There comes a time when it’s necessary to face the truth about someone’s substance use and how it is impacting their life and the lives of others. If you have tried everything you can think of to get someone to acknowledge their substance dependence and do something about it, but nothing has worked, it may be time to conduct a formal intervention with them.
There is help available for you to stage an intervention for someone battling substance abuse. Time is essential, and every minute counts in getting your loved one to a place of safety so they can seek a new start. Before you start planning your intervention meeting, there are some things to know. This guide offers an overview of what you can expect to happen as the process unfolds.
If the person you are concerned about is struggling with a drinking problem or illicit or prescription drug abuse, they are likely at a point where they cannot end their substance use on their own. In some cases, people who use substances have tried to stop using drugs and alcohol on their own but relapsed because the cravings proved too great to bear alone.
Substance dependence or addiction is a personal struggle, and signs that someone is struggling with it can be apparent or so subtle that it is easy to miss. You also don’t have to wait until signs of addiction become extreme to help someone. Some clues that should raise concern about someone’s substance abuse include the following:
- Higher tolerance of alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances
- Noticeable changes in appearance; a person could appear disheveled, tired, or rundown and have bloodshot eyes
- Increased isolation or staying to one’s self to avoid others
- Increased feelings of fogginess or forgetfulness of events that have occurred
- Risky behaviors that put one in danger or others in danger
- Irresponsible handling of finances
- Mood swings and/or irrational behavior
- A decline in mental and/or physical health
All of these signs mean you should talk to the person you are concerned about as soon as possible. Substance abuse that leads to dependence and addiction usually do not go away on their own. If left untreated, a person will become worse and their struggles more severe.
If you are considering staging an intervention for a loved one, then it is apparent that a person needs help; the sooner you can act on making an attempt to help that person, the better. It is not easy battling substance addiction. It can be overwhelming and draining for the person going through it.
If a person is at the intervention stage, it is not easy for them to just stop using a substance. They are likely in denial about their situation. Key signs of this are if they become defensive about or dismissive of your concerns whenever you try to address them about their substance use. This back-and-forth tension over a person’s drug or alcohol use can wear on everyone involved.
Eventually, a breaking point is reached, and concerned family and friends will have to decide what to do next to help their loved one while keeping their own sanity. A scheduled meeting called an intervention can help clear the air and the path for finding solutions that can suit everyone. An intervention can be just the answer to help someone find their way back to sobriety.
In short, consider what could happen if you delay intervention any longer. A person could get even worse and overdose, even fatally.
Interventions are also just as much about the target person’s loved ones as it is about them needing help for substance abuse. Substance abuse and addiction are widely considered a family disease that requires everyone to work through it. Family members and friends experience some of the same emotions the addict or alcoholic does, such as denial and embarrassment.
If you have decided that an intervention is in order, you can get support to help you make this very important meeting happen. It is not an easy decision to confront someone about their substance use and share how you feel about it. It’s also equally not easy to stand by and watch someone you care about continue on a path that leads to an unfavorable end.
Here are some steps you can take to stage an addiction intervention.
- Choose an interventionist to work with.
You are not required to work with a professional interventionist to help you arrange your meeting. Some people choose to work with a professional to ensure the meeting runs smoothly as possible and receive guidance. An interventionist can help you plan the actual meeting and the preparation before it takes place. They can also help you arrange treatment options and work out important details, such as where a person can start their recovery program once they agree to go.
Professionals who can help you plan your intervention are available. If you want to look for an interventionist, you can start with the Network of Independent Interventionists (NII) and the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS). Both groups can connect you to people who have the credentials, experience, and skills to help you.
You can check with drug treatment facilities, such as California Highlands Addiction Treatment (CHAT), that can refer you to individuals. You can ask health care professionals at area hospitals, social agencies, churches, and addiction recovery community centers for recommendations as well.
Once you choose an interventionist you are comfortable working with, you can speak with the person about your situation and what you are looking for. If it’s a good fit, then the interventionist may ask to speak with friends, family, or colleagues of the person everyone is concerned about. Be prepared to answer questions so that the professional can assess the situation and determine if an intervention is appropriate.
If the professional recommends that you move ahead with an intervention, then they will meet with you, the initial contact person, to discuss the substance use and behavioral history of the individual who needs help. They also will want to know the circumstances that led to the request for an intervention meeting.
