Staging an intervention is difficult for many reasons. First and foremost, staging an intervention means recognizing a loved one has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Second, it means confronting a loved one about their addiction and telling them what affect their addiction is having on those around them. Third, it means preparing for what will often be a very unpleasant reaction from that loved one. Tears will be said. Angry words will likely be involved. Oftentimes, there is also the threat of physical violence. Worst of all though, is that there is no guarantee the intervention will be successful. Even so, staging an intervention is often the best chance a loved one has of getting through to an addict so it is certainly worth the effort. Knowing how to stage an intervention is important if you want it to be successful. These tips are designed to help you plan your intervention so that you have the best chance of getting through to the addict you love and worry about.
Step One: Contact a professional.
Staging an intervention is hard, delicate work. You want to be sure you set the right tone and have the right environment. The best way to do that is to contact someone who has experience staging interventions who is qualified to offer you advice you can use. Ask around. Do your research. Choose someone that has a good reputation for actually being helpful. Come up with a list of people in your area or in surrounding areas that may be able to help and who have a decent track record with interventions and start making contact. Talk to the professional. Ask questions. You need to be able to feel comfortable with them. You also need to be sure they actually know what they’re doing. Explain the situation you’re in and see what they would suggest. Find out if they’re willing to help you and if they aren’t, ask them for recommendations. This is the best way to be sure you start everything off on a positive note.
Once you’ve chosen a professional to help you, sit down with that professional and talk about the intervention. Find out what is involved, what you can expect and what you need to do. You need to get as much information as possible because you’re going to be sharing that information in the next step. Again, you should feel free to ask questions – as many as you need to ask. Find out what you can about addiction. Try to understand where your loved one is emotionally and mentally. The professional who will be helping with your intervention is a great person to get this information from.
Step Two: Reach out to mutual friends, family members and co-workers.
There is a very good chance your loved one’s addiction hasn’t just had an impact on you and your loved one. Talk to your mutual friends and then reach out to their other friends. If you know your loved one’s addiction has been causing trouble at their place of work – which is almost always the case – reach out to the people they work with most often. Talk to your loved one’s family members. The more people that are there, the deeper an impact what is being said will have. Make sure you let everyone know that the intervention will happen and offer them all the information you’ve gotten from the professional you’ve asked to help. Ask everyone if they’re willing to not only attend but also help plan the intervention. Making sure everyone is involved in the planning is the best way to make sure everyone is on the same page by the time the intervention rolls around.
Step Three: Take a hard, honest look at the situation you’re in.
This one can be really tough. I won’t deny that. You may want to sit down with your friends and family members and have a ‘pre-intervention’ meeting, so to speak. Talk honestly about how your loved ones addiction has impacted each of you and then approach a subject many people don’t like to approach – what you all need to do differently. Sometimes well meaning family members or friends can make a bad situation worse by enabling the addict to continue using. It is never intentional but it happens far more often than most of us would like to admit. We’ll talk about ways loved ones often unintentionally enable a loved one’s addiction in an upcoming article, but the professional you’ve asked to help you with your intervention will help you determine any areas you may need to work on. This is also a good time to talk about how deep into the addiction your loved one may be. This will help you with the next step in the planning process and help you prepare for what kind of reaction you should expect. Finally, talk about any barriers that may be standing in your loved one’s way. A job, a social group or other influences can make it difficult for a loved one to stay clean. This is all stuff you’d want to bring up at the intervention and that will go much more smoothly if you have ideas for possible solutions.
Step Four: Prepare yourself and prepare your group.
Before you go into the intervention, it’s important to know what you want to accomplish and what you are going to demand. You don’t want to force someone into treatment. While that is the ideal outcome of an intervention, you need to first convince your loved one that they have a problem. They need to admit they have a problem. That is the first, most important step and if nothing else comes out of the intervention, just getting them to see the truth should be considered a success. Even so, you may decide that you need to walk away if your loved one chooses not to get help. This is absolutely agonizing and no one wants it to come to that – not even the addict – but it may be the shove they need to finally accept the help being offered to them. If you are going to walk away, this is something you and everyone else taking part in the intervention needs to settle on beforehand. A common goal for everyone is involved because everyone will need to follow through, whether things go well or not so well.
Make sure you gather together as much treatment option information you can gather. When you’ve made your feelings known, you want to be able to discuss treatment options with your loved one. You will also want to discuss the treatment options with the other members of your intervention group and decide on one that you feel will be appropriate for your loved one. If you are going to give them an ultimatum, you want to have as much information as you can so that you can share it with them should they decide to get help and get clean.
At this stage, it’s also important to consider the very real possibility that the intervention will not work. This not only leaves your loved one’s health in limbo, but it leaves you and everyone else in your intervention group in limbo. Sometimes someone’s addiction is beyond the reach of an intervention. If that’s the case, as hard as it is, you may need to either turn to authorities for help if you feel your loved one is a risk to the public or to themselves (talk or suicide, depression etc). You may also need to let go and hope they can eventually dig their way out. That is obviously a last resort but if you’ve done everything you can to help but the person doesn’t want help, there is sadly little more you can do. It sounds heartless but unfortunately, it may be the only option. Walking away may also be the push your loved one needs to decide to get help. This possibility is something you and everyone in your group needs to be prepared for and willing to stick to. We’ll talk more about that at the end of this article.
