Staging an Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction

Help Your Loved One Overcome Addiction

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What Is an Intervention?

Only a very small amount of those struggling with addiction and other mental health disorders ever seek help. This is the source of great difficulties for loved ones and extended communities because those close to someone who is mentally unwell are affected by relational symptoms of addiction. 

It can be incredibly challenging and at times feel completely hopeless when a relative, friend or colleague is struggling with an addiction. Whether it be alcohol, drugs, gambling, gaming or sex, addiction can take families, hostage.

If you are close to someone struggling with an addiction, you may find your thoughts consumed with worry. In terms of behaviour, you might try and control the addiction by flushing drugs down the sink or toilet, hiding bottles of alcohol or not having alcohol in the house, cutting off finances, suggesting career changes, organising your social life or perhaps you’ve even resorted to begging them to stop. Despite your well-intentioned efforts, the addiction continues.  

An intervention can sound formal and scary. Due to misinterpretation in the media, many think of an intervention as forcing those close to you into treatment against their will. But when carried out by a trained interventionist with great care and compassion, interventions are a highly effective process that can support you in helping a loved one get out of their own way and access the treatment they may desperately need. 

staging an intervention

What Is the Purpose of an Intervention?

​​An intervention can be an intimidating prospect for many families and friends, particularly if your relationship with the person struggling with the addiction is strained or has fractured completely. If this is the case, you are not alone. Often families move away from the idea of an intervention due to lack of information, fear of arguments, the process possibly failing, and ongoing cohabitation with the individual concerned if the intervention is not a success. 

The purpose of an intervention is to help someone with the illness of addiction to receive the help that they need and extensive research shows that a family is an untapped resource. An intervention leverages your connectedness, love and commitment to the individual, which are powerful motivating factors for them entering treatment.

Staged Intervention Process

If you are considering an intervention, understanding the process can help you understand if it is right for you. There are various intervention methodologies that you might like to consider from ARISE (invitational intervention) to Love First (surprise intervention), but all largely follow a similar structure.   

1. Building Your Team

Usually, after a period of research, someone in your network will propose an intervention and together you will form a group made up of those closest to the person concerned. The network might include parents and siblings, friends, colleagues, spiritual advisors, physicians and anyone else who is invested in them finding recovery from addiction. Research suggests that at least three people should make up your team for a successful intervention. 

2. Appoint an Interventionist

To set you up for success, your team will include a qualified interventionist who can guide you through the process and help organise an effective intervention. An intervention can be emotionally charged with the potential to cause anger or a sense of betrayal, so it is important to find someone to work with that you trust to handle this sensitively. 

You may want to research interventionists in your area online, seek out a recommendation or get in touch with a treatment centre that can introduce you to someone you trust and have worked with before. Take the time to find the right person for you.

3. Treatment Programmes

Once you have built out your team and are happy with the support you have in place, you can begin looking into addiction treatment programmes that will suit your loved one. Some centres don’t treat all addictions, perhaps only specialising in substance abuse, so it is important to find the right programme. Depending on the circumstances, arrangements to admit your loved one to a treatment programme are made before the intervention so quick admission can be made if the intervention is successful.

Practical Considerations

Based on the timings that work for you, a date will be set and a location selected. The family network then works together to present the person concerned with a consistent, rehearsed message and a structured plan from what is said to where people sit in the room. As an example, it might be that family members sit by the door or exit to make it harder for the concerned person to leave. Each element of the intervention is carefully considered.

Potential Consequences

It is important to consider that your loved one might not accept treatment and plan accordingly. To prepare for this, your interventionist will support you in deciding what boundaries will be set should this circumstance arise. Boundaries help everyone in the support network to move away from enabling behaviours which can both prolong the addiction and cause the enabler mental anguish. Boundaries are also a strong motivating factor in individuals finding recovery because they are put in a position where they need to take responsibility for their recovery.

The consequences of someone not accepting treatment will be personal to you and your circumstances, but might be:

  • withdrawing financial support
  • asking the loved one to move out of the family home
  • not spending any time with the loved one
  • disallowing the use of a shared car
  • no longer lying or protecting the loved one from everyday living

Setting boundaries during a drug intervention takes courage and your interventionist is there to create a safe space to do so.

​​Letters to Your Loved One

Each person participating in the intervention will write a letter to be read out on the day, which will include the boundaries mentioned above. For impact, the letters are structured in a particular way and your interventionist will help you find the words.

The letters usually include:

  • saying why you love the individual concerned and care about their health 
  • the negative impact of addiction on your life and theirs
  • how their addiction has affected them and what action they now need to take in order to heal 
  • the consequences of them not accepting treatment (boundaries)
  • being clear that the interventionist isn’t about blaming them but supporting them in finding help with an illness that they are powerless over 
senior woman psychologist and sad man patient

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Calls With Your Interventionist

A successful intervention must be carefully planned to set you and your family up for success. Regular calls with your interventionist before the intervention allows time for planning reassure you that you are not doing this alone, and create a space to have your concerns heard.

When Is the Right Time to Stage an Intervention?

Denial is a key hallmark of addiction which means your loved one has an illness that tells them they don’t have an illness which leads to the continuation of problematic addictive behaviour despite negative consequences. 