- Decide who will be in the intervention group.
During your initial meeting, you may progress to the point where it is decided who is going to participate in the intervention meeting. An intervention can have as many members as you want, but generally, the goal is to have a focused group of people who are on the same page and have the same meeting objectives. If five people plan to address the same concerns, then it is more effective to have one person express the one concern instead of five people saying the same thing.
Each person who is chosen to be in the intervention meeting group should be made aware that they have been invited to participate. They also should be given enough time to prepare for the meeting. During the pre-intervention stage, you can also decide on important details, such as when and where the meeting will take place.
You will want to choose a time that is convenient for the target person, such as when they aren’t high or going through drug or alcohol withdrawal. Either of these conditions is not ideal for paying attention during a meeting. This meeting will require their full and undivided attention, so plan the intervention for a time when there are minimal to no distractions.
You may want to meet with the intervention professional by telephone conference, video chat, or in person.
- Plan the intervention.
Staging an intervention requires a great deal of planning for various reasons. There are a few ways you can stage your intervention, so you will have to decide on which approach suits your situation best. Your interventionist can help you choose which method to use.
You could use the intervention model that has five points, as explained by AIS. They are:
- All meetings before the intervention only involve the family members. The addict is not told about the intervention.
- The intervention occurs only once – this is strictly for effectiveness.
- An Intervention occurs in a controlled environment that includes a trained counselor.
- Once the intervention occurs, daily life must go on.
- An addict must choose whether or not they enter into rehab. Whether they agree to it or not, the family must stick firmly to the consequences outlined during the intervention.
You could also decide not to use the above model and go with the Family Systemic Model, which AIS describes as a twist on the traditional model. The following steps describe that model:
- No planned meetings are hidden from the addict. In fact, when a meeting is set up with a trained interventionist, the addict goes to the very first one.
- During the meetings, all family members and the addict openly discuss the way the addict’s behavior has impacted each one’s life. It is not a one-way conversation – it can go back and forth in a controlled manner.
- Instead of having one big meeting for the intervention, there could be several meetings a week, and the process can last months at a time.
- Both the addict and family members commit to entering some type of counseling. Most likely, the addict will attend an inpatient rehab to get over the addiction. Afterward, the addict will join the family therapy sessions that occur while he/she is in rehab. The family commits to therapy sessions while the addict is in rehab as well as afterward as one family unit.
Whichever model works best for you is the one you should use. You can discuss this with your interventionist. For this article, we’re going to focus on what could happen if you used the traditional model.
- Set up a meeting with everyone participating in the intervention.
You can hold a family meeting before the event to discuss the person at the center of the intervention as well as how the meeting will unfold. This meeting can take place in person or over a teleconference call or video conference call.
During this meeting, the interventionist can work with participants on the planning of a prearranged treatment plan. This is important to have in place because if the person says yes to getting help, you want to be ready to get them to a facility as soon as possible.
This prearranged treatment plan will outline the steps and goals to recovery that the person must take as well as the supports in place to help them on their journey. Once the details are ironed out, this is the recovery plan that will be presented to the person.
Another topic that should be addressed at this meeting is what will happen if the target person checks out of the process. This could mean they could get defensive and walk out or sit through the meeting detached and uninterested. There could be objections, such as, “I don’t have a problem” or “I can stop at any time.” They may even express that it is their problem that they can handle on their own. Participants can plan a strategy or two to address this response.
- Prepare for emotional responses and plan to address them beforehand.
Each person in the meeting will share their concerns about any troublesome behaviors they have noticed about the person battling substance use problems. The examples shared in this meeting will also be shared with the person during the actual intervention, so it’s important to think these through.
As participants weigh in and share their views about the family member or friend who they are concerned about, they should be honest about what they have observed and how they are feeling. Be prepared for the possibility that some people may express resentment, hurt, anger, or another emotion. This is normal, as addiction affects everyone who interacts with the addicted person. It is important to keep in mind that this intervention is a healing process for them and you.
Your interventionist professional may suggest that participants express their feelings in a written note or letter so that they can document their concerns and feelings and have those on hand during the actual meeting. When these notes and letters are shared with the person they are about, the sentiments shared could motivate them to change course and get help.
- Do the preparation work and rehearse the intervention.