Step Five: Have a practice run.
Ask everyone to figure out what they’d like to say at the actual intervention, get together with the professional who will be helping you and share what you’re planning to say with each other. This gives you the chance to offer advice and find out if the professional working with you thinks anything needs to be altered. Setting the right tone is so important. You don’t want the person to feel threatened, blamed or judged. You also need to make it clear that you’re not trying to force them into treatment. What you’re trying to do is open their eyes so they can see what their addiction is doing to the people that love them. They need to see and hear how you’re feeling but if you try to be too confrontational you may make things worse instead of better. This needs to be handled carefully. Running through what you plan to say and practicing setting the tone can be a good way to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. The professional you’re working with will also likely help prepare you for how your loved one may react which is incredibly beneficial for everyone involved, of course. This helps you expect what you may be up against so you can prepare, reducing the chances of responding to your relative lashing out in a negative, angry way.
Step Five: Pick a time, date and location.
Ideally, the intervention should take place when your loved one is sober. Being under the influence can cause people to react in extremely unpredictable ways. You obviously want to avoid that if at all possible. That can’t always happen though. If there isn’t a particular time of the day your loved one is less likely to be under the influence, you may just have to hope for the best. Ask the professional’s opinion and get his or her input. You also want to avoid picking a date that will already be an emotional day for your loved one. The anniversary of a tragic occurrence, a major breakup or some other form of emotional turmoil is a hard time for anyone; an addict not excluded. Trying to confront them about their problem on a day when they are already emotional is not typically the greatest idea. If you honestly think choosing an anniversary of a death, a divorce or something similar would, in fact, be more effective, talk with your professional and get their opinion. They may think it’s a good idea, they may not. Listen to what they have to say.
The location you select should be warm and inviting. It should be somewhere your loved one feels safe and secure. Avoid places that are noisy or filled with distractions. As much as you may love pets and as much as your loved one may loved pets, keep the dogs, cats etc somewhere else or choose a pet free environment. You want to keep the tone serious and focused and an animal can be a pretty big distraction. Keep one or two cell phones on but turn the ringer off (don’t just put the ringer on vibrate) in case of an emergency but unplug any landlines in the home. You don’t want the phone ringing in the middle of someone’s emotional plea for change. All focus should be on the matter at hand.
Step Six: Stage the intervention.
Again, tone is important. Be understanding. Be supportive. Listen to what your loved one is saying. Even though it may be mean spirited – or even cruel – there may be something in what they say that may give you insight into how to help them or why they turned to drugs or alcohol in the first place. If you can understand the root problem, you may be able to offer your help more effectively. While you want to be supportive, you also want to be honest. If something is hurting you, say it is hurting you. The person needs to know how their addiction is making you feel. Make sure you’re being clear. You aren’t mad at your loved one. You’re mad at the drug that has taken your loved one from you. Again, it’s important to avoid pointing fingers. Present the options you’ve discussed with the other members of the intervention group beforehand and make your intentions clear but try to do so in a non-threatening way. If you’re going to cut off contact with the person if they refuse help, make sure they understand why. Make sure they understand you love them but that their addiction is bringing too much pain and suffering into your life and into the lives of the other people who have gathered. Spell out exactly how the addiction has impacted you and then let them make their decision.
Step Seven: Follow through.
If your loved one has decided to get help, it is up to you and the other group members to make sure they follow through with that. Don’t let them talk their way out of it. This needs to happen and it needs to happen right away. Deciding to stage an intervention is a big step and it requires a big commitment that doesn’t end after the intervention is over. You need to stick with your loved one and make sure they get the help they promised to get. It is one thing to recognize you need help and to promise to get it. It is another thing to follow through on that promise and actually reach out.
If your family member rejects your help or refuses to follow through on getting help, you also need to follow through on walking away. So does everyone else who was present at the intervention. That could not be more important. If one person caves, the whole thing may well have been for nothing. You need to stay strong and stay committed. If you need help coping with guilt, anger, hurt, frustration, worry, stress and all of the other negative things that may come along with a loved one refusing help, talk to the other group members. Pull together and support each other. Form your own little support group complete with weekly meetings – or even daily meetings if necessary. Your loved one is far more likely to decide they need help if they have nowhere to run and hide.
In closing, I’d like to share a few links to helpful resources for families dealing with a loved one’s addiction. These websites and phone numbers can help you find help and can also offer support if the intervention fails and you are forced to walk away.
- Addiction Survivors
- Addiction Tribe
- Resource Directory
- Drug Addiction Helpline
- Free Addiction Helpline
If you feel your loved one may be a danger to his or her self or others, please seek additional help. It may be hard but you could be saving a life. This website features a comprehensive list of hotlines you can call to get the help you need. Visit it by clicking here.