When and How To Hold an Intervention | All Sober

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When and How To Hold an Intervention

Understand the process, make your loved one feel cherished and supported, and you can all begin to heal

When and How To Hold an Intervention

Watching a loved one spiral in addiction is incredibly painful. People in the throes of addiction often do and say things that are heartbreaking for family and friends, and the biggest heartbreaker is the possibility that they won't make it out alive. Those closest to them would do anything to help, and sometimes the best option left on the table is an intervention.

An intervention is a planned and organized effort, usually arranged by concerned family members, friends and/or coworkers and led by an experienced, qualified intervention professional. The goal is to help a person struggling with addiction, behavioral or mental health problems to get the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

Interventions are often delicate events, which is why it's so important to collaborate with an addiction recovery specialist before attempting one. Interventions should always come from a place of concern, love, empathy and compassion. An intervention that focuses on blaming, judgment or guilt will likely provoke the person being approached to shut down or lash out.

How Does an Intervention Work? What, Exactly, Happens?

Most interventions take place after families and friends have tried every other option. If you feel like nothing has worked to get your loved one help for their substance use, an intervention may be something to consider. It's not a light consideration: Interventions can be upsetting and unpredictable. They can also change, or even save, someone's life.

Interventions can be conducted within the home or in a clinical setting. The gathering of participants should be held in a private space where you can feel comfortable being honest and vulnerable with your loved one.

Interventions should begin with some preparatory steps:

  • The intervention professional should be given all the relevant information about the person's situation
  • Participants should determine a clear goal for their loved one's next steps in treatment
  • A rehearsal will give insight into how the intervention might unfold, so everyone involved is clear-eyed, informed and on the same page

The intervention itself will typically include:

  • Directly addressing the person about their addiction issues and how they affect others in their life
  • Providing your loved one with information on evidence-based treatment programs
  • Offering support, encouragement, motivation and accountability
  • Making it clear something needs to change for the sake of the person's physical and mental health and safety
  • Presenting a solution—a plan for treatment and recovery—along with consequences if the person refuses help

Be prepared to discuss complicated topics, and know that it might be hard to subject someone you care about to something that might cause them emotional distress. But also remember an intervention can jump-start your loved one's recovery by showing them they aren't alone. The aim of an intervention is to provide insight, guidance, support—and hope.

Who Needs an Intervention?

Interventions can be beneficial to anyone who has an untreated substance use disorder (SUD). While they may also be organized for people with other behavioral or mental health issues, we'll focus here on substance-related interventions.

Whether your loved one struggles with alcohol, drugs or misuse of prescription medications, you can help them get life-altering treatment by prompting a change. Interventions can give people the perspective to acknowledge the realities of their situation and also provide them with access to treatment or other resources.

How To Conduct a Successful Intervention

Let's expand a bit on a few of things successful interventions generally have in common:

  • Guidance from a professional in addiction recovery, in a safe, comfortable setting
  • Clear communication beforehand, to ensure everyone present understands how to approach the intervention
  • A focus on the person's substance use and related issues—nothing else

For the best chance at a positive outcome, a professional must lead the intervention.

Usually, this will be a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist or other trained addiction specialist who has experience holding interventions for substance use. They can help other participants understand substance use disorders and answer questions about them; for someone without firsthand experience, the turmoil and behaviors of addiction are often difficult to grasp.

This professional will also aid in planning the intervention, open the lines of communication, guide the process and help arrange treatment and resources for the person in the intervention, should they agree to being helped.

Clear, focused communication is vital as well. An intervention is often an enormously emotional experience for everyone involved, and everyone will need to find the strength to telegraph love and hope. Remember that the person receiving the intervention will need the most courage of all—to accept the help offered.

Family and friends who may hold stigmatizing beliefs or biases about substance use and treatment will likely be uncomfortable or even detrimental in an intervention. But they can offer their support in other ways at another time.

What To Say During an Intervention

Your loved one usually doesn't know they are about to walk into an intervention. This is typically necessary because otherwise, they would simply avoid the event. However, it also means that interventions often start on a contentious note.

Everyone reacts differently to unexpected situations. If you remain open, honest and loving in your words, the intervention will have a higher likelihood of success. However—even if you are communicating care and supportiveness, the surprise of an intervention (and its implications) can provoke the person, putting them into a mode of defensiveness, anger and hurt.

That may hurt you too. But no matter what they say or how they react, you must try to respond with compassion and empathy.

Some helpful, uplifting and true things you might express during an intervention include:

  • "I love you" and "Your happiness and health matter"
  • "We are here for you" and "You are not alone"
  • "Thank you for everything you bring to this family and our lives"
  • "Addiction is a disease, and treatment works" "
  • You can heal and recover"

Emphasize to the person that they are loved for who they are today and that the intervention is not a judgment.

What To Avoid

It feels like a lot of pressure, but the words you use and how you hold yourself during the intervention will impact how your loved one responds.

Aim to get your love across, and the rest will likely come naturally. But do avoid:

  • Blaming the person for their current circumstances
  • Judging them for their personal choices
  • Towering over them instead of staying seated or at an equal eye level
  • Crowding them and not providing personal space

Actively listen to what the person says, and watch their body language for nonverbal cues that might indicate distress, anger or fear. You may not be able to avoid upsetting them. But you can avoid pushing them away.

Remain calm, stay on message and remind them they aren't alone. If the intervention succeeds, it will be the first step for everyone on the journey to healing.

What Happens Next?

An intervention can have a few different outcomes. When the goal is to get the person into an addiction treatment program, the intervention, ideally, will offer them a few options for this. This gives them a feeling of some control over the next steps in their life.

If your loved one agrees to get help, starting the treatment process immediately is almost always best. Even if you need to drive them for 10 hours at four in the morning to check them into the most beneficial recovery program, you should be ready to see it through. An intervention that ends with the person in treatment is a success. Once there, they'll usually enter an inpatient detox center directly.

Not all interventions go as planned. If you encounter problems or refusal, don't give up. It does not mean you have failed, or that your loved one is beyond help.

Unsuccessful interventions can still play an essential role in showing the person that they are seen, heard and loved, and that they have people who want them to get better. Even if they reject your treatment plan, you can use the intervention as a starting point.

Recovery from addiction requires patience, resilience and time, from both the individual and those who care about them. The start of the process is often the most taxing, on everyone. But despite what you may read in the news, the odds are good in the long run: Recent research has found that three-quarters of people with substance use problems recover eventually.

If you can help a loved one join that number, you can all begin to heal and thrive together.

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