Interventions can take place seamlessly, and if they do, it’s likely because there was some preparation and rehearsal involved. While you will not be able to predict the target person’s response to this meeting, you will be able to make sure everyone is aligned with the expectations and goals of the meeting and what to do to keep the meeting on track. Holding a rehearsal before the big day can help you pinpoint and fix potential problem areas and help ensure the meeting stays civil.
You can prepare virtually using a phone or computer, or you can meet and prepare in person. If you choose an in-person meeting, pick a location and make sure everyone knows where it is. If it is out-of-state, all participants will want to plan for that so they can cover their travel arrangements. To make it easier, you may want to pick one site for the rehearsal and the intervention meeting.
When all participants have arrived for rehearsal, the interventionist will determine each person’s role before assigning it to them. The professional will also create a script for everyone to follow. This is critical. Everyone should know what their role is and stick to the script that has been given to them, no matter what happens.
Everyone should agree to these roles beforehand. If they have a concern about the role that has been assigned to them or the script given to them, they are encouraged to speak up before the actual meeting. Because interventions are delicate matters, the interventionist should be the only person who can adjust to what happens and go off-script if necessary.
- Discuss what will happen if the person does not change or agree to get help.
Sometimes, the emotional hurt and pain that the individual’s substance use has caused their loved ones are enough for them to accept that they need help. When interventions conclude with the target person being motivated to change, this is a positive step. However, in all interventions, the target person must decide whether they are going to attend rehab or not, and unfortunately, not everyone is going to say yes to change.
Whether it’s a yes or no, specific actions will follow either answer. Of course, ideally, the person will hear everyone out and agree to get help. But you and other concerned friends and family must also think about what you’re going to do if the person refuses to get help. The Mayo Clinic advises that an intervention meeting needs to be clear about this matter.
Each intervention participant will have to decide for themselves how they are going to deal with a “no” answer. For some, it could mean the target person can no longer call or visit their home. It could mean the target person will be asked to move out of the family home by a certain date. If there are some participants who loaned the person money, they may now have to decide that such loans must stop. Once participants decide on the consequences, they must stick to them.
Clear boundaries encourage progress. If they don’t help the person at the center of the intervention, then they can help meeting participants heal and move on. Make sure the consequences you choose are ones you can carry out. If you can’t or don’t, you could harm your credibility with the person and perhaps yourself.
- Meet with the person and all meeting participants at the agreed-upon time.
The interventionist will conduct the meeting according to the plans that have been agreed to during the pre-meeting and rehearsal. By this point, the person who the intervention is for will learn of the meeting, and ideally, attend.
- Allow everyone their say.
Each person will take their turn to speak directly to the target person. They can read their written letter or note or just share why they want the person to get help and examples of actions or incidents that illustrate why they are concerned.
It is important to share these observations as neutrally as possible. The target person can feel attacked and withdraw from the feedback being shared. If the meeting at any point feels like it is getting off track, your interventionist will know how to handle the situation. Remember, stick to the script. Doing so will keep everyone on the same page.
- Review the prearranged treatment plan.
After everyone has taken their turn to speak, the interventionist will start talks about the plan created to get the person recovery help. Once you have gone over that in detail, the next order of business is to discuss what happens going forward if the person refuses treatment. Each person will be asked to share their boundaries and consequences from this point on.
After everyone has had their turn to speak, participants can let the target person have the floor and hear their decision about whether they will or won’t attend treatment.
Depending on their answer, participants will know which way to go. If the person says yes, then the plans have been made to get them help. If they say no, then everyone has had their say, and life will move on as planned.
Of course, each situation is different, but interventions are generally viewed as effective and worth trying if done the right way. Family participation is important and can make the difference between someone getting in and completing treatment and someone dropping out. After a person agrees to go to rehab, it is just one of many milestones to recovery. The family should aim to learn as much about addiction and how to help their loved one during this critical time.
Follow-up efforts can include recovery support groups, therapy, and ongoing communication between the person in recovery and the family. Working together as a family can help someone get on the road to sobriety and stay on it for years to come.
Your loved one can escape the grips of addiction and leave substance abuse behind them. CHAT can guide you to intervention resources and help you find a treatment program at our facility that can get your loved one sober. Call us at any time for a free consultation or connect with us online for more information.