What is an Addiction Intervention?

If someone you care about is struggling with an addiction, you may be considering holding an intervention for them.

They can be a good method of kickstarting the road to recovery, however, you may not know exactly what an intervention is, what they involve, or whether staging one is the right thing to do.

What is an intervention?

An intervention involves the family and friends of an individual coming together to persuade them to begin treatment for addiction. They are carefully prepared events, and usually involve a planned discussion about what is happening and what action should be taken about it.

This usually comes about by the individual’s addiction causing physical or emotional harm to themselves or others, yet without the individual wanting to seek help.

The aim of an intervention is to collectively confront the negative behaviours of the individual while supporting and showing them the benefits of having treatment.

Why conduct an intervention?

Interventions are a good option to consider when the individual with the addiction doesn’t want to seek help.

Those who struggle with addiction are often unaware of the effect their substance or activity abuse is having. They may be in denial and therefore see no reason to consider treatment.

As a result, an intervention can be an organised and supportive way to show them the impact their addiction is having, and provide them with evidence as to why seeking help is the best thing to do.

Preparing an intervention – what do they involve?

There is no universal method for conducting an intervention, but there are key steps that most involve.

1. Contacting a Professional

Although not a necessity, it will greatly enhance the effectiveness of your intervention if you discuss it with a medical professional. This can be your GP, a social worker, or even a professional interventionist.

Whether the professional is involved in the intervention itself is up to you.

Discussing the details of the situation and getting specific advice can help in shaping the right type of intervention for your friend or loved one.

2. Assembling the intervention team

For such a sensitive and personal event, you should only involve those who are close to the individual or will play a vital part in their recovery plan.

Friends, family and close co-workers should be the only people present. The individual needs to see friendly faces when discussing such a sensitive topic, and seeing all of their nearest and dearest will communicate to them how serious the situation is.

3. Conducting research

Addiction is such a difficult condition to tackle because it can affect different people in different ways. It can also involve a wide range of substances and activities, as addictions can develop for many different things.

As a result, it is important to go into your intervention knowing what the individual is going through and what options lie ahead. If they suspect that you do not understand, they may reject the points being made to them.

If they are struggling with alcohol misuse, for example, it is important to understand the specific physical consequences for them, such as liver damage, and the alcohol addiction treatments available, such as alcohol support groups.

4. Preparing the intervention team

For an intervention to be successful, everyone attending must be unanimous in their approach in order to communicate the severity of the situation to the individual.

This means that clear instructions need to be delivered to everyone. This involves things such as the time and place of the intervention, as well as specific preparations each member of the team must make.

For example, many interventions involve each member of the team preparing something they want to say to the individual about their addiction. If everyone has been affected by the problem, it will enhance the intervention’s chances of showing them just how necessary treatment is.

It is vital that every attendee is prepared to approach the intervention in a loving and supportive way. Those who are forced into treatment are less likely to recover, so it is pivotal that everyone in the intervention team is encouraging and non-judgemental.

It is the responsibility of the organiser to make this clear to all attendees.

5. Presenting clear consequences

The individual needs to understand that not seeking treatment will have consequences. Not just for themselves, but for the people around them.

It is important that the attendees of the intervention have consequences prepared for the individual if they continue to dispute the seriousness of their situation.

For example, one attendee may warn that the individual’s car keys will be taken away from them if they continue to misuse alcohol.

These are not spiteful consequences but are designed to show that the current pattern of behaviour cannot continue. All consequences need to be communicated calmly and presented as eventualities rather than punishments.

6. Offering a way forward

It is important to end interventions with a positive outlook as to what the future might hold for the individual. For this reason, it is essential that you know what support you can offer them going forward.

The details of available treatments and personal commitments from each attendee must be clearly communicated so that the individual feels sufficiently supported to make the choice to begin treatment.

Tips for a successful intervention

Staging an intervention is all about striking the balance between being firm and compassionate. You want the individual to know that they need help, but you don’t want to isolate them and push them away.

Striking this balance can be challenging, so here are a few tips for hosting a successful intervention:

1. Prepare for frustration

If the individual doesn’t think they need medical help, they will likely be angered or annoyed at you holding an intervention for them.

Expect this, be patient, and stick to the pre-prepared plan to avoid going off track.

It is important to remain supportive if the individual becomes hostile, as becoming angry in response will render the event useless.

2. Consider inviting a medical professional

When discussing your proposed intervention with a professional, it might be worth asking if they will attend the event themselves. This may be a professional interventionist or the individual’s personal doctor.

Not only will this help with the explanation of treatment options, but having an expert present can also demonstrate to the individual just how serious the situation is.

Also, if the individual becomes annoyed or hostile, the presence of a professional interventionist can help settle the discussion and maintain a supportive tone.

3. Talk about the feelings of the attendees

Interventions can easily become entirely about the impacts on the individual, but it is important to show them what effect their addiction is having on their loved ones.

Encourage attendees to talk about how they feel about the situation and what limitations it is setting on them.

This will further encourage the individual to seek treatment, as it will become clear to them that they are not just hurting themselves.

A fine line – things to avoid

As with all dos, there are a few don’ts. Here are a few things to bear in mind and avoid when conducting an intervention:

1. Inviting risky individuals

When assembling your intervention team, only invite people who you know the individual cares for and likes.

Inviting potentially provocative individuals – ex-partners, estranged friends, distant family members – poses the risk of aggravating them and pushing them away.

It is going to be difficult to convince the individual, so limit the attendees to those who they trust and are likely to positively influence them.

2. Using the wrong language

When discussing something like addiction, it can be difficult to know what words to use.

The goal of an intervention is ultimately to show support for the individual, so using language that may upset or label them in a negative light is best avoided.

When referring to them, stay clear of terms like ‘addict’ or a ‘junkie’. The goal is to show them they are unwell, not shame them about their addiction.

After the intervention – what next?

Following a successful intervention, it is pivotal that the individual is taken to see what treatment is available.

According to the NHS, speaking to your GP can be a good start for advice on local drug and alcohol addiction services.

In the event of an unsuccessful intervention, consequences must be enforced. Limitations and sanctions agreed by the team must be carried out and upheld, as only this will demonstrate the severity of the team’s concern.

Either way, the importance of having treatment needs to be continuously presented to the individual.