You may often hear that someone needs to reach rock bottom to be ready to receive help. Tragically this can lead to unnecessary fatalities. 

As such, there is no right time to stage an intervention but usually, people seek support to stage an intervention when they have reached the end of their capacity to support someone with an addiction. Perhaps you are seeking professional help for your mental health because of someone else’s addiction. You might feel you can no longer cope on your own. Whatever the reason for reaching out for support we encourage you to do so as soon as possible.

Example: Staging an Intervention for an Alcoholic

Interventions are intimate experiences that can feel highly charged, but you are supported by your interventionist every step of the way.

Once a time and date have been set and all preparations have been made, you as a family network will invite your loved one to the intervention venue. Whether you choose a planned or surprise intervention will depend on if you reveal the reason. 

The room will be set up by your interventionist as agreed in your preparation calls and members of the family network will take turns reading out their letters. After letters have been read out your loved one is asked if they are willing to enter treatment. If they refuse, each member of the support network will say what boundaries will be enforced.

If your loved one then agrees to enter treatment, the admission plan will be followed. If they continue to refuse help, your interventionist will support you in enforcing your boundaries. 

How Do I Stage an Intervention?

You do not need to stage an intervention alone, in fact, we would encourage your source support from someone trained to manage the process. The structure of an intervention, whatever type of intervention you choose, largely remains the same but there are some things to take into consideration depending on the type of mental illness being experienced by your loved one. 

Staging an intervention for a family member

Staging an Intervention for a Drug Addict

When your loved one is addicted to illicit drugs (also known as ‘street’ drugs) or prescription medication, you will need to consider that they may be under the influence of substances during the intervention. If they have abruptly stopped use for the intervention, they may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Your interventionist will most likely ask that no illicit drugs are brought to the intervention venue but this cannot be guaranteed. They can also advise on the safest way to carry out an intervention so that your loved one doesn’t start to experience withdrawal syndrome which can be fatal if not handled medically. 

If your loved one is addicted to drugs then regular drug testing might be a boundary that you choose to set as part of the intervention. Your interventionist can advise you here. 

Staging an Intervention for an Alcoholic

If your loved one is struggling with alcoholism, they may be under the influence of alcohol during the intervention, particularly if they have developed a dependence. It is important to prepare for this with your interventionist. As with drug addiction, they will most likely be asked to attend the intervention in a sober state as possible but this will need to be reviewed because, as with drug dependency, discontinuation syndromes can be very dangerous. 

It may be that you will need to consider how your own behaviour will change following the intervention for an alcoholic. It is common for family members to become the ‘alcohol police’ in the home, constantly monitoring consumption, hiding alcohol and flushing alcohol down the toilet or sink. As such, for your sanity, as part of the intervention, it may be that you refuse to continue this behaviour and seek support from a therapist to honour this boundary. 

Staging an Intervention for Gambling Addiction

If you are staging an intervention for someone with an addiction to gambling then you may be experiencing financial difficulty or not have a clear picture of your loved one’s finances due to the dishonest nature of the illness. They may be fearful to admit the full extent of their financial situation has grown used to secrecy over time. 

If your loved one refuses help for a gambling addiction, it may be that the action you take to take care of yourself is to separate finances or no longer give them money. This can be discussed with your interventionist.

Staging an Intervention for Mental Illness

Interventions for mental illness need to be handled with great care due to a potential lack of emotional stability, misuse of medication, or undiagnosed co-occurring disorders. 

Because your loved one may be unable to regulate their feelings, an intervention could be incredibly overwhelming, preventing them from hearing what you are saying in your letters. It is important to note that overwhelm and emotional dysregulation can lead to angry outbursts, emotional collapse/shutdown, and even violence. As such, more time needs to be taken over the intervention process often with an immediate goal of medication compliance, and a trained mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or doctor may need to be involved. 

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How Effective Are Interventions for Addicts?

Interventions are an effective and evidence-based way for families to help their loved ones recover from addiction. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence cite intervention success rates, as measured by a commitment to seek treatment, at above 90% when performed appropriately. Another study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that people who were confronted about their alcohol use were significantly more likely to enter detox or rehab and remain abstinent than those who were not confronted.

Tips for a Successful Intervention

Your interventionist will guide you through the whole process of setting up and carrying out an intervention.

Some of the tips they may give you include: 

  • Being rigorously honest with your loved one about how addiction has affected your life
  • Being mindful to set boundaries that you will be able to enforce should you need to, otherwise the intervention loses its integrity
  • Having compassion for yourself and your loved one with an addiction. They have an illness that they are powerless over, may feel hopeless, deep shame about their behaviour, and a sense of being trapped in an addictive cycle that they can’t get out of
  • Pick an interventionist that you trust and feel comfortable with as they will be holding the space for you during a very vulnerable time
  • Honour the evidence-based structure of the intervention and don’t deviate from the script
  • Ensure you have support in place for yourself after the intervention

Staged Interventions London and the UK

At CATCH Recovery in London, we have a highly experienced team of interventionists to who we would be happy to introduce you. We are also connected with inpatient treatment centres Smaremore Castle and Castle Craig meaning we can organise a seamless admission if the intervention is successful. 

Should you wish to explore an intervention through CATCH Recovery in London, please feel free to give us a call so we can listen to your story and answer any questions you might have. 

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