Tips on Staging an Intervention for a Loved One

Garrett Stanford
April 18, 2020

In 2014, 20.2 million adults in the United States over the age of 18 suffered from a substance use disorder. With the opioid epidemic on the rise, this number has only increased. The vast majority of individuals suffering from drug or alcohol addiction go untreated, so the actual number of people with substance use disorder is nearly impossible to determine. The reasons why drug addiction goes untreated are numerous. Part of it is cultural. Substance use — and even substance abuse — plays an important role in culture and social life. In the United States addiction is also heavily stigmatized. Uneducated people who are trying to be helpful commonly advise, “Just quit!” But it isn’t just stigma. Many people are loath to admit they have a problem with drugs and alcohol in the first place. Admitting defeat is a painful prospect. Seeking help is even more painful.

Addictions, however, affect more than just the person who is engaging in substance abuse. Employers, family members, close friends, and anyone else who associates with an addict are likely to experience negative repercussions. If someone is suffering from a substance use disorder and is reluctant to seek help, it is often a good idea for loved ones to stage an intervention.

What is an Intervention?

Most people have heard of interventions. They’re a common trope in media, from reality television shows to soap operas. These programs depict family members yelling or sobbing about how much pain addiction has brought into their lives. These depictions of interventions fail to give a complete picture or explain what an intervention is actually for.

An intervention is a carefully planned event during which family members and friends of someone suffering from addiction work to help them understand the severity of their drug or alcohol addiction. The goal is to help them realize that they need to seek help. The process is not designed to be acrimonious or chaotic. In fact, it is of paramount importance that the person for whom the intervention is staged understands that they are loved and supported. Staging an intervention is an act of caring.

While it is possible for people to organize an intervention on their own, experts recommend making use of an interventionist or an intervention team. These professionals help plan the intervention and remain present to guide the process. They work to ensure that the event runs smoothly, by helping everyone stay on topic, focus on the positive, and avoid blaming. An intervention team can also help design a course of action for addiction treatment in the event that the subject of the intervention is ready to take the next step.

When to Stage an Intervention

Confronting someone who is suffering from a substance use disorder can be difficult. Many of them are reluctant to discuss their problems and can become defensive. In the absence of open dialogue, it can be difficult to determine if someone is truly suffering from addiction, especially if the individual suffers from co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. While not everyone experiences addiction in the same way, common addictive behaviors include:

  • Compulsive use of substances, an inability to control use despite a desire to do so
  • Isolation from social company and antisocial behavior
  • A disregard for risks and personal safety
  • Physical health problems related to substance abuse
  • An inability to handle money
  • Unusual difficulties at work or school
  • Extreme lethargy

Tips for Family or Friends Holding an Intervention

To hold a successful intervention, it is generally a good idea for everyone to be aware that they are treading in delicate territory. Feelings will inevitably be involved. Friends and family who are staging an intervention ought to keep in mind several strategies and tips that will make it more likely for the event to go smoothly. These include:

  • Selecting the ideal group of people for the intervention. Family members are often best, but close friends or other important figures can play an important role.
  • Choosing an appropriate time to stage the intervention. It is prudent to choose a low-stress time so that the intervention can be given full attention.
  • Keep it private and neutral. Holding an intervention in a public place is going to be both embarrassing and limit its effectiveness. A calm and private location without any strong emotional situations can help make the subject of the intervention more receptive.
  • Develop a script. Loosely planning out what you will say is often a good idea, otherwise it can be tempting to let emotions fly. Rehearsing the script ahead of time can make this process even smoother.
  • Be supportive, not angry. Remember, an intervention is an act of love, not an opportunity to vent grievances.

The Road to Recovery

The purpose of an intervention is to help someone recognize the need for addiction treatment. To that end, an intervention professional can help families understand their options. Many different kinds of treatment facilities exist, from inpatient programs that require full-time residency to more flexible outpatient programs. 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have proven beneficial to many alcoholics even years after quitting drugs and alcohol. Family members should understand that addiction can not be cured, merely treated. An intervention is merely the first step on a long journey. Once begun, however, the rewards of sobriety will only increase.

Garrett Stanford
Garrett Stanford brings years of experience working with individuals and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. He began working in the nonprofit treatment sector for 2 years before transitioning into the private sector. Garrett has been involved in treatment since 2010, with 10+ years of experience ranging from operations, administration, admissions and addiction research.
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