How to Stage an Intervention
Addiction creates a ripple effect, harming not only the individual who has the addiction, but also their family and friends. However, addiction can be so all-encompassing that the person experiencing it first-hand might not realise how it is affecting themselves or those around them.
Staging an intervention can be a positive first step towards opening their eyes and setting them on the road to recovery.
Staging an Intervention
The aim of an intervention is to help an addict to understand how their addiction has impacted negatively on their loved ones while providing a safe space for them to open up and accept that they need help.
This is most commonly achieved with the guidance of a professional, but some people feel more comfortable restricting the meeting to only close family and friends.
While you may have already discussed your loved one’s addiction with them and other family members or friends, an intervention is a more formal meeting that brings everyone together at once. It is an opportunity for all friends and family to voice their concerns and offer support. It is not a time for criticism or beratement.
An intervention needs to come from a place of love and compassion, with an understanding from everyone involved that it is only the very first step on a long road.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below, we attempt to answer some commonly asked questions you may have regarding the intervention process:
1. How do we know when an intervention is needed?
Many people suffering from addiction are in denial, and so your loved one might not come to you for help. This means you may need to take the initiative and decide with other family and friends when it is time to step in.
Signs of substance addiction are not always obvious, and can often mimic other issues like depression and anxiety, so careful consideration is needed.
Signs of addiction include:
- Having money troubles or becoming increasingly in debt
- Neglecting basic needs, such as hygiene and diet
- Missing work, or having trouble staying in employment
- Becoming more withdrawn and secretive
- Sudden changes in mood and behaviour
If you suspect that your loved one may be struggling with an addiction, broach the subject with them sensitively. Group intervention is only necessary if one-to-one conversations have been unsuccessful and the addict is reluctant to seek treatment.
2. Do we need to hire an interventionist?
Hiring a professional to attend the intervention is always recommended, but not always necessary. The meeting needs to be driven by someone who can keep it structured and on-point. If you choose not to hire an intervention specialist, then this person should be someone who the addict trusts, and who will be able to meditate during any moments of tension.
Even if you do not ask a professional to attend, it is important to consult one prior to the meeting in order to gain as much knowledge as possible. Many people realise during this consultation that they would prefer to bring the interventionist into the meeting, as it can be beneficial to have someone who is impartial and experienced.
A study in 20161 compared specialist-led and peer-delivered interventions and found that interventions delivered by nurses who specialise in addiction were marginally more effective. However, the effectiveness of interventions is difficult to measure, as they do make it more likely that the addicted person will seek treatment2, but do not guarantee that they will complete treatment.
Ultimately, whether you bring in a specialist is entirely up to your group.
3. Who should be there?
It is important to organise the list of attendees well in advance so that everyone has time to prepare and rehearse what they are going to say. Only people whom the addict trusts and likes should attend, as any negative feelings in the room can quickly escalate and derail the intervention.
If you are bringing an intervention specialist, then choose someone who you feel will work well with your group, and get them fully up to speed before the meeting.
4. What if the addict doesn’t want to come, or tries to leave?
Interventions work best when they come as a surprise, so that the person with the addiction does not have time to build up walls. When planning an intervention, make sure that the addicted person will have time to stay for the whole meeting.
Ask them to take the day off work, arrange childcare for them, and make sure that they do not have any other appointments to go to. Tell them you are simply inviting them round to hang out, watch a movie, or get dinner – something casual and low-pressure.
As long as you provide a warm and welcoming atmosphere, they shouldn’t feel the need to ‘escape’. If they desperately want to leave, and seem to be getting overly agitated or anxious, adding more pressure will only aggravate them. Don’t imply that you will force them to stay, or make them feel trapped.
Maintaining a supportive tone and leading with compassion will encourage them to stay and hear you out.
4. What should we say?
Prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time, and discuss it with other members of the intervention group prior to the meeting. It’s recommended that each attendee writes an intervention letter, which they can read from and then give to the addicted person to re-read in their own time.
Layout for them exactly how their addiction has affected you, and why you want them to seek treatment. Research treatment options well in advance, and have the outline of a treatment plan ready, as this will motivate them and let them know how seriously you take their recovery.
Be respectful, patient, and firm to a point. Tough love interventions are controversial, and have been found to be less effective than interventions that focus on empathy and support3.
Try to avoid ultimatums that could make the addict feel rejected, such as “if you don’t stop drinking, we’ll stop being friends” – while this might be how you feel, people with addiction are prone to feelings of rejection, and they might pre-emptively shut you out if they think you might do the same to them.
Unless there is a risk of harm to yourself or to the person’s children, threatening to restrict their access to their loved ones can be detrimental.
It’s okay to set consequences as long as they are proportionate and not likely to cause immediate harm. For example, withholding financial support unless the person agrees to commit to treatment and find employment is reasonable and clearly demonstrates the burden that their addiction has placed on you.
5. We staged an intervention and my loved one has still not entered treatment. What do we do now?
Beginning addiction treatment is not an easy decision to make, and even if your loved one has not yet sought treatment, it doesn’t mean that they won’t. The main purpose of an intervention is to open the lines of communication and allow those with addictions to see that they are supported and loved. Simply let them know what options are available and assure them that your support is not contingent on them seeking treatment.
Tips for Staging a Successful Intervention
A large part of the intervention’s success relies on your group dynamic, and the attitudes you have towards the addict. Select a group of people who care deeply for the addicted person, and can speak with empathy and clarity on how the addiction has negatively affected them.
The benefit of having a specialist attend is that they can keep the meeting on track, remain calm, and control the group. If this can be achieved by having the meeting led by someone whom the addict already knows and trusts, rather than a specialist, then that might be more beneficial for you.
Interventions are emotional, and people might get upset or even angry when certain subjects are raised. Practising what you will say as a group will put everyone more at ease, and help to ensure the only unpredictable reactions are from the addict.
The group needs to remain united and work cohesively, and some people might realise during practice that they are not going to be a helpful contribution to the intervention. Learning this in rehearsal gives them the opportunity to back out and leave the intervention to people who are more likely to have a positive impact on the meeting.
Those who choose not to participate can still provide an intervention letter for the addict to reading alone if they prefer.
Here is a quick rundown of some top tips for successful intervention:
- Limit the group size, inviting only those people who have a positive relationship with the addict and are not likely to cause friction
- Have everyone arrive at least 10 minutes before the addict, so that you can iron out last-minute issues and get yourselves composed
- Everyone who attends the intervention should be willing to take on an active role in the addict’s recovery. It’s unhelpful to everyone if someone only turns up to vent their frustrations and has no intention of taking part in the recovery process
- Practice and research are key. Turning up unprepared and hoping to wing it on the day can result in a messy intervention and make the addict more likely to reject future offers of help.
- Although addiction is a horrible thing, try to maintain a positive atmosphere during the intervention. Focus on help, love, and support
- The goal is to get the addict to agree to enter treatment. Residential rehab is not the only option, and can be an extremely daunting prospect, so make sure that you go prepared with a range of options and discuss with them which ones you all think will work best
- If your loved one says that they will enter treatment, get a firm commitment from them. When faced with a group of family and friends, an addict might just say what they think you all want to hear. If you are able to discuss treatment options in detail and get them to choose one, you should be prepared to get them into treatment right away. If you wait too long, they might reconsider
- Remain calm and composed, especially if the person with the addiction begins to feel stressed or agitated