7 Drug Intervention Tips for Families

A great starting point in planning an intervention for someone you care about. Actionable steps you can take TODAY.

minute read

How Do You Get Someone to Ask for Help?

Denial and a false sense of control are central themes in the story of many addicts, whether their drug of choice be opiates, benzo’s, alcohol or others. This is aptly described by Alcoholics Anonymous in its famous text, The Big Book:

“Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different to his fellows”.

So often however, to achieve success in recovery, the first step involves not only admitting that the addict has a problem, but surrendering control and admitting powerlessness over their compulsion to use – in essence, admitting that they need help. So how does such a breakthrough in thinking occur?

In this article, we’ll walk you through some of the best practices in drug intervention. We’ll take a look at actionable steps YOU CAN TAKE TODAY so that you can help your loved one. Then, we invite your questions about drug intervention at the end.

An Intervention: Break Through the Denial

Often the individual will reach a point of despair or “rock bottom” through an incident, or accident related to their drinking or drugging. When such a situation is yet to occur (and with loves ones naturally wishing to avoid further hurt or damage to their friend or family members), the individual may still be living in a state of denial. In many cases, a significant breakthrough or event is required to confront the behavior of the addict and lay bare for them the impact their using behaviors having.

An intervention can provide such a breakthrough.

What is “An Intervention”?

There can be many forms of confronting an addict with their destructive behavior to try to generate a change in thinking. What can interventions look like? An intervention may be:

  • a clinical or professionally arranged sit down discussion with family.
  • a close friend opening up for the first time about previously undiscussed behavior.
  • work colleagues sitting together to talk for the first time about their concerns.

Typically, an intervention highlights in a sudden or confronting fashion – the fact that what the addict thinks is under control or under wraps (their using) is far from hidden. Not only is it known about, but deep concerns and fears for the individual’s safety are often harbored by those who care about them. Brutal honesty and openness creates an opportunity to intervene, and break down the denial.

If managed effectively, this action can trigger a change in thinking and behavior. However, a drug intervention must be carefully executed.

Risks of Confronting an Addict

An intervention is not without risk. A poorly planned or managed intervention can further damage already-broken relationships. It can generate:

  • Bitterness
  • Hostility
  • Resentment
  • Violence

It can send the addict into another cycle of binging or using to numb the uncomfortable feelings which such tough-love can generate. It can create feelings of betrayal and abandonment.

7 Tips for a Successful Drug Intervention

When planning an intervention therefore we suggest a careful approach is taken – we’ve prepared seven tips to help assure a successful outcome.

1. Carefully choose who will attend.

A varied and complex set of relationships with friends, family and work colleagues can create a volatile dynamic when conducting an intervention. A person facing addiction will hide their addiction from some, joke or laugh it off with others, or in some cases may be open, but play down the true seriousness of the problem.

An intervention can be most effective when the closest and most trusted friends, colleagues and loved ones – those the identified loved one thinks support them totally – are the ones bringing the truth to their doorstep. The person you love needs something to break the unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaviour and an intervention by trusted friends and loved ones, can do just that.

2. Get some advice before you begin.

Getting some professional help and guidance from an addiction counselor or professional with experience in conducting such interventions, is well worthwhile and recommended in planning your intervention. There are professionals referred to as “interventionists” but importantly, look for people with professional experience in addiction counselling, long work history in drug & alcohol rehabilitation, or professional qualifications or certifications in psychology or related disciplines.

Look for someone who can not only guide the structure of your intervention, but guide you in risk management, and the practical steps that must follow.

3. Plan your communication and language well in advance.

Prepare examples of the behaviour which is destructive and harmful. A focus on the behaviors and the impacts that these have on the members of the intervention team rather than accusations about the personality or character of the addict, will typically help avoid escalating emotions or confrontation. Here are some detailed ideas:

3.1. Be specific, detailed, and honest. Focus on statements such as “When you…. (behavior), I feel…. (emotions)” rather than statements like “You are….(negative statement about the addict)”.

3.2. Don’t be wishy washy. Any wiggle room to deny the true impact will be exploited quickly by the addict. Given examples, times, consequences, and ensure they are examples that the addict is likely to remember clearly.

3.3. Don’t exaggerate. A clear and accurate statement of your emotions and the impact of using behavior will resonate strongly with the addict and help breakdown the denial. Exaggeration of these however can further fuel the denial and create legitimacy in the mind of the addict in denying the behavior, and convince them this is just an unjustified attack on them personally.

