When does an intervention work for a drug addict or alcoholic?

Do you view addiction interventions as opportunities to “gang up” on an addicted loved one? Here is why interventions, if done right, are exactly the opposite of an ambush!

minute read
By Harold Clifton Urschel III, M.D., M.M.A.
Chief Medical Strategist, Enterhealth

Change your mindset about interventions for more successful outcomes!

You’ve reached the point where you know your loved one has a problem and needs help. But you dread the thought of confronting him or her – especially through an intervention that you envision as a group of people, including yourself, who are “ganging up” on someone you love.

How can you start viewing interventions as a way to help your loved one rather than an ambush? I encourage you to change your mindset about interventions because, when done correctly, the intervention is the opportunity for you and others to express your love and concern to your loved one and stop him or her from further self-harm.

Read on to learn the basics of successful interventions and why they are a helpful tool that help you help a loved one. Then, please post your questions at the end of the page. In fact, we’ll try to get back with those who ask personal questions personally.

Why are addiction interventions necessary?

While the end goal is for your loved one to agree to go into a treatment program, the intervention is when loved ones declare to the abuser, “We love you, we’re not going to enable you to harm yourself further, and we’re going to help you recover your life as a sober and clean person.” It is, in fact, an act of love to stop playing an active role in enabling someone you care about to destroy his or her life.

An abuser’s best chance for recovery includes the support of the family and loved ones, and it begins with the intervention. The intervention is more than a declaration to the abuser, it’s also a caring agreement amongst family members and friends to cease all enabling behaviors that are bringing harm to the person they love. Saying NO and established consequences, or “rules,” for the abuser’s intolerable behavior is not an act of meanness; it is an act of love.

Yes, it is painful and difficult to say NO to someone you love, but holding your beloved abuser accountable and drawing the line for undesired consequences is an act of love. You must come to terms that you can no longer hold onto false hope that things will get better, fueled by the abuser’s promises that make you believe the next job, relationship, or new medication will help stop the addiction on its own.

To delay and intervention and continue to enable the abuser only allows the substance to do more harm to your loved one’s body, and enabling may stave off “hitting rock bottom” indefinitely.

8 tips for addiction intervention success

How exactly does one do an intervention correctly, with love, to achieve the desired outcome? When families reach out to Enterhealth – a drug and alcohol addiction treatment company – our experts first counsel the family on the importance of having a love-based mindset and understanding addiction is a disease, after which we review the ingredients to holding a successful intervention.

Our recommendations for a successful intervention include the following:

1. Understand that addiction is not a character or moral flaw, but the substance abuser’s brain is injured from alcohol or drug abuse.

According to science-based research by the National Institute of Health (NIH), alcohol and drug addiction is a treatable, chronic, medical brain disease. We believe that when families have a better understanding of addiction, they have a better shot at effectively and lovingly communicating to the addict why treatment is the only answer.

2. Planning ahead is a crucial step before the actual intervention.

A successful intervention must be carefully planned to work as intended. A poorly planned intervention can worsen the situation, as your loved one may feel attacked and become isolated or more resistant to treatment. Oftentimes, family members work closely with our intervention experts, meeting two to three times to prepare a plan and organize the details of the intervention.

3. Use a professional moderator and follow the plan without allowing the abuser to take control of the meeting.

When the potential patient arrives to the intervention location, the intervention specialist will take control and make a formal introduction inviting the patient to listen to the help that’s being offered. The interventionist is there to moderate and keep the conversation focused on the end goal of getting the abuser into treatment.

It’s important to remember that if an intervention is not carefully controlled by both the family and an addiction/intervention specialist/expert, there will be consequences whether that means:

  • jail
  • divorce
  • unemployment
  • overdose
  • or even death

4. Tell the abuser how you feel and declare your love.

During an intervention, family members are able to express their love and support by reading aloud handwritten letters to the addict. Letters will help family members control what they say and ensure that they cover their feelings whether related to the past, present or future. By reading the written word, family members will remain focused, instead of having emotion drive the conversation.

5. Write letters of love, affirmation and express how the abuse has affected everyone.

Letters should start off with something the family member admires about the potential patient, or perhaps a special memory that speaks directly to the heart. The middle portion of the letter should focus on recent situations that have raised red flags, such as the family member going to jail, or a visit to the emergency room because of an overdose, etc. Each incident should first be presented with facts before expressing emotional reactions and feelings. It’s critical for family members to express how these alarming situations have caused great concern for their loved one’s health, safety and general wellbeing.

6. Letters should conclude with expressions of hope the abuser will accept the treatment that’s being offered.

7. It’s equally important that the family sticks to the agreed consequences – whatever those may be – if the abuser chooses not to accept treatment.

8. If at any time during the intervention the addict agrees to go to treatment, a family member should have the addict’s bag packed and ready to go. The intervention specialist can immediately escort the addict to treatment.

However, the intervention is the first step in what should be a treatment and ongoing recovery process that involves the family and loved ones.

Intervention and addiction treatment plan

It’s important to understand that after taking the first step in confronting your beloved abuser in an intervention, you must select a treatment provider that gives him or her their best chance to recover.

At Enterhealth Ranch and the Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence, our science-based treatment is three times more effective than traditional 12-step treatment programs. We treat alcohol and drug addiction as a medical condition – specifically, as a chronic brain disease – beginning with a complete medical and psychological assessment. Through these assessments, we are able to identify areas of the brain that have sustained injury due to alcohol and drug addiction. We also provide intervention moderation at no charge.

Questions about how to hold a successful intervention

Would you like to learn more about the importance and efficacy of interventions? Wondering how you can opt for more successful outcomes when you approach a loved one with love and a solution? Please send us your questions and comments in the designated section below. We try to provide a personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries. In case we don’t know the answer to your particular issue, we will gladly refer you to professionals who can help.

About the author
Dr. Urschel is Co-Founder and Chief Medical Strategist for Enterhealth, one of the finest residential and outpatient treatment programs in the nation. Known as one of the country's foremost authorities on substance abuse and addiction, Dr. Harold Urschel is the author of the New York Times best seller, “Healing the Addicted Brain.” He is a coveted speaker on substance abuse and the latest treatments of the chronic brain disease of addiction on both the local and national stage.
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