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It can be excruciating to watch a loved one struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Family members and close friends of those experiencing addiction often find it challenging to help, especially when the sufferer has a difficult time acknowledging that they need help, which is often the case.
Having an open and honest conversation may begin the recovery process; however, a more comprehensive approach is usually necessary. A formal intervention can help someone with addiction understand how their behavior is affecting those around them and offer a way out.
What is Drug and Alcohol Intervention?
An intervention is a thoughtfully planned process that utilizes the guidance of a doctor, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, or a professionally trained interventionist. The intervention will usually include family members, close friends, and anyone who cares for the person struggling with addiction.
Who Needs Drug and Alcohol Intervention?
A loved one struggling with addiction can benefit from an intervention in any stage of their addiction. Addiction is defined as a chronic disorder that includes perpetual drug use regardless of the consequences they may experience as a result of the use of drugs.2
When someone is using drugs in an addictive manner, they may show different signs and symptoms depending on which drugs they are using. Looking out for these signs and symptoms can help determine if a loved one is suffering from addiction and in need of an intervention.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
There are additional addictive drugs that someone may use, and the signs and symptoms of each addiction may be more exhaustive than what is presented here. In general, any combination of these signs and symptoms may be indicative of a drug addiction and should be taken seriously. If a loved one is experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, an intervention may be necessary.
When to Intervene
It might be challenging to pinpoint precisely when it is time to intervene. Different ideologies and misconceptions might hold someone back from hosting an intervention for a loved one.
One common misconception is that someone experiencing addiction needs to hit “rock bottom,” or reach the lowest possible point in their addiction, for treatment to be successful. Identifying this point can be extremely difficult and is not necessary. It is much better to intervene well before this low point occurs.9
An intervention can be done as soon as someone begins to show signs of addiction. Once a family member or close friend identifies that a loved one has a problem and is engaging in risky behaviors related to drugs and alcohol, it is appropriate to host an intervention.10
Once someone decides to intervene, it might be challenging to find an exact time to hold the intervention. The only time it is inappropriate to intervene is when the loved one suffering from addiction is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If they are under the influence, it will be difficult for them to process what is said during the intervention. Any other time is an acceptable time to host an intervention.9
If a loved one is showing signs of addiction, and family members and friends are affected and worried, now is the time to intervene.
How to Stage a Drug and Alcohol Intervention
A formal intervention should always be conducted with the guidance of a professional to ensure safety and effectiveness. This professional might be a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or professional interventionist. It can be someone the family already works with, a recommended interventionist, or someone found through diligent research. The chosen addiction professional will aid in determining the best approach and will suggest effective treatment and follow-up plans. 1
The intervention group should include people who are important to the individual suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. The group may consist of a best friend, immediate family members, extended family members, and anyone else close to the loved one. Do not include anyone they don’t like or someone who is also struggling with a substance abuse problem. Additionally, if you think someone might become hostile during the intervention, it is best not to include them.1
It is essential to consult with the selected interventionist during the planning process. An intervention can create a highly emotional and intense environment. A professional can help devise the best plan to maintain effectiveness, even if the individual suffering from addiction becomes angry or hostile. The interventionist will also help with the treatment plan and decide who will speak during the intervention.1
After forming an intervention group and making a plan, each member of the group will prepare what they are going to say. It is helpful to write down what will be said during the intervention to ensure that everyone stays on topic and does not say anything out of anger or any other heightened emotion. It is also important to work together to rehearse what the loved one might say and how the group members will respond.1
The individual struggling with addiction may refuse treatment when presented with the option, and it is crucial to predetermine specific consequences. Each member of the intervention group should decide what action they will take if the loved one ultimately refuses treatment. For example, a family member may decide that their loved one needs to move out, or a friend might decide they will need to create distance in their friendship.1
Once the loved one arrives at the intervention site, each member of the group will have a turn to express how they are feeling and what their concerns are, speaking directly to their loved one. After everyone has shared, the loved one will be asked to accept treatment and will need to decide immediately. Then, each member will share their specific consequences should their loved one refuse to accept treatment.1
If the loved one chooses to accept treatment, group members may want to change personal destructive behaviors, attend therapy with their loved one, attend therapy on their own, and come up with a plan in case the loved one relapses. If the loved one does not accept treatment, each group member needs to follow through with their consequences and take care of themselves by setting healthy boundaries and possibly attending therapy.1
All formal interventions will generally follow this staging process. Depending on each unique situation, there are different intervention models that can be used. Two common models are the Johnson Model and the Family Systemic Model.
