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Alcohol and drug interventions, during which different loved ones of an addict gather to nudge them towards treatment, have recently become very popular. While the process undoubtedly brings a high level of success, it also carries a risk to undermine relationships, potentially making the addiction worse. Whether an intervention is right for your dear one relies on multiple factors with no sure-shot way to predict what will unfold during an active session.

Despite being popularized very rapidly, a lot of people are still unsure what intervention means or what happens during it. The following article answers “what is an intervention,” outlining its types, components, and tips to make it more successful.

Most drug and alcohol treatment centers have special counselors who are trained to help families of addicts prepare them for a confrontation. This type of confrontation takes place in a controlled environment by putting an addict in a place where they are highly likely to listen. Known as interventions, these meetings may also take place in workplaces with the cooperation of an employer.

Previously, most interventions often came as a total surprise to the addict. However, newer techniques now recommend letting the primary individual know that they will be talking to a counselor and a group of loved ones about their drug use or drinking habits at least a few days before the actual intervention is about to take place. This process often takes place under the leadership of an interventionist hired by loved ones. An interventionist is a qualified mental health professional with experience and training in addiction treatment.

There are multiple classifications of interventions based on different factors. The most common of these categorizations are based on the type and number of people taking part in the process.

Simple Intervention

A simple intervention involves one individual only, usually a family member or a close front, confronting an individual with substance use disorder in a neutral environment. The chances of success in a simple intervention are higher if the person performing it consults an interventionist beforehand. They can discuss their concerns with the interventionist and learn different ways to bring them up in front of the addict in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way. The usual process of a simple intervention involves highlighting the negative aspects of the addict’s habits, expressing concerns about these habits, and prompting them to seek help.

Classic Intervention

This type of intervention occurs when a group of people, including family members and friends who share common concerns about the addiction issues of the subject, join hands to conduct a meeting where they confront their loved one in a non-confrontational manner. The aim is to explain to the subject how their substance use is harming them as well as the people they love and encourage them to get over it by seeking help. All people taking part in a classic intervention usually meet before staging the intervention to discuss their concerns, define their functions and goals, and come up with a strategic plan to achieve them one at a time. All team members also come up with different courses of action to address all potential reactions expected from the subject, such as denying the use of substances, getting defensive or frustrated, etc. These individuals may or may not choose to take help from a professional interventionist to prepare them in addition to supervising the actual event.

Family Systems Intervention

This type of intervention involves confronting the family members who are somehow contributing to the subject’s substance use issues or are themselves suffering from similar issues. The goal of such type of interventions is to help each member of the family seek treatment either individually or as a group to address all underlying personal and family issues related to addiction. Because most such cases involve complex issues, family systems interventions almost always require the help of a professional interventionist in organizing and planning the event.

Crisis Intervention

This type of intervention occurs in an emergency setting, mostly on spot, when a subject involves themselves in a dangerous or potentially threatening situation due to their substance abuse. The individuals present during this critical time immediately confront the subject of addiction and attempt to get them to commit to a treatment plan as urgently as possible for their safety.

From professional consideration, interventions are typically not recommended as there is not sufficient data to support their efficacy. However, this does not entirely mean that they will always be ineffective. Instead, it implies that more research is needed to demonstrate their effectiveness. While an intervention may or may not prove beneficial in terms of efficacy, it provides a good opportunity for family members and friends to come together and set basic boundaries.

Interventions can also prove beneficial in setting limits, especially in a situation where the destructive behaviors stemming from it are affecting the friends and family members of an addict. During the 1980s and 1990s, experts conducted a few studies to investigate the effectiveness of interventions in helping people seek treatment. The results revealed that most family members chose not to follow through on confronting their dear ones. However, the ones who did were able to get into treatment.

At this point, there is a general lack of research that favors the use of interventions. However, from an anecdotal point of view, the technique has received mixed reviews. People with substance use disorders also report mixed reactions to being confronted by professionals and family members.

Before staging an intervention for addiction or a mental health disorder, it is important to take some time to prepare yourself, your friends, and family members for the process. The steps mentioned below might prove useful in staging a successful intervention:

  • Select a group of people you wish to participate in the intervention. Keep in mind that having a small group of attendees is better
  • Make sure to only invite those with whom the addict shares a close relationship. Double check if these people are willing to play an active role in their loved one’s struggles with addiction or a mental health disorder
  • Ask every attendee to think about what they wish to share with their loved one during the meeting and encourage them to communicate these thoughts and feelings with sincerity and compassion
  • Remind everyone who is participating in an intervention that the sole purpose of this meeting is to encourage their loved one to seek treatment, and to offer them support during the process. Hence, no one should include any kind of criticism in the conversation
  • Expect to receive some resistance, frustration, or anger. Even if your loved one already knows about the intervention and agrees to be a part of it, they may still feel uncomfortable throughout the conversation and may require some time to accept the idea of seeking professional help 
  • Some people seek help from an interventionist to facilitate the entire process while improving their chances of success. These experts are specially trained in staging professional interventions and can provide guidance and help in preparing each participant to play their role in a kind and gentle way throughout the meeting

A certified interventionist or mental health professional can guide you through an intervention while defusing tensions and increasing the chances of success. Planning everything in advance and sticking to it through can also significantly improve the outcomes. Some other strategies to ensure that an intervention ends up on good terms include the following:

  • Avoid scheduling an intervention during a time when the afflicted individual is stressed or intoxicated. If they have recently gone through a breakup, are experiencing stress at work, or are otherwise overwhelmed, they may have trouble listening to others
  • Do not shame or yell at the individual. An intervention is not the right place to give someone guilt trips. Instead, its main purpose is to help your loved one see how their underlying addiction or mental health disease is harming them as well as those around them. They should not come out feeling like a shameful or bad person
  • Try being as specific as possible while itemizing the ways a person’s addiction or mental health disease has affected you. For example, instead of saying “your addiction is harming our marriage,” consider telling them “your addiction has led us to financial troubles”
  • Keep the words to the point and as brief as possible. A long rant can overwhelm your loved one and may get them out of focus. Try to write down whatever you wish to say in advance and make sure to keep it to five minutes or less 
  • Come up with a specific treatment plan. Requesting a loved one to seek help without having any treatment lined up can be overwhelming for them. Whatever program you have chosen, make sure that your loved one’s insurance pays for it and that it has an opening for a new patient. Additionally, make sure that whatever program you choose fits your loved one’s values. For example, choosing a treatment plan that follows the 12-step model may not be a good fit for someone who follows atheism. If your loved one wishes to consider other programs for treatment, take them at their word and offer your support in finding a good alternative
  • Remember to follow through with your proposed consequences. For example, if you promise not to give them money and then go against your word a few days later, you’ll be telling your loved ones that your threats are meaningless. Because intervention is usually the last resort for helping someone get support, you have to ensure that you prepare well for it with an aim to fundamentally change your relationship with your loved one once the intervention is over

Keep in mind that an intervention can be emotionally exhausting and may feel a bit scary for some. However, it is often the only thing that works best to convince someone to seek treatment.



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