It looks so easy on TV! Gather family and friends together to confront the addict or alcoholic in your life, then whisk him away to an exotic treatment center where he is cured, and everyone lives happily ever after, right?
Lose the television cameras and a more accurate picture emerges. The reality is that there is much more to a successful intervention then meets the eye. Professional interventionists are trained for a reason, and it’s not about perfecting their smile to look good. It’s really about learning what to expect from the meth addict prone to violence.
Its about how to stop mom from giving Johnny money which he uses for drugs. It’s teaching the parents which withdrawals need medical intervention to prevent death. It’s not about Dad’s drinking or Mom’s worrying, but more about educating those involved in what works and what doesn’t. It’s about knowing the obstacles beforehand and holding on to one’s objectives.
Addiction is a Family Disease
Family members are emotionally invested in the addict’s life, while dealing with their own issues as well. They’ve been lied to, conned, stolen from and hurt. All that high emotion can take a life of it’s own if not corralled into the specifics of what to do and what not to do. And enabling? That’s the tough one that families usually need help with.
Still, it us usually the family who tries to stage the first intervention, which most often fails. By the time a professional has been called the issue has continued compounding until frustration and anger are the byproducts, throwing objectivity out he window.
Why Interventions Fail
Here are the top ten reasons interventions usually fail, both with families, churches, and even sometimes with the pros!
- Family members are instructed to stop enabling and create a firm bottom line. That means absolute consequences for the addict’s behavior if he refuses treatment.It’s sad to say that the addict’s family usually becomes sick in their own way and allows the addict to keep using by “helping” him. Parents (or spouses) don’t want to see Johnny living in the street, so they pay his way or let him live at home. They fix things to keep him out of jail. As long as an addict or alcoholic can continue using with minimal consequence, they will never stop. No addict wants to stop until they have to. Tough love is absolutely needed.One of our interventionists, Ben Hogan, related a recent situation whereas an addict made it to rehab, but the family didn’t hold their “bottom line” when their son wanted to leave the center before his treatment was complete. The parents gave in and bought their child a bus ticket home. This was the third time they allowed their son to leave while detoxing, but also the last time. Their son died of an overdose a day after returning home.Family members must be stronger than the addict.
- Not being educated about what is required to make an intervention successful – This is an areas where a professional is your best bet, since you can’t teach yourself what you don’t know. If family and friends together end up using the same nagging and tactics they’ve always used, chances are ganging up won’t make any difference. Quantity has no bearing if the family doesn’t know what works and what doesn’t. Trained professionals educate the family before the intervention, making the effort worthwhile instead of another act of futility.
- Ignorance – Not stupidity, but rather lack of understanding of addiction, how it manifests, and it’s consequences. Many don’t realize that addiction is but a symptom for other underlying issues. And erred thinking that it is “just a matter of willpower and getting one’s act together” that can dash the whole effort and lead to failure every time. “Why don’t you stop doing that? Can’t you see what it’s doing to your children?” A logical approach to everything but addiction, perhaps.
- Letting the word out. Addict finds out about intervention – If an addict finds out in advance that an intervention is planned, he has plenty of time to foil the attempt. He may work on his excuses or a family member’s weak point, or he may choose to not show up at all.
- Getaway Car – Addict knows about the intervention and has a car and driver waiting to whisk him away, avoiding the confrontation altogether.
- Deviates from plan – allows negotiation – Once a plan is laid out it is absolutely essential that the intervention goes as planned. If an enabling family member weakens and feels sympathy for the addict, the addict most likely will use that to his advantage.No addict will ever stop using as long as someone enables them to continue on. It’s only through consequences that he will be forced to do that which he would rather not, and that’s go to treatment. Once negotiation enters the picture, the intention gets even more muddled. An addict will promise anything; “I’ll go to those AA meetings; I’ll see that councilor you wanted me to! If I don’t have to work at that place I won’t be stressed, so I won’t have to drink so much! I promise, I swear, trust me!”Family must realize that addicts and alcoholics become master manipulators. That’s how they’ve managed to continue using while turning a blind eye to the chaos left in their wake. If sympathy or another ploy seems plausible, he will pull out all stops. Family members must remain firm in their resolve, or there is little chance the addict will agree to treatment.
- Untrained Interventionist – If a family member is emotionally attached to the addict, or simply not trained in what to do, chances of success become limited. Addicts can be quite volatile when confronted, and a trained professional is ready with an arsenal of rebuttal.Dad may have the hardest line in the family, but can he resist if the son threatens suicide? Can he stifle Mom’s sobbing and get back on track? Is the appointed interventionist – say someone from your church – ready when the meth addict picks up a lamp or starts to throw things? Is he educated enough about addiction to counter the skewed rationale? Does he even know how to set the stage to pull the family towards their “bottom line?” Can he diffuse the addict to keep threats down and get him to listen? Can he prevent the addict from leaving? What does he do when the addict flatly refuses all help?Professional interventionists are trained in all facets of the process, from quelling enabling to preparing family for what they can expect. He can help family members with their impact statements and writing those important bottom line letters. A weak letter is simply ineffective. He’s versed in addictions and the psychology that goes with. He knows beforehand what to expect and guides the family to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Timing – Another area amateurs may not understand. Bags must be packed so that when the intervention is successful, the addict may leave as soon as possible to lessen the risk of him changing his mind once he’s had time to think of all the reasons he can’t go. A flight should be booked and the treatment center chosen ahead of time.Some don’t realize that there may be a waiting list for treatment, so getting things ready beforehand will eliminate any delays.Another aspect of timing is for the intervention itself. You don’t want to stage the intervention too early in the day before the alcoholic has his first drink as he may be shaky, unfocused, or even combative! You also don’t want to stage the intervention too soon after he’s had some drinks, because he may be cloudy or not cognizant. For the binge drinker, the intervention should be staged as soon possible after the last binge so he doesn’t minimize his problem. Best to catch him after a particularly bad event to create more impact.Note that it is preferable to send the addict to treatment as far away from his home as possible, so he is less distracted by others in his life and is able to concentrate on himself.
- Backing out due to cost of Intervention – Family may stage their own intervention, but truth be told those early effort ts are rarely successful in the long run. Trained interventionists are one’s best bet, however, they do charge for their services. While the cost may seem exorbitant to those who have no experience with this type of thing, the pay off may be worth it.Usually people have tried all they know to thwart the addict’s resistance, and turn to professionals as a last resort. It’s difficult to place a monetary value on the life of someone you love, but addiction is, in the end, a fatal disease. Ask yourself if the money is better spent beforehand to save a life, or afterward for funeral expenses.
- Family not on same page – An intervention is a group effort and needs to be coordinated. If everyone is not prepared, then one holdout can throw a wrench in the process. Addiction is a family disease and the family often needs treatment themselves.Codependency and dysfunction abound. In codependent relationships, people tend to need each other to continue on with what they’re doing. They are more invested in “helping” the dysfunctional person then doing what they should be doing for themselves. Control and preoccupation are hallmarks of the disorder and it is harmful to both the addict and the enabler. The main enabler needs to be kept in check to maintain the bottom line. Beyond enabling and codependency, comes blame – another distraction tactic. If finger pointing enters the picture it gives the addict ammo in trying to avoid the inevitable. “Dad drinks, why doesn’t he have to go? What about sis- she uses those pills! I’d be alright if Mom wasn’t having an affair!”A professional knows how to diffuse these distractions before they jeopardize the intervention. When everyone is on the same page the addict has to face reality and hopefully, get into treatment.
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