1. Choose Your Team Wisely
2. Find the Right Time to Talk
3. Use a Private, Formal Spot
4. Pay Attention to the Order of Speakers
5. Hold Rehearsals
6. Stick to the Script
7. Use Open, Warm Body Language
8. Keep Tempers Under Control
9. Develop a Backup Plan
10. Don’t Give Up
If you live with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, you probably feel hopeless and helpless. You feel as though nothing you say or do changes the situation.
You don’t know how to make your loved one get the help he or she need to leave addiction. You feel helpless—but you aren’t.
Interventions allow families to take a proactive stance. They help you reach out to the person who needs help. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, over 90 percent of people get help after an intervention.1 So how do you get the same results? The following 10 tips can help families design an effective intervention with the best chance of reaching the person who needs care.
An intervention is a conversation in which people who know, love and trust the addicted person come together to persuade that person to get help. The people who participate in an intervention should be chosen with care. This ensures that those who have a meaningful relationship with the addicted person are present. People who don’t have a good relationship with the addicted person are asked to stay away. This isn’t the time or place to mend fences or make a personal situation public.
An intervention is a motivating talk. Only those who will help and encourage should be invited to attend.
This might be a good time to hire an interventionist. A professional interventionist can help you put together the best team, put together the best plan and have the best chance at success. After a successful intervention you can begin to engage the whole family in recovery. As Social Work in Recovery explains, the entire family needs to participate to address the causes of addiction and develop long-term solutions.2
You want to talk to your loved one when he or she is sober—or as close to sober as possible. Talking to a person about addiction when he or she is high or impaired isn’t a great idea. Drugs reduce a person’s ability to think clearly, react calmly and truly register and remember everything that’s said.
Choosing a sober moment also helps protect everyone’s safety, as someone who is high or drunk is more likely to respond with out-of-control words or actions.
Holding talks first thing in the morning may be your best opportunity. This can allow you to communicate without having to reach past a haze of drugs. Holding an intervention after a major drug-related incident might also be an excellent idea. For example,a person who has recently been charged with driving under the influence might now be willing to discuss addiction and how such problems might be avoided in the future. The incident can provide a moment of vulnerability that the family can build upon in their intervention.
It’s tempting to hold an intervention in the family home. However, while you want your loved one to feel comfortable, home can be too comfortable. The person can retreat to a bedroom or bathroom when the conversation starts, and the talk could be over well before it begins. You’ve also likely had other, less successful talks at home, and those talks may leave negative memories or associations behind. People may feel tense or upset before they even begin speaking.
Holding an intervention in a neutral space can solve all of these problems.
A therapist or interventionist’s office can be a good plan to discuss concerns. People tend to be on their best behavior in these spaces, and it can be hard for people to simply walk out and hide when they’re in new surroundings. Interventionists can help families to find a safe, private space. Families can also reach out to their churches or to community centers for assistance.
An intervention is over as soon as a person agrees to enter treatment. This means the order of speakers is important. Allowing the right person to speak at the right time can lead to a successful and almost immediate end to the intervention.
For example, if the addicted person has a loving relationship with a child, perhaps that child should speak first. If the person has a close relationship with a spouse, perhaps the spouse could speak near the end, at a moment when the person is feeling most moved to make a change.
The person struggling with addiction may be tired of hearing about it from any family member at all. Hearing new stories from friends or spiritual advisors may be more effective. Participants can experiment with scenarios and talk with professionals until they find an order that seems just right.
During an intervention, emotions can run high and people can quickly and easily lose their train of thought. They may forget what they had planned to say and how they had planned to say it. Holding rehearsals helps make this less likely. Practicing helps people stand behind their statements at the right time. It makes thoughts and words a bit more clear and comprehensible.
Rehearsals can also help families roleplay and prepare for potential emotions or angry words from the individual with addiction.
The number of rehearsals needed varies depending on the number of people involved and how those people feel about speaking up. It may be best to leave people who can’t commit to attending rehearsals out of the intervention. Practice is vital for the success of the intervention, so it’s important for everyone to attend. Those who can’t attend or who don’t find the rehearsals important enough to attend might not be truly committed to the idea of helping the addicted person.
Participants tend to spend hours on their intervention script. They carefully detail everything they want to say and the words they want to use. You may revise this script multiple times as you talk with an interventionist, practice and polish what you want to say. However, when the intervention begins, you may be tempted to adlib. It’s understandable, but it should be avoided.
You know your script best. Other members of the intervention know that script too. Adding any element of surprise into the intervention can make everyone feel uncomfortable and undo all the practice done leading up to the event.
How you talk to your loved one is almost as important as what you say. While delivering lines, use open and warm body language.
Focus on the following:
The script likely contains multiple words of love, support and understanding. People who use these positive body language cues are matching the motions of their bodies with the words they’re saying. When the body and the words match, you reduce confusion and make the message clearer.
Modern medicine has led to the realization that addictions stem from chemical changes in the brain and not from defects of character. Professionals have responded to fact and science by steering clear of using punishment, altercation or negative confrontation. These methods aren’t kind, compassionate or effective. Interventions need to mimic this overall tone of modern addiction treatment.
Keeping cool can be difficult, but don’t allow the addicted person to start a fight, change the subject and drop the addiction issue altogether. Don’t fight fire with fire, and resist the temptation to blame, argue or launch counter-attacks.
People with addictions can respond in unpredictable ways when they’re confronted by family members in an intervention.
If you develop (and practice) backup plans for scenarios that may take place, you will be prepared to handle these and other situations. However not all reactions are easy to predict. On the day of the intervention, anything might happen. Be prepared by knowing you’ll all get through this together. Staying flexible and being prepared are the two best things family members can do before and during an intervention.
While most people get treatment after intervention, statistics don’t show how many conversations are needed before people choose to accept treatment and make a change. Some people may be convinced after one conversation. Other may need multiple chats before they see and accept how their addictions hurt others and why they need to change.
Don’t be frustrated if you don’t see immediate results. Families shouldn’t give up, no matter what. Treatment works, and people can be persuaded to make the needed changes.
If you’d like to learn more about holding an intervention, or if you need help finding the right interventionist or family mediator, we’re here for you. We can help you find immediate support, professional treatment and long-term care.
Let us connect you to the right professionals and resources for your family and unique situation. Call 615-490-9376 now.
1 “Intervention.” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. 25 Jul. 2015.
2 Keith Klostermann & Timothy J. O'Farrell. “Treating Substance Abuse: Partner and Family Approaches.” Social Work in Public Health. 2013.
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