The term “intervention” is commonly misunderstood and often thought of by what happens on television. Vernon Johnson and his staff at the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, coined the term “intervention” as action taken when families are concerned about a person’s drinking or drug use and the failure to follow through or get help. The basic assumption according to the Johnson Institute is the basic assumption that even at their sickest; the addicted person can accept facts about the impact of the addiction on them and others if presented in a receivable manner. Confrontation, done with skill and careful preparation can motivate the unmotivated to voluntarily enter treatment.
What is an intervention?
Talking to the person you are concerned about is called an “intervention”. There are two types: 1) informal-having a purposeful discussion with the person about the abusing use of drugs and or alcohol, and making some statements about the use. 2) formal-having a structured meeting with the person and those close to them, and knowing about the substance abuse. The meeting is conducted to help the addict understand they have a substance abuse problem, and that action is to be taken to seek treatment.
What are the first steps?
A professional is hired by the family to help gather together all the significant people in the addict’s life (family, doctors, coworkers, employers, neighbors) any and all who can describe the impact of the use to the addicted person.
Next a meeting is held with the interventionist to learn how to express their concern. The interventionist educates them about what to expect and what may happen afterwards…and how to organize their comments without blaming or threats. What needs to be remembered during the intervention is the intention is to get the addict to treatment…just promising to stop is not acceptable. All members must be clear about what consequences will be imposed if they refuse.
10 tips for an Intervention
Intention: The Goal is to have the addict begin treatment now.
- Enlist a professional to organize and conduct the intervention.
- Bring together people most significant (those who will have an impact and have witnessed consequences of the substance abuse) to the user (3-6 people, no children). Only include those who are comfortable with the process.
- Have a plan. Decide who is going to say what.
- Make all arrangements for the person to begin treatment immediately after the intervention. Have the centered selected, insurance verified, a bed is waiting. Have a suitcase packed.
- Discuss what objections you may hear from the addicted person and how it will be handled.
- Decide what consequences you are prepared to follow through with. For a teenager it may be: “We will file the Marchman Act to have you court ordered to treatment”. For a spouse: “I will no longer cover up for you” or “I will not remain in this relationship”.
- Be prepared to follow through with these if treatment is refused.
- Tell the person you care about them but focus and talk about the concerns with the substance abuse. “We love you very much but”…citing specific examples.
- Rehearse the intervention. Know your part.
- Get a commitment from the person that they will get help. And take them there immediately.
TONE IS IMPORTANT-LOVE FIRST!
The tone of the meeting is about showing care and concern for the person: “I am really worried about you…I am concerned…It scared me when….At our dinner last week…When you didn’t show up…In any intervention it is important not to conduct the meeting when the person is high or drunk or when family members are upset. Convey that addiction is treatable.
Here are some communication tips:
- Stay calm---you are prepared and it is not about you!
- Make statements with concern. Be supportive…
- Avoid labeling them as an “addict” or “alcoholic”.
- State specific incidents or consequences due the substance abuse. Be prepared for denial and resentment.
- Stick to the facts you observed…not what was heard from others.
- Use “I” statements when talking about how the substance abuse affected you (When you are out all not partying, I can’t sleep…I worry about you driving around intoxicated…I am afraid you are going to kill yourself or someone else…
What takes place in a formal intervention?
This involves bringing together a group of meaningful people (those who would have an impact on the addict by appearing at this meeting, (i.e., employer, friends, family) with the substance user to talk about how the substance abuse has affected all their lives (in a written prepared statement, focused on facts and situations, done before hand). The formal intervention focuses on their concern about the addicts repeated avoidance, refusals, and excuses to get help.
Family members and friends will always need support to follow through and not sabotage the intervention (informing the addict of the intervention or are too emotionally fragile). Individuals need to be coached on the many forms of denial and how the addict may respond in the intervention meeting. Focusing on facts such as situations (fights, legal problems) and physical consequences (appearance, loss of interest in hobbies) due to substance abuse will block the addict’s efforts of interference (blaming, etc.). Avoid opinions and generalizations, these only raise the defenses of the addict and make the presentation of facts more difficult.
REMEMBER: The point of any intervention is to ask the person voluntarily to take actual steps to seek help (go for an evaluation, counseling, enter in or outpatient treatment).