When a loved one is suffering from an uncontrollable addiction to drugs or alcohol that has brought them to the brink of destruction and has devastated their family and friends, an intervention becomes necessary.
“An intervention is often the last resort for a family,” starts TJ Pass, corporate trainer and certified family interventionist at Vertava Health. “They’ve tried to do it by themselves, but they realize that their way isn’t working.”
On the outside, an intervention seems to focus solely on the person struggling with addiction. However, TJ explains that a truly successful intervention will concentrate not just on the addicted loved one’s behavior, but how the family needs to change in order to stop enabling the addictive behaviors.
With so many aspects to consider, the event must be meticulously planned, so each family member knows what to say and do during the intervention and how to behave afterward.
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How To Plan A Drug Intervention
The key to executing a successful drug intervention starts with proper planning. Going into an intervention with a plan ensures that the family members participating will present a united front to their addicted loved one. If the group does otherwise, the intervention is likely to fail.
“I spend the whole day with the family before the actual intervention in order to plan it,” says TJ. “The first thing I ask them to do is identify the problem with their addicted loved one.”
More often than not, TJ sees families struggling to identify the problem with their addicted loved one. He spends a lot of time explaining to families that drugs and alcohol are not the problem, but merely a symptom of a much larger issue that their loved one is facing. Many times, the family is part of the larger problem.
Even in cases where the family is not part of the underlying issue, TJ says that families tend to perpetuate an addiction by trying to help their loved one by doing things like paying their phone bill, giving them a place to live or filling up their gas tank. While these actions may be done out of love, they actually enable an addicted person to keep using.
“Chemically dependent people make everyone around them sick. The first step to an intervention is getting the families to realize that they are also sick, and that’s why they’re engaging in these behaviors,” TJ explains. An intervention gives families an opportunity to quit participating in enabling behavior, and offer professional help to their addicted loved one in hopes that they will accept this offer.
If an addicted person rejects the help they are offered, their family must still change their behavior in order to stop enabling the addiction. When a person struggling with addiction no longer has an enabling system, they become more likely to seek treatment.
“If a family can’t guarantee me that they’re going to change, the intervention is never going to work,” TJ emphasizes.
Once a family can understand and accept their role in their loved one’s addiction, they can move on to the next phase of planning an intervention: forming shared boundaries and coming together on a common message.
“I find that the common message that works 100 percent of the time is love,” TJ says.
When a family can come together and show a person struggling with addiction the ultimate act of love by altering their personal behaviors and offering their addicted loved one the treatment they need, an intervention can take place.
What To Say During A Drug Intervention
After all the preparation is complete, a family can finally hold an intervention with their addicted loved one.
TJ turns to his personal intervention handbook, filled with techniques and tips he’s collected over the years that he’s been performing interventions. “I approach the person struggling with addiction like this: ‘Hi, my name’s TJ. You don’t know me, but I’ve spent the day with your family. They love you like crazy, but they’re afraid. They don’t know what to do, and they need your help. Your family is going to read some things to you. Can I get you just to sit down and listen? When it’s all done, you can say whatever you want to say.’”
While this approach sounds kind and welcoming, TJ says that most people he confronts with this speech don’t take it well, and immediately become defensive of their habits. With their addicted loved one on the defense, family members often struggle to find the right things to say. Due to this, TJ has those involved in the intervention process write a letter beforehand.
The letters written by the family members are the most critical part of an intervention, and the most difficult. For families that struggle with how to get their point across to an addicted loved one without sounding judgemental, TJ offers the following tips:
- Use sentences that start with “I” to remove blame
- Don’t use labels like addict, alcoholic, junkie, etc.
- Cite specific changes in behavior due to drug or alcohol use
- Remind the addicted loved one of their family’s love for them
- Set clear boundaries with strict consequences
- Request that the addicted loved one enter treatment immediately
While each family member has their own letter to read, all letters should follow the above guidelines. When the individuals involved in the intervention present their loved one with a common message, it shows that they’re working together as a team, and are more likely to get their loved one into treatment.
What Happens After A Drug Intervention
At the end of a drug intervention, all families hope that their loved struggling with addiction will go to treatment. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
When an addicted loved one refuses treatment after an intervention, it can be heartbreaking for their family, but the family must commit to their decision to stop enabling.
“If they say yes to treatment, we celebrate,” starts TJ. “If they say no, the family must let their addicted loved one know what their boundaries are and stick to them.” Some common boundaries TJ sees families setting with their addicted loved one are:
- Family members not sending gas money
- Family members not paying cell phone bills
- Family members not buying groceries
- Refusal to have addicted loved one live at family members’ houses unless sober
- Family members not taking calls from addicted loved one
“These can’t just be one person’s boundaries, they have to be the whole family’s boundaries,” he states. “Otherwise, the intervention won’t be successful.”
While this might sound harsh, TJ emphasizes that the boundaries shouldn’t act as an ultimatum, but as a way for the family to take back power in this situation and hopefully help their loved one find recovery in the process. He also says that many times when the family sticks to their bottom line after their addicted loved one rejects treatment, the struggling family member will seek treatment shortly afterward.
“To date, every family I’ve worked with has held their bottom line when their loved one wouldn’t go to treatment,” he shares. “And every family that has held their bottom line has seen their loved one go to treatment about one to two week after their original intervention.”
When a family feels like they’ve exhausted their options, a formal intervention can provide a more focused approach to help someone struggling with addiction acknowledge their need for treatment.