Watching a loved one struggle with drug or alcohol addiction can be one of the most difficult things for family and friends to endure and can make them feel as though they too, are in the throes of it. The helplessness they feel, the anxiety and worry-it can be all-consuming. But while family and friends may feel powerless, the truth is that more often than not, they can often be the difference between life and death for someone battling drug or alcohol addiction. It's up to all of us—as loved ones, as daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, and dear friends—to recognize the signs of addiction in someone that we love, and to mobilize to provide support. You should never be afraid of "overstepping your bounds." If someone is a danger to themselves or others and the warning signs are there, it's important to take action. Your loved one's life may be at stake.
An intervention is a planned and structured sit-down conversation between loved ones and the person suffering from addiction, and often it's guided by a trained professional intervention specialist. Successful interventions carried out in the correct way can help addicts process their feelings in a more helpful way and preserve precious family bonds and dear friendships. The end goal of an intervention is to help the addicted person agree to get the professional help that they need and start on a safer path to recovery and rehabilitation.
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If someone you love it struggling with addiction, it's important to remember that you are not alone, and that there are tools and professionals to help you. There is always something you can do to make the situation better, even if you feel like you're at the end of your rope. Education is the silver bullet. If you educate yourself on all of the options available, you'll be weaponized to fight for your loved one. Stay focused, stay calm, and plan your course of action.
Watching someone that you love or care about struggle with addiction can be one of the hardest things a family member or friend will ever go through. It can make people feel hopeless, powerless, and terrified. And, since most of us aren't trained professionals, these feelings of love, care, and concern can be overwhelming and can get in the way of what we're trying to do. Often, it's hard to find the perfect words to say or to decide on the perfect course of action. This is why it's a good idea to plan your intervention out as much as you possibly can, and, if you can afford it, to involve a professional counsellor.
Because it can be difficult to know exactly when to intervene, learning some of the commonly accepted signs that someone needs assistance is helpful. Signs that someone may have an addiction problem needing intervention include: aggressive behavior, secretive behavior, borrowing an unusual amount of money they can't account for, severe changes in physical appearance, lack of motivation, health issues, problems at school or work, eating disorders, and unusual depression.
Because every addict is different and every family dynamic is unique, there's no one-size-fits-all way to intervene; be strong enough to recognize that whatever works best for your situation is the right course of action. Professionals agree that there are four basic categories of intervention, but these can all be (and should be) customized to fit the individual needs of each family.
We've all seen shows about drug and alcohol intervention on television, where family gathers around and confronts a loved one together. But in reality, this can sometimes seem too overwhelming or accusatory, and can backfire. Sometimes the best way to get through to an addict is for one single family member to face the addicted person, and reason with them. Sometimes a softer, one-on-one approach is the way to go, but it will vary from person to person.
A more structured approach, often called a "classical intervention," starts with a planning session that includes everybody except the person that will be confronted. Sometimes this also includes a counselor who can be helpful in preparing each friend or family member to be aware of and prepared for all possible scenarios and outcomes that may occur and help them be able to process and handle them. This type of intervention is extremely planned out and is designed to be supportive for both the addicted person and all the people who care about him or her.
This type of intervention is based on "family systems" and is often used for families in which multiple people may be struggling with addiction. This method can be helpful in treating both the addict and the family dynamic at large. All members of a family are encouraged to continue counseling and coaching, long after the initial intervention is completed. This method provides plenty of emotional support for all involved.
This is the more commonly thought of and most commonly portrayed type of intervention that we see in movies and television. Sometimes an addicted person's behavior is so out of control and so dangerous that it becomes clear to everyone that rehab is absolutely necessary. Sometimes there isn't really time to plan an intervention, (such as in cases where the addicted person is a danger to himself or to those around him) and in this case, an impromptu intervention is warranted. With the objective being to secure the addict's safety, these interventions are often swift, difficult, and requiring a lot of tough love. Afterwards, a structured rehabilitation needs to follow.
When an addict is confronted it can feel like the whole world is against them, and sometimes it can backfire and make matters worse. Because of this, if at all possible, interventions should be done with professional help. Professional help can come in the form of an intervention specialist, guidance counsellor, drug counsellor or medical professional. A professional guiding hand can provide context, mediate the course of dialogue, and can go a long way towards ensuring that an intervention is received in the spirit of help rather than in the spirit of judgement. This goes a long way towards helping addicted people break their cycle of denial.
Once on board, the professional that you've chosen will help you create a customized intervention plan or strategy, specific to the addiction it needs to address and to all of the parties involved. The plan should address your loved ones' issues and needs as well as the needs of the friends and family forming the group, which may include spouses or partners, co-workers, or family. Remember that during an intervention there is no real way to predict what will actually happen, despite the best efforts at planning, so everyone who decides to be involved needs to be prepared to see and hear some pretty tough things.
A person struggling with drug abuse or addiction may not realize how their actions affect others, (since addiction changes brain chemistry,) and thus when family and friends tell them how their actions are hurtful, it can sometimes trigger reactions that are unexpected. Because the moment will be so heavy and volatile these stories should be prepared ahead of time and reviewed or practiced by the intervening members before you confront your loved one. If you have rehearsed ahead of time, you're much more likely to be able to deliver what you would like to say when the pressure is on and the emotions are high.
An intervention specialist will go over the exact plan for the intervention—whom is to speak in what order, and what they will say to address their loved one's situation—and they will try to also prepare the family and friends participating for what may happen during the intervention. Interventions can be difficult, emotional, and unpredictable, so knowledge and compassion help provide insights the intervention party can use to convince someone they need help.
Setting has an enormous role to play in the success or failure of an intervention, so it deserves careful consideration. The space where the intervention is held should be familiar and non-threatening so that it puts the addicted person more at ease during the conversation. It's also extremely helpful to try to schedule a meeting time when the loved one is the most likely to be sober. If the person struggling with addiction is high, they may not be able to properly hear and comprehend what's being said. They may also not be able to accurately remember how the intervention went. Also, be sure to block out plenty of time. Interventions usually last between a half hour and 90 minutes, but they can go as long as needed. There's really no pre-set time limit.
Drug addiction is an unpredictable enemy, and when you confront it there is no guarantee that an intervention will work on the first try. In fact, there is also no way to accurately predict the outcome at all. It's impossible for you to know how your loved one will react when confronted, and that's something you must accept before you begin. If your loved one's reaction to being confronted becomes volatile or dangerous, be prepared to call 911. There's no shame in having to do this; it's for their safely and for your own.
How you talk to your loved one is as important as what you actually say. Interventions are done in the spirit of love and it's important that body language helps convey that. Emotions will be running high, but it's important to try to use open and welcoming body language. Your body language signifies that you are open to listening as well as talking, It has to feel like a two-way street in order to be successful.
As we've said above, addicts can respond in unpredictable ways when they're confronted.
They might leave the room, scream and yell, cry hysterically, or say things that aren't accurate. If you develop (and practice) backup plans for all the scenarios that may happen, you will be prepared for anything. Staying flexible and being prepared are the two best things family members can do before and during an intervention to give you the best chance at success.
There's unfortunately no way to predict if an intervention will work on the first try. Some people may be convinced after one conversation, but others may need multiple chats before they truly hear how much their addiction affects the people around them, and before they make the decision to change. Never give up, no matter what. The only way to ensure success is to be determined even before you begin, to keep fighting.