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- How do you start an intervention?
- When is the best time to do an intervention?
- What is considered a successful intervention?
- What happens next when our loved one says “YES” and accepts help?
- If you’re asking when is it time to do an intervention the time is now.
Looking above at the definition of intervention, you have to consider the task at hand. You have a volatile situation in which you have an unhealthy family system sitting in the same room with the substance user who often feels it is everyone else in the room’s fault for their current situation. You may or may not have an alcoholic who is in denial and you almost always have a family in denial or that is completely unaware of how they have been affected and how their actions may have affected the situation. Furthermore, you have an alcoholic who has not yet surrendered to treatment or successfully addressed their alcoholism, so we have to look at why. For starters, let’s look at what is NOT an intervention:
- An intervention is not a 12 step call
- It is not a motivation speech
- It is not an ultimatum
- It is not about bringing someone in who will just identify your enabling and talk your loved one into treatment. If that is your goal, that is a free service that most members of Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous would be happy to help you with.
- Interventions are not about shortcuts or kicking the can while having continuous conversations with the alcoholic begging and pleading with them to stop drinking.
- Interventions are not about just getting them to go to treatment while the family sits home anxiously awaiting a successful completion.
- Interventions are not about getting your loved one back home to feed your enabling, codependency, and unhealthy family role.
- An Intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
In addition to learning how to let go of believing you can control the substance user, let’s look at What is an intervention:
- Teaching the family how to effectively communicate with the alcoholic and each other.
- Addressing the family roles that have prevented the alcoholic from seeking help.
- Addressing the family roles that have prevented the family from seeking help for themselves and for the alcoholic.
- Identifying behaviors that comfort and worsen the addiction.
- Helping the family understand that their anger and frustration is not solely with the alcoholic, it is also with other family members.
- Guiding families into their own recovery whether or not the alcoholic enters recovery for themselves.
- Providing families closure that regardless of the outcome, they feel they have done all they can to prevent further destruction and have offered their loved one help.
The alcoholic has a right to be an alcoholic and the family has the right to not help them be a comfortable alcoholic. How many times have you heard the alcoholic say they are a certain age and they have the right to do whatever they want? They would be correct in their statement and so would the family if they were to say and believe the same thing. Alcoholism and drug addiction is often referred to as a victimless crime in that it primarily affects only the substance user. If this were true the family would not feel the way they feel and the substance user would not seek to inflict pain on the family while trying to make the family believe it is all their fault for the way things are.
An intervention, when performed professionally and correctly, is about addressing the family system and offering the alcoholic help. When you look at how alcoholism affects a family system, you will see that an intervention is much bigger than just getting the alcoholic into treatment. It is about starting the road to recovery for both the alcoholic and their family.
How do you start an intervention?
The answer to this question is to let your professional intervention team explain how they are going to do that. In other words, do not start one without a professional, that’s the first step. Interventions involve many moving parts and there is no one specific answer to give in regards to how to start an intervention. It depends on the substance user, their location, their patterns, their current state, the family, etc. This is why it is so important to use an experienced professional. They are able to collaborate with their team prior to coming out to meet the family and then collaborate with the family on best strategies and protocol. For example you’re most likely not going to start an intervention in the home of a methamphetamine user held up with guns actively using unless it is the only option. You have to strategize to get the substance user to the safest and most comfortable location for everyone involved in order to start the process and get the message across effectively.
Any interventionist, who is honest anyway, will tell you that no matter how many interventions they have done, there is always an element of anxiety of how the substance user is going to react when they walk in the room. Sometimes you are met with anger and sometimes you are met with tears. Regardless of who walks through the door, the family would be in the best position possible if they had an experienced professional intervention guiding them and to diffuse any volatility that may arise. Remember, the substance user has issues with most people in the room. They have the fewest issues with the person they do not know and that is the interventionist. They may take their anger out on the interventionist and the interventionist, and on occasion certain family members who do not appear as a threat to the substance user, are best at handling the start of the intervention as well as the follow through.
Read More: How to Live With an Alcoholic or Drug Addict
In most cases and after getting the substance user to sit down, the professional interventionist starts the intervention with an introduction. This all based on case notes and feedback during the family day. In other words, there is a professional strategy to an interventionist and nobody is just winging it. Once we have the attention of the substance user, the interventionist acting as a mediator will ask family members to read their letters. There is a strategy to this too and who reads what and when matters. After the letters are read the interventionist starts to work on the substance user. The interventionist often has to handle objections as well as anger.