3.4. Emphasize love and care. It is important with each explanation of the damage being done, to remind your friend, colleague or loved one know, that your motivation in bringing this to their attention is not to hurt or shame them, but to create a chance to help them recover – and that you, personally, are willing to help them with this. Explain to them how you are going to help – be specific.

4. Be ready for the denial, be ready for the anger, be ready for anything!

They say shame is to addiction, what oxygen is to a fire. An alcoholic or drug addict will sometimes go to incredible lengths to avoid the shame of their addiction outwardly, even if deep down a feeling of shame and it is already at the root of their problems and fueling their problem.

Consider the mindset of the person struggling with addiction and the precise time when you choose to conduct the intervention. A late night intervention when the person is still heavily affected by drugs or alcohol is at high risk of missing the mark (if they even remember it the next day). An intervention planned shortly after the end of such a binge or episode however, when the after effects are held in sharp contrast, and the addicts mind is emerging from the fog, can provide an opportune time.

Talk through reactions that are possible from the person involved. Are they likely to deny? Are they likely to make counter accusations? Are they likely to become angry or even violent. Discuss with your interventionist and amongst your team – how you will handle each. Focus on maintaining calm, minimising anger and bringing honesty to the process.

5. Prepare your thoughts on the consequences of inaction.

Someone in denial needs strong motivation to make the required change in their thinking and behaviour. “We will be really disappointed if you can’t stop taking drugs” may not be sufficient for some addicts, but in some cases, it may be.

It is recommended to consider having your thoughts ready regarding concrete and demonstrable (unpleasant) consequence of them failing to change their damaging addictive behaviour – BUT: it’s very important that you discuss how you may broach this with them. It is often best to give the addict the chance to embrace the intervention and voluntarily agree to get help BEFORE you introduce the idea of negative consequences.

Consequences might include withdrawing financial support, or removing access to a shared living arrangement, or their continued employment being at risk. This requires careful and considered planning as a threat to the addict can create a justification for resentment and rejection of the intervention, but despite this – it’s a good idea to have this as a backup plan if confronting the behaviour is not enough in its own right.

6. Provide a practical, achievable way out.

Presenting a problem without a solution, risks simply escalating emotions.

Prepare your thoughts on what actions you need your loved one to take. Must they immediately cease their using? In most cases, this is the desired outcome. However, consider that depending on the severity of addiction, a process of medical detoxification may be recommended. This is where professional help and advice is vital before the intervention group gets specific about the next steps required.

  • Will you help them enter treatment at a drug and alcohol rehab? You should check costs, and availability before making a promise that cannot be fulfilled.
  • Will someone offer the addict a place to stay – away from their day to day triggers, and triggering situations that lead to using?
  • Will people visit, or spend time with them to support them emotionally in the difficult early stages of sobriety? Be ready to explain when, and how that will happen.

7. Follow up, and follow through.

If your loved one agrees to enter treatment, support them in this process. Their early days in rehab will be a very uncertain time and depending on the rules of the treatment centre, a visit to offer support may be possible.

Keep in touch – after cessation of using drugs and alcohol, an addict is often faced with a situation where past relationships have already been damaged and loneliness and isolation are risky to the individual concerned. They may have been in active addiction for so long, that they have forgotten how to maintain and nurture friendships and relationships, so being proactive and initiating contact with them at this critical time, will help them stay connected.

Accept and support decisions to avoid temptations and triggers – even where it means you may miss opportunities to socialise or enjoy parties or other events that may have resulted in them using in the past. Learning to live a life of sobriety is what they need, even if it’s not what you need. If they tell you they are planning to attend a party, a music festival, an event involving drinking when they are still in the early months of sobriety may be warning signs and you may be in a position to help them avoid these.

In Conclusion

These tips are a great starting point in planning an intervention for someone you care about to help them get clean and free from active addiction. We strongly recommend involving professionals – particularly when the circumstances of the case are complicated and a lot of emotions are involved, as is often the case.

Further, if you have any questions, please let us know!

We love to hear from our readers. In fact, we’ll try to answer any question you have personally and promptly. So, please reach out. We’re here to help.

About the author
Pip Baddock is Operations Director at Bali Beginnings Drug & Alcohol Rehab based in Bali in Indonesia. With his own history of addiction and recovery, and being strong 12 step recovery advocate, Pip works with addicts from varied backgrounds in supporting them in building a life of sobriety. Bali Beginning Rehab Centre treats people with a range of disorders including addiction to Alcohol, Drugs, Ice Addiction Treatment and Sex and Gambling.
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