Addiction affects over 20 million people in the United States, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), impacting millions of families across the country.
Family members may need to step up, stop enabling addictive and destructive behaviors, and help their loved one to see that a drug treatment program is needed and can be beneficial. One such way to accomplish this is by hosting an intervention. An intervention is a meeting between family members, loved ones, and a person struggling with problematic substance abuse with the goal to get them to agree to enter a drug treatment program.
An intervention can be very formal and enlist the help of a trained professional, or it can be less structured, made up of several small conversations that build on each other. Regardless of the type of intervention used, the overarching goal is to get a person into a treatment program as soon as possible. A positive intervention is one that ends with a person agreeing to enter a drug abuse treatment program.
What an Intervention Entails
In general, an intervention is set up by a family member or loved one who is concerned about someone and their drug abuse. This person may form an “intervention team,” which is made up of other people who are also concerned; this team can include other family members, neighbors, friends, coworkers, teammates, classmates, members of the clergy, or anyone else impacted by the substance abuse who cares about the person. This team may meet several times without the knowledge of the individual they are trying to help. Initial meetings are to plan the intervention itself.
Members of the team will often write letters detailing exactly how the person’s drug abuse has impacted them, citing specific examples. The intervention team will also research local treatment options and have a few picked out that the individual can be immediately admitted to following the intervention.
Members of the intervention team also need to come up with a list of consequences that will be imposed if the person does not agree to get help. Family members may agree to stop giving the person money, allowing them to live in the house, letting them spend time with children, etc., as consequences of not seeking drug abuse treatment after an intervention. The consequences need to be specific and concrete, and the people listing them need to be prepared to follow through no matter what. If a person does agree to enter treatment following an intervention, the goal of the family and loved ones is to continue to be supportive and encouraging throughout the process.
There are several different types of interventions for families to choose from, which are explained below.
- Johnson Model Intervention: This method involves an intervention team that plans the meeting ahead of time and without the knowledge or input of the person battling addiction. The Johnson Model holds that addiction often creates a sense of denial that can be difficult to break through and that by being loving and supportive while focusing on care, family members and loved ones can help a person to see how the disease is negatively affecting those close to them and decide to make a positive lifestyle change.Members of the intervention team take notes or write letters ahead of time focusing on specific instances where the addiction has impacted them directly, sticking to concrete facts and leaving out any other indiscretions or past wrongs that do not have to do with drug abuse. The team is to come up with three treatment options for their loved one to choose from with the understanding that they will go directly there after the intervention.
- Family Systemic Intervention: This method differs from a traditional intervention in that the entire family, including the member struggling with addiction, is involved in the whole process. Families work with a trained professional, and meetings are open to everyone in the family. There is not one main intervention meeting; instead, there are several meetings during which family members discuss how the drug abuse and addiction have impacted them.The discussions are open, and these meetings may go on for a period of weeks or months until a decision to enter into treatment is reached. All family members agree to go to some form of counseling at the end of a Family Systemic intervention.
- ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement) Intervention: Also involving the whole family right from the start, an ARISE intervention is nonconfrontational and a research-based technique designed to enhance motivation and facilitate lasting positive change within the entire family dynamic. There are three levels of an ARISE Intervention, and not everyone will need all three levels. The intervention is stopped as soon as the person agrees to enter into a treatment program.
The first level is “First Call,” which is when a family member or loved one calls a trained ARISE professional to learn how to gather a “support network” and then attend the ARISE First Meeting of the Intervention. The second level is called “Strength in Numbers,” where everyone in the intervention network works together, with no one person dealing with their loved one alone; everyone attends between two and five meetings together. The final stage, the “Formal Arise Intervention,” is not needed very often. At this point, consequences are put into place if the individual does not agree to enter a drug treatment program.
- Family First Intervention: This intervention style helps family members and loved ones who will make up the intervention team to get on the same page right at the start. Everyone is taught about enabling behaviors and how to stop them as well as educated about the disease of addiction. Trained professionals will delve into the family dynamic to discover the best course of action and which behaviors need to be addressed.The intervention is designed to be carried out before the individual hits “rock bottom,” instead attempting to engender positive change before there is a serious negative outcome related to drug abuse and addiction. The intervention meeting is planned in detail ahead of time, and the goal at the end is for the person to enter directly into a treatment program.