All of this has been discussed at the pre-intervention meeting also called the family day. The family should be prepared and see what is unfolding based on what they have learned thus far. From your initial call to that moment you’re in the intervention you have been learning about what is going to happen and why. The substance user will either accept help or they will refuse. The interventionist will guide you regardless of outcome and provide you with the next steps of the ongoing support process and the Family Recovery Coaching. The intervention is not an event, it is a process. It is not over because they refused help and it certainly is not over if they accept help.
When is the best time to do an intervention?
Some have different opinions on the best time to do an intervention. The reality is, it is impossible to perfectly time the volatility of the substance user. Families always look for that magical moment and there just isn’t one other than a few circumstances. Two of these magical circumstances that are not always an option is when the substance user is either incarcerated or hospitalized. In either of these two situations you have the best opportunity because the addict or alcoholic is not on drugs or alcohol and they can’t justify that they are or were doing well.
There are professionals who suggest waiting until the substance user is abstinent from drugs or alcohol before intervening. Outside of the abstinence being caused by incarceration or hospitalization, this is a bad idea because if the substance user is free from drugs and alcohol then they are going to tell you they don’t need help because they are clean. When they come out of jail or a hospital you have them somewhat clear headed and they can not justify they are doing well given where they just came from. Aside from these two scenarios a substance user can fight the intervention and plead their case if they are actually drug or alcohol free by choice. It is much more difficult if the only reason you are abstinent is because you were recently arrested or hospitalized for substance use related concerns.
If you are going to wait for that magical moment for them to be substance free at the intervention you are going to be waiting a long time. Who is to say they won’t be drunk or high by the time the interventionist arrives. Addiction is more about the behaviors than it is the substance use yet a substance user always wants to make it about whether or not they have used substances as does their family. If a family is calling for an intervention, when the interventionist arrives they are almost always going to see the substance user in one of two states; drunk or high or sick from not being drunk or high. If they have detoxed themselves outside of a jail or hospital the intervention will be more difficult than if you intervene when they are actively using.
Interventions are always about intervening on destructive behaviors and lifestyles. It would appear that we are intervening on the substance use and the substance use in and of itself is not why families call nor why people seek help. Waiting for the substance user to be clean and sober first misses the mark on what the problem with addiction is and also about what an intervention seeks to accomplish. A family should intervene when they call inquiring about needing to intervene. The best time to intervene is when you know something has to change. Families should not be waiting to intervene when it is convenient for the substance user. Families should be intervening when it is convenient for themselves.
“Whenever you feel the need to protect the feelings of another person you are only seeking to protect your own.“
What is considered a successful intervention?
The success of the intervention is determined by the goals set at the intervention. Families often refer to an intervention as failed, when the substance user refuses help. Some families refer to it as failure even when their loved one accepts help. Because of this, some of the things we look at to determine the success of an intervention is by how much the family learns to change their outlook and perception and engage in our family recovery coaching program while reducing their reactivity to the substance user. If the family is hiring the intervention company just to get their loved one into treatment then the success rate will be determined by whether or not they go. If the family hires the interventionist to get back control of the situation and their loved one then they will not be happy nor will they consider it a success if the person accepts help and gets better.
This is why we put so much emphasis on the behaviors over substance use. You do not need to be on substances to act like you still are. Families have as much volatility, uncertainty, anxiety, and distorted perception as the substance user does. If the intervention does not address the family system and move them into recovery then any success by way of the person going to treatment is often short lived. We are not saying that drugs and alcohol are not a concern or an issue. The use of substances causes many problems including medical and mental health concerns. The point being made is that drugs and alcohol use cause harmful behavior as much as emotions, feelings and behaviors start the drug and alcohol use.
Unresolved trauma, family of origin problems, horrification, perception, mental health, emotions and behaviors lead to self medication. These behaviors in both the family and the substance user do not disappear because the substance user enters a treatment center, in fact, they get worse before they get better. To think an intervention is successful because someone went to treatment would be to think you fixed the dam because you put some tape on it. Families get far more angry and reactive after the intervention and even more so when the person accepts help. The substance user gets more manipulative and angry after they accept treatment. The turbulence after an intervention is far more work than the intervention itself. Doing an intervention yourself or hiring a solo interventionist does not address these problems that will arise. One of the most important things of what is considered a successful intervention should be the family knowing they did everything they could to stop it and entered recovery for themselves.
For more insight into what is considered a successful intervention please visit our resourcces and to learn more.
