Let's Have an Intervention: Part II
More than 37 million Americans ages 12 and older use illegal drugs, according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. If you include alcohol and tobacco, the number of users escalates to 233 million—roughly 70 percent of the U.S. population.
However, enjoying a crafty smoke in the garage or a glass of wine with your girlfriends does not an addict make. The use of alcohol and legal drugs in moderation does not negatively affect most people's lives. But when addiction is a factor, dependency can grow out of hand and become an all-consuming problem affecting every aspect of daily life, from health and relationships to careers and finances.
"Addiction is a compulsive use despite negative consequences," said Dave Marlon, CEO of Vegas Stronger, a nonprofit organization that addresses homelessness and opiate addiction, and former CEO of the addiction and rehab center CrossRoads of Southern Nevada. Marlon is also an interventionist on A&E's hit TV show "Intervention," going into the tunnels beneath Las Vegas to counsel patients.
If you have a loved one battling substance use disorder, sometimes intervention is an option to help get them into treatment. In the second part of this series, we ask the experts how to have an intervention at home and how to make it effective.
A quick recap
As described by Dee Johnson, a senior accredited counselor and addiction therapist for Priory Hospital Chelmsford in the United Kingdom, "an intervention is a systematic process of conveying the feelings of family and friends in an effective manner and will include information on professional support."
Interventions are designed to make an individual see their addiction more realistically and clearly. The goal is to successfully direct them into treatment.
"A successful intervention arrests the negative using behavior and gets the loved one into treatment," Marlon said. "Different people in different situations respond to different intervention techniques."
Confronting someone you love is never easy. The thought of having to stage an intervention is likely nerve-wracking at the very least. Aside from all the physical and logistical preparation, an intervention must be conducted with love, care and concern to be successful. Carried out in the right way, it can be beneficial for everyone concerned.
"About 4 out of 5 of the hundreds of interventions that I do are successful," Marlon said.
What to know before an intervention
Beau Nelson, D.B.H, L.C.S.W., the chief clinical officer of FHE Health in Deerfield Beach, Florida, said to consider these action items before making any decision to implement an intervention:
- Family and friends need to gather and prepare the information they want to present.
- Everyone should agree on the information to share and the order in which to present it.
- The steps required by the intervention and the behavior required of the individual in the future should be agreed upon beforehand.
- Participants need to decide if they can be there in person. If not, they can provide letters.
- All family and friends involved need to be on board with the confrontation and not back down or sabotage it.
- Everyone needs to be prepared, especially as the individual may get angry or have an emotional response.
- All people involved need to be prepared to enforce the behavior they're seeking.
- Everyone needs to be able to support each other and be one voice with the same message.
"It's not about shaming, blaming or even addressing consequences; it's about getting a person with an alcohol or other drug problem into treatment," Marlon explained.
How to make an intervention effective
"Effective" is a relative term for an intervention, Nelson noted.
He explained many families first look to a professional interventionist or substance abuse professional to help guide the process. Then they identify the people involved, decide on the components of the intervention and plan the intervention at a time when the individual can be surprised. This needs to be a time when the individual can process the information: when they are not using, but also when they're not stressed or in a rush to be somewhere else.
"The emphasis is on needing to do the intervention," Nelson added. "Unfortunately, confronting someone is not generally well-received. But it needs to be done. Addiction affects everyone, not just the person with the substance use disorder."
Now that you've actually decided to have an intervention, the real challenge begins. Even though you've covered all the action items before making a decision, you now have to go through a lot of them again, this time paying strict attention to how the intervention can result in maximum effectiveness. Johnson suggested the following:
- Stage the intervention carefully and without anger and blame, which is often a very natural way to feel after everything everyone involved has been through.
- Perform the intervention collectively as a group of people who love and are genuinely concerned for the individual and have firsthand experience of their addiction.
- Carefully curate the people in the intervention.
- Decide together on an approach that feels most comfortable.
- Have all facts and information ready, including rehab details and professional support.
- Mind your language. Everyone involved has been hurt, but this is not the time for anger, criticism or finger-pointing. This is the space for compassion, encouraging the role of family support alongside professional support.
- Find a suitable place that is both safe and private, and allows for plenty of time without interruption.
- Allow the person with the addiction to reflect and speak. Do not try to shut them down or point out their contradictions and denials. Be consistent with offering love and support. It may be hard, as everyone's patience may have worn thin by this time, but it is vital for everyone to remain calm and support each other.
- If you notice a person becoming negative or going on the attack as emotions begin to rise, have a pre-agreement to designate someone to step in and calm everything down.
Looking to the long term
"Recovery is a maintenance program," Johnson said. "So, like any well-being plan, it's about maintaining mental and physical fitness. It's a day at a time. The whole family [and] friends network needs healing."
She explained that a commitment to continued therapeutic and group sessions is essential.
"Keep communication open with each other, maybe arranging regular times where everyone can get together to process how they have been feeling," Johnson added. "Checking in is really constructive."
"If the individual does not receive the intervention well, [that] can often cause people to need support long after the intervention," Nelson said. "Self-care, emotional support and dealing with implications means following up together as a group and using professional resources and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous for continuing care."
Nelson explained if the intervention results in the individual entering treatment, the people in their life still need to take care of each other.
"Family and friends need to create a strong support system and utilize professional resources for education and guidance as they navigate the recovery process with their loved one," he recommended.
Substance use disorder is a biologically based disease that requires a process leading to lifelong recovery, Marlon stressed.
"Treatment durations vary, but it's good to keep in mind that the longer the treatment episode, the higher the success rates," he said.
The ways to measure success
"I like to remind people that an intervention is an act of love to confront a negative behavior," Marlon explained.
It's important to remember interventions don't always work. But regardless of whether the intervention succeeds or fails, it allows family and friends to speak openly, air concerns and show they love and support the person suffering from addiction.
An intervention can be painful and stressful for the person being confronted. They may become angry, fall into denial or try to avoid the situation altogether. But Johnson suggested the individual could feel total relief once everything is in the open.
"The nonverbal actions of continued self-harm and chaotic behavior may have been a continued cry for help, as the sufferer has been too fearful, ashamed, confused or felt too guilty to ask for help, albeit they knew they desperately needed it," she explained.
An intervention succeeds when the individual enters treatment. However, you may also find that an intervention can be beneficial in other ways. It often enables people to unite and deal with issues that have been tearing them, their family and their relationships apart.