Many families and friends agonize over how to help loved ones struggling with addiction, alcoholism, drug problems, substance abuse or other mental health problems. They feel helpless as their loved ones spiral into lives of desperate chaos. Oftentimes, children, partners, siblings and parents are subjected to abuse, violence, threats and emotional upheaval because of alcohol and drug problems.
One way that concerned family and friends may be able to mobilize forces to help both the user and themselves is through an intervention. Here's what you should know about an intervention, including what it is, who might benefit and how to organize one for someone you care about.
What is an intervention?
An intervention is an organized, planned process in which family and friends, and sometimes colleagues and clergy or faith leaders, join together in a meeting to compassionately confront a loved one in an effort to encourage him or her to seek treatment for alcoholism, addiction or another mental health problem. The intervention:
- Provides specific examples of harmful behaviors and their impact
- Offers a pre-arranged treatment option
- Spells out specific consequences if a loved one refuses to accept treatment
Who might benefit from an intervention?
An intervention can help people who struggle with a variety of mental health conditions and addictive behaviors but who are in denial about their situation or refuse treatment, including:
- Prescription drug abuse
- Abuse of street drugs
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Compulsive gambling
- Sexual addiction
How do you know when an intervention is needed?
Some indications that a loved one may benefit from an intervention include:
- Health problems because of the addiction or other disorder
- Your loved one harms or threatens family, friends or strangers
- Children are neglected or abused
- Job loss
- Financial problems
- Risk of suicide or self-harm
- Driving under the influence
- Loss or alienation of friends
- Legal problems or criminal activity
- Previous unsuccessful attempts at treatment
When should an intervention take place?
It's common to think that people must hit "rock bottom" before they're ready for treatment or willing to accept help on their own. Many experts believe that's too late, though. By then, relationships may be damaged beyond repair. Children may be neglected, abused or deeply emotionally wounded. Your loved one may lose his or her job. Worse, your loved one could die because of the alcoholism, addiction or other mental health condition.
Instead, think of an intervention as giving your loved one a reason to want to seek help. This is sometimes referred to as "raising the bottom" because it encourages a loved one to seek help before he or she otherwise would.
How does a typical intervention work?
A family member or friend may propose doing an intervention on a loved one and form a planning group. The group gathers information about the extent of the loved one's problem and researches the condition. The group makes arrangements to enroll the loved one in a specific treatment program. Keep the plan confidential, so that the loved one doesn't find out.
Group members draft short letters to their loved one that will be read during the intervention. These letters are a key part of the intervention. They typically express your love and concern and may highlight a fond memory or two. But they also detail specific problems and incidents brought on by your loved one's harmful behavior.
The letters may discuss the emotional, health and financial toll of your loved one's illness — both on him or her and on others. Finally, they should outline specific consequences that will occur if your loved one refuses to accept treatment. One consequence may be asking your loved one to move out. Another may be loss of contact with children.
The group forms a core team that will personally participate in the intervention. Team members set a date and location for the intervention. Without revealing the reason, the loved one is asked to the intervention site. Members of the core team then take turns reading the letters to their loved one. After the letters are read, the loved one is presented with a treatment option and asked to accept that option on the spot. The intervention typically lasts an hour or less.
Is an intervention simply an ambush?
Although the intervention may come as a surprise, it isn't meant to ambush your loved one. Don't use it as a forum for hostile attacks or for name-calling. Keep it honest but loving and dignified. The numerous examples of problems caused by your loved one's addiction or substance abuse problem are intended to provide powerful but caring pressure to change and accept treatment. The threat of consequences for not committing to treatment — such as the loss of important relationships — can be effective motivators. Some studies uphold the powerful influence that family intervention can have in motivating a loved one to move beyond denial and seek help.