Over time, the drug addiction is the focal point while the real problem is pushed aside
An intervention often occurs either because either the family or the substance user is at a breaking point. The family realizes the loved one cannot or will not stop without an external impetus. It is inevitable that a drug user will require some form of intervention in order to recognize the need for change. Much of that realization derives from the substance abuser’s perception of a problem and coming to grips with just how bad the problem has become. In some cases, knowing and acknowledging there is a problem may not be sufficient motivation to do something different. A drug abuse intervention endeavors to help families identify and change behaviors that may encourage the substance user’s actions. If the perceived benefits of drug use outweigh the consequences of that use, then change is unlikely to occur. Substance users may agree to address the problem when they realize their inability to manage it or even themselves. This can apply to both the family and the loved one.
The Connection Between Drug Addiction and Families
Addiction is the only potentially fatal illness where families and substance users fight to stay sick.
Look back at the start of the addiction. Things are most likely quite different now. A family may ask, “How did we get here?” and “How and when did things get this bad?” Over time, the substance user has taken the family hostage. Enabling and codependency become the norm as the drug addicted person employs guilt, hope, fear, and victim tactics to maintain a level of comfort. Even as the family adopts maladaptive coping skills and forms unhealthy roles to balance out the dysfunction, the drug user excels at the family’s expense. It is unlikely that a substance user could operate in such a way without the family’s assistance. The drug addiction strives to foment chaos and create diversions, beating the broken family into a state of confusion. Over time, the drug addiction is the focal point while the real problem is pushed to the side, i.e., turmoil within the family. Individual family members all react and process differently, and anger and resentment build among them. Families are not on the same page and are unable to come to an agreement on the best course of action. None of this brings the family closer to a solution and certainly takes away their ability to find one.
It is OK to help somebody. That can become a problem when the intention to help is to serve or fulfill oneself in doing so. Whenever we help someone unselfishly, with no expectations and for the right reasons, the outcome is often positive on both sides. When we do something for someone, expecting some kind of return or external validation, we become sick, angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. We then find ourselves obsessing, and our behaviors start affecting those around us. This is one way the addiction starts to tear away at the fabric of the family system.
The drug addiction strives to foment chaos and create diversions, beating the broken family into a state of confusion.
An intervention is not about how to control the substance user; it is about how to let go of believing you can.
The focus should not be how much, how little, or what the person is using. Families and the substance user should be looking at what the use of drugs is causing to happen.
Oftentimes, families call us and try to focus the conversations on what their loved ones may be using. The bottom line is this: if you found out exactly what that was, would it change anything, or the fact that the family and the drug user need help?
There are certain drugs that should be a greater cause for alarm due to overdose risks and physical complications. Regardless of the drug of choice, the behaviors are often similar. When substance abusers arrive for treatment, they are not going to be classified or separated by drug of choice. The focus is on processing life’s past experiences and acknowledging our feelings toward ourselves and others. Substance users are not taught how to stop using drugs. They are provided an opportunity to change themselves and their outlook in order to overcome the obsession to self-medicate.
Family First Intervention provides every family with an intervention manual containing 103 pages of information, including an in-depth breakdown of a substance user’s behaviors. There are references to behavior, reactions, and things that will occur during and after the intervention. To date, every family has been shocked at how accurately the manual describes their loved one using drugs and how the family has addressed the situation.
Families actually believe at first read that the manual refers specifically to them and their loved one. We explain to them that the manual has been in use since we started performing interventions, and that it has been received and read by over ten thousand family members with very similar reactions. Although everyone has unique, individual qualities, those addicted to drugs appear to have almost identical behaviors regarding what they say or do. The common behaviors and reactions the family exhibits toward the substance user are not much different either, and they see themselves described in our manual. The takeaway from this commonality is this: there is a solution to the problem, and it is effective. Changed behaviors can and often do produce positive outcomes.
Insight into the Drug User’s Patterns and Behaviors
For those abusing drugs, it is common to be selfish, restless, irritable, and malcontent. It is always someone else’s fault, and were it not for this, that, or the other, the loved one wouldn’t be in the current situation—in other words, always a victim, never the cause of the problem. As the substance use progresses, so does the ability to manipulate others and an inability to tell the truth. Many families are afraid to intervene because they are fearful of the drug user’s reaction, saying perhaps: “If you ever try to do an intervention or make me do something, I will never talk to you again.” Some make far worse threats.
Families are held hostage while holding their breath, waiting for something to happen. We have had many families acknowledge that they feel like prisoners in their own homes and have become the substance user’s housemates.
Any conversation referencing how things need to change is met with anger. The loved one either overpowers the conversation or walks away to avoid confrontation.
There are times when the drug user concedes a problem exists and promises to do something about it—yet nothing happens. Families lay out ultimatums only to give in on the day a promised change fails to occur. At times, a contract may be suggested where families have their loved ones promise to abide by rules. In our experience, contracts allow substance users to fine tune their dishonesty. These attempts by the family come with the hope the person will stop using drugs. At this point, the family has still to make the connection that drugs are not the problem; it’s the behaviors.
Occasionally, a substance user agrees to get help, especially so when the heat is on. A problem that often arises is the person using drugs determines what to do and where to go. Typically, attending a meeting is suggested by the loved one, or finding a sponsor, or making an appointment with a therapist. These may be sincere attempts that provide the family with hope. Some families witness their loved one actually go to a detox, an intensive outpatient center, or residential care. The detox is a great first start, but for many, unfortunately, little to no follow-up occurs beyond that. As to the outpatient attempt, it is a valuable and effective level of care for some.
Similarly, It is not uncommon for a substance user to exhibit comfort-seeking behavior by returning to the same treatment center again and again. The real question is this: regardless of the treatment plan, has the family done anything to change the situation and their involvement in it? If the substance user is only accepting some level of help in order to calm down the current crisis, the outcome is often ineffective. How vested is he or she in the recovery process, knowing that a return home to a family with no real boundaries awaits? Quick treatment fixes for the wrong reasons are often too little, too late.
Related Resource: A Complete Guide to Addiction Recovery for Your Loved One
During the assessment, what often occurs without family involvement is the substance abuser attempts to downplay the severity of the drug abuse. This prevents the professional interventionist from providing an accurate recommendation or formulating an appropriate discharge plan.
What a Drug Intervention can do for your family
What the intervention does for a family is provide an opportunity to save their loved one as well as themselves. The closure the intervention brings to the family is far more comforting, both in the short- and long-term, than continuing to wait. The intervention can expedite the process the substance user often has to go through before seeing the need for change. If the family is unable to change the course of the addiction directly, then the suggestion is to stop trying to control the situation. The only control a family has is over themselves, not the substance user. The more you give yourself and your control away to one person or thing, the less you have for yourself.
Families generally regret having waited too long and wish they had done an intervention sooner. The reality of drug abuse interventions is that we do not receive cases in the early stages of addiction. What professional drug interventionists often face is a situation that needs attention sooner rather than later. We understand why it has taken this long for the family to come around. Fear of change is a powerful force even when the change could ultimately lead to positive outcomes and greater opportunities.
As alcohol is a drug, there is information about the effect alcohol addiction has on the family and the substance user at the alcohol abuse intervention page. Although alcohol is a different drug of choice, the behaviors and family roles are similar.