- Love First Intervention: A Love First intervention involves a team of 3-7 members who will write four-part letters to be read during the intervention meeting. These letters will include a summary of the relationship between the writer and the loved one, highlighting positive feelings and their love as well as specific times in the past year that the behavior of this person embarrassed or negatively affected the writer. A statement of concern comes next, which often focuses on health and physical consequences of continued drug abuse, but stays away from overt threats. The final piece is the “bottom line,” which explains the exact consequences that will be carried out if the person does not agree to get professional help for their addiction.These letters are tweaked and perfected by the entire team prior to the intervention and then read out loud during the meeting in a preplanned and specific order designed to have the greatest emotional impact. If at any point the person agrees to go to a prearranged and researched treatment program, the letter reading is stopped. The bottom line is only read at the very end if absolutely necessary to do so. The letters are sent to the treatment center, after admission, and used as motivation to keep a person engaged.
Tips for Hosting an Intervention
There are several things families can do to help an intervention go smoothly. Some of the guidelines are outlined below
- Plan every detail. The more prepared people are ahead of time, the more smoothly the intervention is likely to go. Structure is important and can help to keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.
- Set up an intervention team made up of individuals who care about the person and will be helpful, leaving out those who might harbor animosity or hostility toward the person.
- Host the intervention at a time when the individual is likely to be at their best, as in not “high” or recovering from the “crash” that can occur after getting high. Choose a neutral and welcoming place to host the meeting.
- Stay on track and keep the conversation relevant. Stick to the facts and specific ways in which addiction has impacted each person directly. Stay away from past issues or things not related to drug abuse and addiction.
- Take notes or write a letter ahead of time so no details are missed. It may be helpful to read these letters during the intervention in order to keep emotions in check.
- Be sympathetic, encouraging, supportive, and loving. Try not to be judgmental or confrontational. Instead of being aggressive, stick to “I” statements that are assertive.
- Keep body language open and inviting. For example, make eye contact, keep legs and arms uncrossed, lean in to emphasize points, and keep hands open and unclenched.
- Keep emotions and tempers under control. Do not engage in hostility, and even though it is tempting, do not fight back. Be prepared for some potential ugliness and develop strategies for handling this ahead of time.
- Be flexible and know that things may not go exactly as planned.
- Research treatment options ahead of time and potentially even reserve space at one. This way when a loved one does agree to enter into a program, they can go there immediately after the intervention before they have a chance to change their mind.
- Set specific consequences regarding what will happen if the person does not agree to get professional help and stick to them. Be prepared to carry out the consequences if needed.
- Keep trying even if the first intervention doesn’t have the desired result. Just because a person doesn’t agree to get help right away does not mean that the intervention is a failure. These conversations build on each other, and multiple interventions may serve to lay the groundwork for seeking help in the future.
Benefits of a Professional Interventionist
A professional intervention can be a wonderful resource for families, helping with the planning and execution of the meeting itself. These professionals work with families to decide which approach is optimal, taking into account family dynamics and specific circumstances. Interventionists have experience in their field, and this knowledge can be invaluable to families looking for guidance and help. Mayo Clinic publishes that when a person suffers from a mental illness (or co-occurring disorder), is taking more than one drug or psychoactive substance at a time, has a history of violence or aggressive outbursts, or has shown any indication that they may try and commit self-harm, it is best to enlist the advice and expert help of a professional when hosting an intervention. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports a very high success rate for getting individuals battling addiction to agree to get help when a professional interventionist is involved (over 90 percent).
The Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS) is a great resource for finding a certified interventionist. Families seeking an ARISE Intervention can use the ARISE Network to find help, and Louisiana residents can also get guidance from a Family First Intervention specialist. Treatment providers can also often provide resources and referrals for trained professionals with whom they work directly.
Louisiana residents can look for drug treatment services using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator. The Louisiana Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) Addictive Disorders Services manages public addiction treatment in the state, which is provided by regional entities and community-based providers.
Residents can contact their local Behavioral Health Regional Office to find local resources and referral services.