Family Systemic Model
The Family Systemic Model is a bit different than traditional intervention models and focuses on including the loved one suffering from addiction in every aspect.
Cost of Interventions
The main cost of a drug and alcohol intervention is hiring a professional to host the intervention. An interventionist typically costs between $1,500 and $10,000, not including any travel expenses. While this cost might be very high for some, it is essential to include an addiction professional to maintain effectiveness and increase the likelihood of a loved one accepting treatment.
The financial cost of hiring an interventionist to conduct a formal intervention could far outweigh the emotional and financial cost of dealing with a loved one who is suffering from drug and alcohol addiction. When other, less costly options have been exhausted, it may be worth it to bear the financial burden to watch the loved one cultivate a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Why Conduct an Intervention?
If your loved one is showing signs of a drug or alcohol addiction, and it is affecting the quality of their life and yours, now is the time to intervene. An intervention can motivate your loved one to accept treatment and overcome their addiction, with the support of addiction treatment professionals as well as friends and family. An intervention can be the beginning of a more vibrant and wholesome life for your loved one. The admissions team at our Outpatient Rehab in San Diego is available to take your call and answer any questions that you may have.
Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Sanjai Thankachen
Dr. Sanjai Thankachen graduated from Adichunchanagiri Institute of Medicine in 2000. He completed his residency in psychiatry in 2008 at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York. Dr. Thankachen is currently working with Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists in an outpatient practice, as well as working at multiple in-patient psychiatric and medical units bringing his patients the most advanced healthcare treatment in psychiatry. Dr. Thankachen sees patients with an array of disorders, including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, anxiety, and dementia-related problems.
Edited for Clinical Accuracy By:
Sean Leonard is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner. He received his master’s degree in adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner from Walden University and a second postmaster specialty in psychiatry mental health nurse practitioner from Rocky Mountain University. Sean has experience working in various diverse settings, including an outpatient clinic, inpatient detox and rehab, psychiatric emergency, and dual diagnosis programs. His specialty areas include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, PTSD, ADHD, and OCD.
Intervention — Tips and guidelines. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines. Accessed June 7, 2017.
Intervention ebook ― What to do if your child is drinking or using drugs. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. https://drugfree.org/download/intervention-ebook/. Accessed June 7, 2017.
Alcohol and drug addiction happen in the best of families … and it hurts. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. http://store.samhsa.gov/product/Alcohol-and-Drug-Addiction-Happens-in-the-Best-of-Families/SMA12-4159. Accessed June 7, 2017.
Helping an adult family member or friend with a drug or alcohol addiction. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. https://drugfree.org/parent-blog/want-help-adult-family-member-friend-drug-alcohol-problem-7-suggestions/. Accessed June 8, 2017.
Treatment ebook ― How to find the right help for your child with an alcohol or drug problem. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. https://drugfree.org/download/treatment-ebook/. Accessed June 8, 2017.
Copello, A. G., Copello, A. G., Velleman, R. D., & Templeton, L. J. (2005). Family interventions in the treatment of alcohol and drug problems. Drug and alcohol review, 24(4), 369-385.
Association of Intervention Specialists. (n.d.). Learn About Intervention.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011). The Different Angles of Addiction.
Abuse, S., US, M. H. S. A., & Office of the Surgeon General (US. (2016). EARLY INTERVENTION, TREATMENT, AND MANAGEMENT OF SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS.
American Addiction Centers. 2018.
Association of Intervention Specialists. (2017). What is the Johnson Model of Intervention?
Association of Intervention Specialists. (2017). What is an Arise Intervention?
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/intervention-tips-and-guidelines
SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions – http://www.integration.samhsa.gov/clinical-practice/sbirt/brief-interventions