Rehearsing how the group will communicate and anticipating possible objections is also critical.
You have to prepare to stay on track during the intervention, even if your loved one reacts with hostility or defensiveness.
Can Interventions Help an Addict Improve Relationships?
You may be nervous about staging an intervention for your loved one dealing with substance abuse. You could worry that it will make them angry and resentful toward you. It’s not easy to share how substance abuse affects you. It’s also not easy to outline the consequences of refusing to get help.
Your loved one may express negative feelings toward you in the short term.
In the long-term, however, that’s unlikely to be the case. If your loved one does agree to go to treatment for their addictive behaviors, the intervention could have been your starting point for open, honest, and transparent communication. Then, you can continue to build on that throughout the treatment process and addiction recovery process.
If you’re preparing for intervention or you’d like to learn more about drug and alcohol treatment programs, please contact us. By calling 408-547-4089, the Silicon Valley Recovery team can confidentially discuss options and help you explore available programs and treatment providers. We can connect you with intervention resources and information about the general process of treatment for substance use.