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Published On: June 7, 2017
Updated On: November 18, 2022
Performing an intervention to address drug and alcohol addiction can be an emotional experience for family, friends, and substance users. The emotional connection the intervention participants have to the substance user is why it is suggested that those participating in an intervention collect and write their thoughts and feelings on paper rather than speak off the cuff.
For many, speaking to and having conversations with the substance user have often left family and friends confused, frustrated, filled with a false sense of hope, and almost always ends with being in the same position as before.
Preparing your thoughts and words before the intervention meeting with the addict or alcoholic will allow you to communicate more effectively with them. When was the last time you talked with an addict and simply listened?
There is a significant difference between reading a letter to someone versus speaking out whatever comes to mind while being interrupted and challenged by the person you are trying to speak with.
Gathering your thoughts and feelings in a letter will make it much easier to communicate important things on your mind. Preparing intervention letters before the intervention prevents family members from negatively reacting to their dysfunctional family role during the intervention. Unfortunately, many interventionists have tried to reinvent the wheel on what an intervention letter should consist of. Many still believe in reminding the addict or alcoholic of their mistakes.
At Family First Intervention, we initially outlined our letters by pointing out mistakes when building our curriculum in the early stages. We quickly realized there are far superior ways to communicate to achieve engagement and acceptance of help.
There are various suggested ways for writing an intervention letter, and not all strategies are equally effective. Your goal is for the family to read their thoughts and the substance user to listen, not react, and accept help. A confrontational letter, for example, may put the substance user on the defense and lead to interruptions and challenges of the letter’s content.
Most addicts and alcoholics blame everyone in the room during the intervention on some level for their problems. Whether they say it or not, they think in their minds that all of these people here, for the most part, have had a hand in making them feel the way they feel.
In addition to having resentment toward most people in the room, they feel unloved. The goal of the intervention letter is to engage that love and to own certain things that may have caused the substance user to harbor resentment. It does not have to be accurate that anybody did anything to cause the addict or alcoholic to blame those in the room for their problems.
What matters is that they think that, and we must redirect that to engagement and listening from the intervention participants and the substance user.
Through many years of trials and tribulations and utilizing evidenced-based intervention strategies, here is what we have found to be the most effective way to write and read an alcohol or drug intervention letter.
In this blog on writing an intervention letter, we will look at the following:
- Making a connection with the addict or alcoholic
- The apology and acknowledgment of mistakes by friends and family
- A simple request for help
- A sample intervention letter
- An additional letter on consequences, accountability, detachment, & boundaries
Connection with the Addict or Alcoholic
During an intervention, the addict or alcoholic will most likely be defensive. The goal is to disarm this resistance by affirming the addict in the letter’s opening paragraph. This will result in a more receptive substance user.
Most addicts and alcoholics believe an intervention is a blame-thrower event and are often on the defense when they see they have just walked into an intervention. This is not an intervention television show. When the addict or alcoholic starts to hear affirmation and love, it lowers their stress level and the tension of the intervention participants.
Be sure your opening paragraph reminds the addict how much they are loved. Reiterate the loved one’s positive qualities as well. This approach will help make the individual feel cared for and accepted. They will be caught off guard in a positive way.
The Apology and Acknowledgment of Mistakes by Friends and Family
This is the absolute most crucial section of the letter and where most interventionists lose the substance user with confrontation. Rather than use section two to remind the addict or alcoholic of how they made mistakes and did wrong, we have the family members own their mistakes and read what they wish they could have done differently.
We have tried both ways, and this approach is far more effective than confrontation. The biggest challenge we face with this section is when certain friends or family members either do not understand why we need to do this part this way or are just too angry to admit there is anything they did wrong, nor are they willing to acknowledge they could have or should have done things differently.
We understand how you feel and can almost always help you develop it if you are willing to write a letter. For those who will not write this section, we can collaborate on an intervention letter that will send a compelling message while avoiding confrontation.
This section is what the addict and alcoholic have been longing for. Using the science of addiction and our experience, we know the addict or alcoholic uses it for many reasons. The two biggest reasons are to escape reality and inflict harm to those they feel are the cause of the reality they have to run from.
Most of the time, the addict and alcoholic believe most of the people in the room of the intervention are the cause of their pain and struggles. When those same people, who the abuser blames for their problems, pile on more “look what you did comments,” how do you think that will go? We’re not saying the confrontational second paragraph has never worked.
We are saying that it never worked better than the apology version. It also prevents the interventionist from putting out the fires and redirecting the room from the angered responses by the substance user and possibly the responses after by the now flared-up family members.
The addict feels forgotten and left out, they feel like a victim, and they feel they have been wronged. We are not trying to give into the victim mentality of the addict or alcoholic.
We are trying to remove their ability to flip the script and make it all about the family. How can the substance user argue with someone who just took ownership and apologized for their role in the problem?
When writing this section, we will ask family members to go back to the section of our intervention manual that discusses family roles. How you have acted out your family role and how that may have contributed to the problem and not helped the substance user is a good place to start and own your apology.
It is best to set egos and pride aside and follow the science and the experience of what works. Confrontation and arguing are far less effective than building motivation and desire with love and affirmation.
“There is an old saying among members of Alcoholics Anonymous. “The alcoholic (or addict) drinks poison, waiting for others to die.”
Our point is the situation has become a family disease fueled by addiction and adopted dysfunctional family roles. There is always something the family could have done differently. For many, it was waiting too long to do the intervention and offer help to their loved ones.
One last thing to note about this section of the letter is that addicts and alcoholics can be in denial about the scope of their drug or alcohol problems. It is better to use evidenced-based communication skills to build trust, desire, and willingness than to make a case against their denial.
