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Substance Abuse Intervention: Antiquated, or Effective?

by Melanie Peterson
The use of intervention techniques have long been used to urge addicted individuals to seek substance abuse treatment. These techniques gained notoriety in 2005 when television network A&E aired their show “Intervention”, which followed addicts through their drug abuse, intervention, and treatment efforts. While this brought intervention techniques to the forefront of the publics mind, it caused many to wonder whether these methods were effective, or if this form of guerilla warfare on addiction was an antiquated technique that became popular mostly as a form of entertainment.

How Does a Real Intervention Work? 

The process of an intervention is very well structured and organized.  The process is meant to align family and friends to set boundaries with the addicted individual, agree to not enable them anymore and offer them the option to either get help, or face consequences. According to the American Addiction Centers there are clearly defined steps to staging a successful intervention:

  • Seek the help of a Professional: there are certified interventionist who have undergone professional training in the process of staging an intervention. Additionally, other health care professionals can be an excellent tool to help you and your family in your efforts. Doctors, Psychologists, and Social Workers are all available and typically willing to help you in your efforts to help. 
  • Determine who will take part in your intervention: The group who takes part in the intervention matters, because everyone must be on the same page. One of the most important factors in a successful intervention is cutting the addicted individual off from resources, such as financial support, if they choose not to seek treatment. It is very likely the addict will try to emotionally manipulate those in attendance to continue to support them, so being sure that the group who will participate in the intervention is close knit and firm on their word is vital to its success. 
  • Plan your approach: Decide on a day, time, and location for the intervention. 
  • Be informed: The more you can educate yourself about the disease of addiction, the better off you will be going in to the intervention. Having information ready about the detox and rehab process, as well as resources for those steps, will be crucially important. 
  • Be prepared to speak your mind: Its very common for family and friends of addicts to tip toe around the reality of the situation, either to protect the addict or to avoid a confrontation. During the intervention is the time to say all the things you’ve been holding back- in a constructive way. Preparing a statement outlining the ways in which the addict has harmed you, or used you, or affected you is powerful and is a vital part of the intervention. 
  • Encourage the addict to get help: This is the main purpose of the intervention- to get the addict to enter treatment. Having a plan formed and ready is important because if the addicted individual agrees to go to treatment, you can take them their immediately, which will lesson the chances that they will change their mind before you can get them admitted. 
  • Lay down the facts: Once you have spoken with the addict about how their actions have affected you and offered them help, its time to let them know what consequences will arise from a decision not to go to treatment. Be clear with the addict about what you will and will not continue to do if they decline treatment. For example, let them know that you will always love them, but you will not continue to give them money. Tell them that you will be available to help them get to a rehab center but will not give them rides anywhere else. They should understand that you and you family and friends will no longer help them to use. 
  • Do a trial run: Again, its very likely that the addicted individual will attempt to manipulate you or the situation at the time of the confrontation, so its important that you know what will happen, what you will say, and what you may encounter. Rehearsing the confrontation- from your initial approach, to your speech and stipulations, or even practicing holding firm during a potential argument will help you to stay on track.
  • Prepare yourself for ALL the possibilities: The reality is that the confrontation portion of the intervention may not go your way. Its possible that the addict may not even stay long enough to allow you to speak, and if they do, there’s also the possibility that they may choose not to accept the help. Remember that their lives will be much more difficult if they do not accept treatment, and they may very well decide after the fact to do the treatment you had offered.
  • Follow through: Depending on if the addict choses treatment or not, this step may look different. This may look like you stay true to your commitment not to help the addict in the ways that you stated during the confrontation. If the addict does choose treatment, this may look like checking in with them, supporting them, and helping them to plan the next steps after treatment to ensure that they stay on a good path. 

How Codependency Affects Intervention

Codependency is defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on another person. According to Care Recovery Intervention Services, codependent behavior can lead to enabling behavior, which can cause serious issues during the intervention process. Enabling behavior can look different depending on the person, but can include making excuses for the addict, providing financial support, protecting them from consequences, or defending them against people who see the situation more clearly. For an intervention to be successful, enabling behavior must be stopped. Showing the addicted individual that you will no longer enable them and following through with that is the MOST important factor in a successful intervention. The addict may not accept help right away, but when they see that you are truly no longer going to help them, they will begin to experience the consequences they have been shielded from before. This can help push them toward a decision to choose to go to treatment.

Do Interventions Work?

Though there is little data on the efficacy of the process of an intervention, there is proof that having a good support system and better access to treatment and detox programs leads to better outcomes for getting sober, according to Psychology Today. By getting close family and friends together to participate in the intervention process, you show the addicted individual that they have a network of people who care about them and support them in their efforts to get sober and change their lives. Support and access to treatment are two principles in the intervention process, therefore supporting the conclusion that interventions can truly be affective in helping your addicted love one to change and better their lives. 

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