What happens after the intervention
A very common question and concern families want to know is what happens after the intervention. The answer will vary depending on whether or not the person accepts help. Regardless of the outcome there are many goals and similarities. The first and most important thing that happens after the intervention is the family receives support and moves into their own recovery program. Family First Intervention has a full continuum of care for our families. From the consultation all the way through to the Family Recovery Coaching. Whether or not the families receive the results they were hoping for, they are encouraged to continue working through our intervention manual with our Family Recovery Coaching Counselors to receive our ongoing support and guidance. This curriculum is called S.A.F.E. Family Recovery Coaching. S.A.F.E. is an acronym for Self Awareness and Family Education. One of our most important quotes on our website is and something you have read in this article more than once is:
One of the most important outcomes we can hope for at an intervention is that the person accepts help and the family is happy. Although nobody has direct control over the substance user, families have much more control over their own actions that allow certain behaviors and entitlement within the substance user. Where the control lies for families is within yourselves and how you accept the outcome while changing your perception through ongoing education and recovery.
Learning how to live and communicate with an addict or alcoholic in your life and to reduce your reactivity, whatever the outcome is one of the many end goals of our program. Families struggle just as much when their loved ones accept help as they do when their loved one refuses help and for different reasons. Many would think that refusal of treatment would be hardest on the families, and for some it is. Both outcomes bring their challenges and we will do our best to explain those challenges below.
What if our loved one says “NO” and refuses help or treatment?
When treatment is refused and the addict or alcoholic says no we move into the treatment refusal phase. Our Family Recovery Coach that handles the treatment refusal interventions sets an appointment with the family to start the process of aftercare and support. The interventionist at the intervention who is present regroups with the family to strategize if there’s anything else that can be done and discusses next steps. What is interesting about a treatment refusal is families are not nearly as upset as those families whose loved ones accepted help which we will get to in the next section. Treatment refusals often sadden the family yet they almost always have comfort that they did all they could. What is interesting about a no and could explain why families are not upset is because a no is all they have ever known and have hope that they will now be able to see and process the no like they never have before.
After many years of having an addict or alcoholic in the family, it becomes the new normal and anything different would be difficult even if what was different were better. We’re not saying families want to have their loved one say no, what we are saying is it is not new to them that their loved one refused treatment again and have learned how to live this way. In other words, change for the family is less and more familiar when their loved one refuses.
The positives that can come from a treatment refusal is family empowerment and family healing. When the addict or alcoholic says no, the family will most likely see things through a different perspective having gone through the family preparation and ongoing family recovery coaching. Learning about family roles and where and why family members’ anger was coming from and who it was really directed at allows families to work together rather than against each other. The family can use their new knowledge and perspective to hold their loved one accountable with boundaries providing the family is all on the same page throughout the process. A no can allow a family to see that the addiction is not their fault and if the addict or alcoholic refuses help then it is on them and not the family that offered a solution. A no at an intervention is not the end of the world.
Although we would love all our families’ loved ones to say yes on the first try, in our experience, no’s that turn to yes do better in treatment. The reason for this is because they almost always test their families boundaries and new found approach until they surrender. If the family lasts longer than the addict or alcoholic, their exhaustion carries into their treatment and they don’t fight as hard to try and leave treatment in most cases. Most substance users refuse help for two reasons. The first is they don’t want to stop getting drunk or high. The second is they are not done trying to hurt the people they feel are the cause of their problems and don’t believe the family will follow through with their boundaries and consequences. When the addict or alcoholic puts the family to the test and they pass, the substance user almost always surrenders and gives up the fight.
When the addict or alcoholic can no longer hurt the family the way they used to, it shuts down half of the driving force behind the addiction. Substance users blame everyone and everything else for their problems and start with those who love them the most. Most have deep seated resentment towards others in the family system and are on a quest to hurt and destroy those in the family either directly or indirectly. We believe nothing disrupts one’s next drunk or high more than a family no longer allowing the substance user to control them and destroy them.
When the family gets well and changes the way they have been doing things, it allows a far greater opportunity for the substance user to follow and get well themselves. Like attracts like, when the whole family is unwell, the substance user is in their element. When the whole family gets better, it knocks the substance user off their square. They become solely accountable for everything that happens next and it makes their addiction far more uncomfortable than it used to feel like. This is part of the contemplation stage of change. People do not make a change unless the current situation becomes more uncomfortable than the fear of doing something different. If nothing changes then nothing changes. If you can’t change the substance user then change everything else around them.
Families often ask, what if our loved one says no, what happens then? The real question isn’t what if they say no; it is what if they say yes and then what happens to me?
What happens next when our loved one says “YES” and accepts help?