Trained intervention professionals can help you understand the importance of this during the intervention letter writing section of the family day preparation. There are different ways to communicate with the substance user depending on where they are in the stages of change.
Simple Request for Help
This is a concise, sweet, and simple section. The intervention participants will acknowledge their need for help while asking the substance user to join them on a path to recovery.
In this section, you are never to lie to the substance user, and with the help of the interventionist, you do not have to give every last detail of the treatment plan as it may raise objections and resistance.
In other words, you do not have to give them a specific time frame of how long they will be gone, nor do you have to exaggerate how great things will be when they get there.
This section of the intervention letter will require the family and friends to brainstorm on the most effective content with the professional interventionist.
Sample Intervention Letter
You are my son, and I love you very much. I remember the day your mother and I found out we were having a child. The life and future of someone I had never met flashed in front of me. I thought of how I would try my hardest to be the best father I could be.
The day we found out we were having a boy brought me to tears of happiness. I remember holding you for the first time, and although very scared, I knew I would never let go. As you started growing up, I cherished all of the little moments, and although I may not have said it enough, you always made me happy and proud.
One of my many favorite memories of you as a child was when you won the little league baseball championship. I will never forget you with your friends, just being kids without a care in the world. I was so proud of you, and when you turned around and I saw our last name on your jersey, it brought me to tears.
After the game, you ran up and hugged me and said, “we won, dad”! I’ll never forget you sleeping with your trophy for two weeks after you received it. As you grew older, I was amazed to watch you become the person you wanted to be, and I enjoyed listening to you talk about the things you wanted to be and do when you grew up.
As parents, we are not given instructions on how to be perfect parents. Your mother and I did the best we could with you and your sister. Although we know we made mistakes, we always try to be positive role models. Like most parents, I always worried about how your life would turn out, and I wondered if I did a good job of preparing you for the world.
As things started to change and unplanned events and choices entered our lives, I questioned myself on where I may have gone wrong. Your life flashed through my head, looking for anything that I thought I did wrong or could have done differently. I thought, “Did I hug you enough? Did I encourage you enough? Could I have listened to you more and done something about it? Should I have taken action when I didn’t?” No matter how we got here, we can return to a different place. Although I can’t change the past, I believe if we are all healthy, we can change the future.
Son, our family needs help, all of us. Nobody in this room has clean hands or a clean conscience. We regret not helping you sooner, and we apologize for not doing things differently. We are not experts and have no idea how to fix things right now. What we know is that other people do, and they are with us here today to help all of us.
Nobody in this room planned for this, nor did we want anything like this to happen. The reality is we are here, and we can help each other. This moment has been put off entirely too long, and we are ready to get help for ourselves starting today.
I want to keep the promise I made to you the first day I held you. That promise was never to let you go and to never give up on our family, regardless of the trials and tribulations that came with parenting. We ask that you keep an open mind with the professionals and us and join us in accepting help.
An Additional Letter: Consequences, Accountability, Detachment & Boundaries Letter
This is an additional letter read in the event your loved one refuses help and the family has exhausted all of their efforts. This section is often mistakenly combined with the loving and respectful connection intervention letter outlined above.
This letter is read during the intervention if the substance user declines help, and it is also sent to the treatment center to give to the addict or alcoholics treatment team should they accept help. This letter will be presented to your loved one should they try to leave treatment against medical, clinical, or staff advice. There is no reason to read this additional intervention letter at the intervention if the substance user chooses to accept treatment.
On a case-by-case basis, there are times when this intervention letter can be read to them after they enter treatment as a therapeutic tool if the family, intervention company, and treatment team agree to it. It is not always reserved just in the cases of the substance user trying to leave against medical, clinical, or staff advice.
If and when this intervention letter is introduced, it will depend on where the substance user is in the recovery process and whether or not their therapist or counselor feels it is appropriate for the substance user to hear or read it.
Whether or not an intervention letter detailing consequences, boundaries, accountability, and detachment is read to the substance user, the family must discuss this letter and put pen to paper for their recovery.
The content of this letter can last a lifetime for a family if the addict or alcoholic reverts back to old behaviors or active drug or alcohol use. The section details should include how you will end your enabling of the addict and how your relationship will change if they continue the substance abuse.
Just writing this out can be helpful for the substance user’s family and can assist them in building upon their recovery in our Family Recovery Coaching Program after the intervention and beyond.
It is important to remember a family can still love the addict or alcoholic and equally love themselves simultaneously. What we are trying to help families with is understanding it is not ok to compromise your own morals, integrity, and values by loving them to the point of enabling and codependency which would prevent them from accepting help.
You can detach and still tell them how much you care for them and how much friends and family love them. At the same time, you do not have to set yourself on fire to keep warm.
Need Help Writing an Intervention Letter? Our Team at Family First Can Help
A lot of thought and evidenced-based strategies go into the content of an intervention letter. There are many strategies to engage and diffuse the addict or alcoholic while bringing them to the point of considering a change.
Taking the focus of the well-aimed darts off of the family and redirecting them towards the substance user’s actions while not creating confrontation is not something an emotionally charged family has experience or the ability to do.
Our experienced, professional interventionists can help families prepare a letter unique to each situation. Although the letter format is in place, its content will vary on a case-by-case basis. This is why we do not offer examples of the boundaries, consequences, accountability, and detachment letter.
We have found that families will just copy and paste our examples. The problem with this is they are not always able to follow through. If there is one thing worse than having no boundaries, it is setting boundaries that you can not keep. We would rather you have weak boundaries that you can keep over setting strong boundaries that you cannot.
We understand that the healing process comes quickly for some and takes much longer for others. Some families will never set boundaries. Regardless, we do our best to help families understand the process and ensure that their loved one struggling with addiction gets the help they need.
Be Sure to Understand the Right and Wrong Ways to Set up an Intervention