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Drug & Alcohol Interventions: What Addiction Treatment Specialists Think

The drug addiction treatment specialists at Serenity at Summit treatment centers in NJ, PA and MA weigh in on the effectiveness of drug interventions.

Addiction doesn’t only affect the person suffering from the disorder. It affects the problem drinker or drug taker’s family and friends in a major way. It’s often difficult to get the person in active addiction to see that they need help for their substance abuse problem, no matter how many times a loved one says it. Many times, the substance abusers are in denial about their drug or alcohol use or they minimize it, so they don’t believe that they need treatment. Other times, it is fear that keeps them from seeking help, offer the drug addiction treatment specialists at Summit Behavioral Health.

If your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you may have considered taking action through a formal intervention to get your loved one to accept help. This option provides your loved one with a choice to change his or her life before suffering more negative consequences.

This post will look at the pros and cons of drug and alcohol interventions as outlined by Summit’s drug addiction treatment specialists and then you can make your own decision whether it’s right for your loved one.

What Is an Intervention?

Interventions are thoughtfully planned out processes that are typically done by a chemically dependent person’s family and friends, in consultation with a doctor, addiction therapist, or an interventionist. Sometimes others are present including coworkers, clergy, or those who are close to and care about the person who is addicted.

The intervention involves these people gathering together in an effort to confront the addict about the consequences of addiction and make an offer of drug or alcohol treatment. Each person attending tells the person suffering from addiction how his or her addictive behaviors are destructive and how they impact those around them. A prearranged offer of treatment is extended to the drug or alcohol addicted person and then each person explains what they will do if the addicted person refuses to accept the offer of treatment. The hope is that they will see how his or her addiction is causing negative consequences, that they will not have the support of their loved ones if they continue to use and that going into drug addiction treatment is really their only good choice.

What Happens During an Intervention?

Usually, an intervention follows these steps:

  • A loved one usually initiates the intervention and gathers a group of people who care about the addicted person to form a planning group. It is a good idea for the groups to have a professional, neutral third-party to help organize the intervention – a psychologist, interventionist, or addiction specialist.
  • Collect information. The group members discuss the substance abuser’s situation, the extent of his or her addiction and negative consequences, and research possible treatment options. At this point, the group may make arrangements to enroll the addicted person into a treatment program.
  • Form the team. The planning group decides on who will participate in the intervention. A date is set for the intervention and the members work on how they will present the message to their loved one.
  • Determine consequences. Each person on the intervention team has to decide what the consequences will be should the person with the addiction problem refuse treatment. For example, they will no longer be welcome in their homes, or they will no longer give the addicted person any money.
  • Decide what to say. Each team member decides specifically what he or she will say to their loved one about how his or her addiction has negatively affected both the addict and the family member or friend. Team members may write letters to the person in active addiction or speak from notes, but preparation is essential.
  • Hold the intervention. The addicted individual is asked to the intervention meeting site without having the reason revealed. The team then takes turns expressing their feelings and concerns, reading their letters or notes. Then the chemically dependent person is presented with a choice to go to the prearranged treatment program on the spot. The team members present the consequences they will face should he or she refuse treatment.
  • Follow through. This step involves the person suffering from addiction going to treatment or the team members will follow through on their consequences. The hope is that the substance abuser will go to treatment, and that the family members will take an active role in his or her recovery, often seeking help for themselves as well.

The success of an intervention requires that the whole intervention process is carefully planned and executed. The message to the addict shouldn’t be confrontational otherwise it could worsen the situation.

Do Interventions Work?

There isn’t a lot of information available on the effectiveness of interventions due to the fact that effectiveness isn’t easily defined. Addicts are more likely to accept treatment when they are presented with an intervention than to seek it out themselves, but interventions don’t affect the overall outcome of addiction treatment. The drug dependent person has to be committed to getting and staying sober rather than just caving to the pressure applied in an intervention in order to attain long-term recovery.

Interventions are best used as a last resort for people suffering from drug disorders who have consistently refused to go to treatment or who continually relapses when they try to stay clean. When people with addiction problems who are deeply into their substance abuse have strong support and access to treatment, they are more likely to accept and benefit from the help they receive.

Risks Associated with Interventions

Staging an intervention, even if it is unsuccessful, doesn’t pose a psychological risk to the addicted individual or make their addiction worse. The risk is a disruption or disturbance in the relationships between the addict and loved ones. If the sufferer who is in active addiction refuses treatment, the intervention team must be prepared to follow through on the consequences they have named. This may be very difficult for those family members who have a history of enabling their family member.

Making Interventions More Effective

Using an interventionist or other drug addiction professional to guide you through the intervention process is very helpful. They can act as a mediator if things get off track during the intervention, defuse tense moments, and improve the possibility of success. The following steps are also helpful when intervening with your loved one:

  • Try to schedule the intervention at a time when the person who is in active drug/alcohol addiction will be the least stressed. If they are distracted, it will be hard for him or her to hear what is being said.
  • Don’t use shame or guilt during the intervention. Talk about how drug addiction has caused the problems and behaviors and has harmed the addict’s loved ones. Make a distinction between the sufferer and his addiction.
  • Be specific, but concise. Offer very specific ways that their addiction has affected you, but don’t ramble on – that can be overwhelming. Have what you plan to say written down so you stay on track.
  • Have a treatment plan ready. The goal is to get them to go to alcohol or drug treatment immediately following the intervention. This point is crucial because you don’t want to allow any time for them to change his or her mind.
  • Follow through with consequences. This may be hard, but it is the only way to help the drug abuser. Make sure that he or she knows that your help is available as long as he or she is getting help and staying clean, but that you will not help him or her continue with their active addiction.

Interventions are emotionally exhausting for everyone involved, but they are often the only thing that can get the person with the substance abuse disorder to treatment. Whether interventions work or not depends on the willingness of the individual suffering from substance abuse and the support of the family. To learn more about interventions reach out to the drug addiction treatment specialists at Serenity at Summit.


Steph L.

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