Most interventionists who only talk people into treatment would answer this question very simply. They will tell you after the substance user says yes, they will take them to treatment and say that you can call them with any questions. They may tell you that they will notify you after they drop off your loved one and for you to wait for your loved one to call or for someone from the center to call. What they rarely will tell you is the truth of how much volatility, anger, reactivity, and uncertainty the family will have. They will not tell you that they just took away the primary enabler’s purpose in life and that while they are in treatment the primary enabler will get angry as they are driven by fear that they may no longer be needed in the relationship because of years of codependency.
They will not tell you how the Martyr and the Hero roels will call everyone demanding answers and trying to control the situation even after it is over. How they will call the treatment center non stop for various reasons all having to do with no longer feeling they are in control of the substance user. They won’t tell you this because they don’t know. Their only job was to tell you to stop enabling and to talk the person into a center. They don’t know how to help you see the big picture and understand what has really happened over the years. A professional intervention company can help you with this and if you don’t address it from this perspective then you will keep blaming everyone else for the substance users’ failures.
I will never forget the day I overheard my program director on the phone with his wife shortly after he arrived at the office on a Monday morning. The words that came out of his mouth is something I will never forget. It was not only true, it was something I had been teaching him and something I knew he had to repeatedly witness time and time again to believe it. He said to his wife “I will be home late tonight, we had 9 successful interventions over the weekend and families are going to be upset”. Most people, clinicians included, do not believe that a family has a harder time with a yes than they do a no.
When the substance user says no and refuses treatment at the intervention, the family has a choice. They can stay the course in their dysfunctional family role that they have adopted and utilized as a maladaptive coping strategy. The other choice is they can change everything and forge ahead with what they have learned and allow their family system to balance back to a healthy state.
When the substance user says yes, the family doesn’t have that choice, the family dysfunction will almost immediately come to light with the substance user away in treatment and no longer to blame. The family system will start to go back to normal and when the dysfunctional family system fights the shift back to health fear driven anger comes out at us and the treatment center in several different ways because the family has no idea where the anger and frustration is coming from.
Up until the intervention the family never considered the problem was the family system adapting and shifting to cope with the addiction. The addiction is not the families fault and neither is the shift to dysfunctional family roles, it happens instinctively and it is inevitable it will happen. Most families don’t even know why they are doing it or why it is shifting. They never realized that their resentments were with the primary enabler who gave all their attention to the substance user and as a result their relationship with the primary enabler suffered. This is why so many marriages go bad when an addiction is present. One parent usually puts all their attention into the substance user. The other spouse doesn’t like it because they know it isn’t helping the substance user or so they think. What they don’t often see is their resentments are more about the lack of attention to the other spouse then it is all the enabling and attention to the substance user.
Once the substance user is gone, the primary enabler is lost with what to do next and the other family members no longer have the ability to blame the substance user for their unhealthy family role. They often get resentful at their spouse and others for having a hand in making them do the intervention and taking their loved one or their purpose away from them. The hero fights to keep the status quo of being the perfectionist and is either terrified the substance user will get better and steal their thunder or that they will not be recognized for all they did that contributed to the successful intervention. The martyr will become a victim and make the substance user being gone all about them while crying out about how they are going to do this without their loved one who is in treatment. The other family roles will suffer as they find their way home to a rebalanced and healthy family system. The good news is, everything can get better and will get better if everyone in the family starts working on their own recovery and starts addressing these concerns.
Although this all sounds scary and like way too much work, it is much easier to go through with the intervention and start the healing process than it is to stay in the destruction and fight the healing process.
“After the intervention, family members fight each other as if they are saying, look at what you made me do. I was comfortable in my unhealthy role and now I have to look at myself and I can no longer blame the addict or alcoholic”.
If you’re asking when is it time to do an intervention the time is now.
When you think about it, the alcoholic and the addict will try and do anything other than the one thing that can help them and that is seek help and go to treatment. Families do the same thing. They go about fixing the problem every possible way imaginable other than hiring a professional and addressing their family system that is broken. Both the substance user and a family will sound of hundreds of different excuses fueled by misplaced emotions and distorted perceptions. The least qualified people to solve the problem and navigate every avenue other than the solution that yields results. Both family and substance users do not do this on purpose, they follow this path based on emotions and flooded judgment. The substance user is making decisions in the midst of their addiction and the family is making decisions while turned upside down and inside out.
The best time to do an intervention is when you think your loved one needs help and they are not seeking it. If they are not willing to do something about their problem it doesn’t mean you can’t be willing to do something about it. We have to get away from this notion that they have to want help or hit bottom. Almost every time the substance user does not want help and isn’t hitting bottom because they don’t have to get help and the family or environment is preventing bottom from being felt.