A basic definition of an “intervention” is an action taken to improve a situation. When it comes to substance abuse, however, that definition only scratches the surface. There is an entire science behind what goes into an intervention, what happens in an intervention, and what happens after an intervention. Substance abuse interventions can be – and often are – the first step that abusers and their families take to recovery and healing.
The Dynamics of an Intervention
The National Institute of Health explains that the goal of intervention in substance abuse treatment is to:
- Dissuade the user from continuing his drug or alcohol habit
- Prompt him to seriously consider the social and health consequences of continuing his habit
- Encourage him to seek treatment (or, if applicable, return to treatment)
- Remind him that he has a network of people who love and support him
In order to dissuade the user from continuing his habit,a professional interventionist will coach the friends and family members of the user on how they should share stories of the ways that the user’s drug or alcohol habit has negatively impacted their lives. This could be in the form of listing embarrassing incidents that were a result of the user being high or drunk, or by way of giving examples of how their quality of life has deteriorated since the substance abuse started. A common way of doing this is by having the participants in the intervention write out their grievances in the format of a letter to the patient; if, at the start of the intervention, the patient denies any wrongdoing or destructive behavior, the contents of each letter are read out loud.
For this reason, it may be beneficial for the participants to rehearse what they intend on saying at the intervention. It gives the interventionist a chance to vet everybody’s contributions, as well as build preparedness for the emotional battle the user, and their friends and family, might possibly go through during the intervention.
Because a proper intervention is very methodical, the stories shared by the participants should not be off the cuff. Belligerent or confrontational condemnation of the abuser will do more harm than good, and PsychCentral cautions that attempting an intervention without the guidance and moderation offered by a professional interventionist can be “dangerous and very counterproductive.”
Instead, the interventionist will work with the intervention’s participants on how they can present their case in a way that is direct (so the user has no room to escape the reality of their abuse) and engaging (so the user is compelled to take positive action based on what he has heard).
Examining the consequences of a continued substance abuse habit is an important element in an intervention. The Mayo Clinic lists detailing the consequences of refusal as one of the goals of a substance abuse intervention. If the patient rejects the claim that he has an addiction, or denies any offer of treatment or help, the intervention’s participants should clearly state what punitive measures they will take until the patient changes his mind. This could mean evicting the patient from shared living space; cutting off financial support; breaking off contact, or any other measure to prove to the user that his destructive behavior will not be tolerated or accepted.
However, if the patient accepts the reality that the intervention presents to them, the next steps should be carefully mapped out as well. Part of the preparation for an intervention is that friends and family research a treatment facility that they feel would best help the patient’s addiction(s) (the interventionist can help with this search). At the intervention, they should inform the patient that such a facility exists, and that the patient being admitted to the facility is a condition of their continued support. An intervention can be emotionally draining, both for the patient and the participants. Showing that there is a realistic and logical path to recovery will go a long way in reassuring everyone’s concerns about the future. On the other hand, being empty-handed when it comes to plotting out the aftermath of the intervention can undo all the hard work it took to get to that point.
Furthermore, many patients try to dodge the spotlight of an intervention by claiming they will seek treatment later. The Huffington Post explains that an intervention is an ultimatum, and there is no concept of “later” – either the patient accepts the immediate treatment plan that their friends and family provide for him, or he will suffer the consequences that, as part of the intervention, were very clearly laid out.
Lastly, an intervention presents an opportunity for the addict’s friends and family to reiterate their love and support. The intervention is not an opportunity for resentful and bitter airings of dirty laundry. If recovery is to be successful – or even started – it needs the foundation of a support network of the people who are most invested in the patient’s well-being. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism points out that positive affirmation from friends and family encourages and motivates the patient to take personal investment in his own recovery.
Interventions and Success
For as difficult as interventions can be, they are successful. A study of 153 women for the Journal of Research on Adolescence suggested that interventions not only resulted in “decreasing drug use” but also “potentially increased resilience to partner abuse.” The findings were summarized in a news release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, entitled “Early Interventions Can Decrease Drug Use in Young Women.”
Another study, this one published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that intervention in cases of drug abuse can keep patients in treatment programs for longer periods of time. The particular intervention in the study even “doubled the likelihood of abstinence” among certain patients.
More Information About Interventions
An intervention can be a complicated, grueling process, but it can also be the start of a life turning around, leaving behind the trail of destruction and substance abuse for good. At Orlando Recovery Center we know that nothing about an intervention is easy, which is why we’re here to help you as much as we can. If you have questions about how to know if your loved one has a substance abuse problem, or if you would like to know about setting up an intervention, we have trained professionals who are standing by to answer your questions.
Medical Disclaimer: The Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.