It’s easy to believe that people who indulge in drugs or alcohol do so because they absolutely love the substances and just don’t have the willpower to stop their use. According to some addicts, however, the truth is much more complex. For example, Edgar Allan Poe once said, “I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.” As this quote makes clear, addictions can be painful and isolating, and many addicts wish they could quit, but they may simply not know how to do so. Other addicts hide behind a veil of denial, hoping the lies they tell themselves about their addiction might one day come true.
Families may be well aware of the dangers addictions hold. In fact, families might face the consequences of addiction right alongside the addict, and they might also be desperate to make the situation change for the better. Some families, when faced with this pain, choose to take action and hold a formal conversation about addiction, confronting the person they love in the hopes the person will agree to get the necessary help. These conversations, commonly referred to as “interventions,” may be an effective way to make the addiction cycle end for good.
Breaking Through Denial
As the addiction grows in intensity, the addict’s denial about the addiction might also grow. Over time, the addict might not be able to see how bad the problem really is. In fact, the addict might not even think that addiction really is a problem. This denial can lead to lying, both to the self and to others. In an article in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, researchers report that alcoholics tend to:
- Underestimate the amount that they drink
- Underestimate the duration of the drinking problem
- Underestimate alcohol’s impact on health
- Overestimate their ability to control their drinking
- Overestimate their ability to quit altogether
People addicted to drugs might hold the same set of beliefs. Left unchallenged, these beliefs could cause an addict to think that addiction really isn’t an issue, and even if addiction were to strike, it could quickly be quashed without help. As a result, these beliefs could keep an addicted person out of treatment programs that could provide help. The addict simply doesn’t think he/she needs any help.
Additionally, some people might know that they have addictions, but they might not be motivated to make any changes. These people might have good jobs, secure relationships and hefty bank accounts. In short, they might believe that their lives are going quite well and that they simply don’t need to change anything. Researchers call this a “low motivation” to quit, and it’s prevalent in addiction. In one study, published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin, most of the addicts studied weren’t motivated to quit. In fact, 60 percent of people who abused cocaine didn’t feel the need to quit. This lack of motivation might, once again, be laid at the feet of denial. Unless these people understand that addiction really is a problem, and that terrible things might happen unless they quit, they might continue with their behaviors indefinitely.
Planning and Learning
If someone in your family or social circle is falling prey to an addiction, the rest of you might decide to hold an intervention. In order for an intervention to be successful, the following factors will need to be in place:
- Proper timing. To get the message through to your loved one, the intervention will need to be scheduled for a time of day when he or she is usually clean and sober.
- Comfortable surroundings. Interventions can be stressful enough without the added awkwardness of foreign surroundings, so pick a location where the subject would feel comfortable.
- Familiar faces. An intervention is an act of love, so the only people present should be the close friends and family of the person in question.
- Understanding participants. Though the objective is not to appease the addict, the intervening parties must understand the addict’s issues in advance of carrying out the plan.
Intervention teams commonly include spouses, adult children, parents, close friends and other relatives. Even church members, coworkers or employers might be welcome. Anyone the addict has a relationship with, and who has experienced consequences from the addiction on a first-hand basis, might be a valuable addition to the team. All members should make a commitment to attend all of the rehearsals, as well as the intervention itself, however. Those who cannot agree to these conditions might best be removed from the participant list.
An intervention involves a significant amount of education. In fact, it’s vital for family members to learn all they can about addiction, so they can determine just what they might need to say to sway the person they love. For this reason, many families hire a professional interventionist to help them in the weeks before an intervention. This interventionist has training in addiction medicine and counseling, and can help the family to learn more about addictive diseases. Through lectures as well as reading materials, an interventionist helps the family to understand, on a deep level, what the person they love is going through, and what that person will need to do in order to improve.
These lessons can help family members during the intervention itself, but the lessons might continue to infuse the family’s functioning well after the intervention is over. For example, in intervention planning sessions, the family might learn how to spot the signs of a relapse to drug use. When the person they love has completed treatment, these educated family members might quickly spot a relapse, and encourage the person to get additional help. This could prove vital to long-term success. According to a study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, addicts who lied about their drug use to their families remained sober for short periods of time, when compared to addicts who did admit their drug use. Armed with education, family members might be able to see the truth hidden behind denials of drug use, and make treatment much more likely.
After the family has a firm grounding in education, they can begin to plan their own interventions. Ideally, families will write scripts containing exactly what they want to say, and they will hone these scripts with one another until all of the participants feel the statements are both loving and compelling.
To achieve the best chance of success, scripts should contain:
- Statements of support, such as, “I love you, and I want you to get better.”
- Specific details, including dates and times, such as “On Saturday the 15th, I smelled alcohol on your breath at 10 in the morning.”
- Information about addiction, such as, “Heroin changes the way your mind works, and how well you can respond to emotion.”
- Pleas for treatment, such as, “I want you to enter a program for addiction, and I want you to do that right now.”
Some intervention models ask the participants to come up with consequences to present to the addicted person, showing the addict that the family is willing to lay down the law and bring about severe penalties if things don’t change. Some consequences include divorce, restricting access to children, loss of employment or removal from the home. The Johnson Method of intervention relies heavily on this form of coercion, and there is some evidence that it is successful. For example, a study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that those who had a Johnson Intervention were more likely to enter treatment than people who got another form of an intervention. As this study indicates, consequences can work. However, these consequences simply must be carried through if the addict doesn’t agree to change, and some families simply cannot bear that thought. For these families, another form of intervention that doesn’t include consequences might be a better fit.
Pulling Together Details
Interventions can be held almost anywhere, but often, they’re best held in neutral spaces such as counselors’ offices or rented conference rooms. Holding a conversation like this at home might allow the addicted person to simply walk away or hole up behind headphones. In a formal workspace, the addict might be on “guest behavior” and more likely to listen to what the family has to say.
Families also need to determine a date and time for the intervention, and ideally, they need to find a time in which the addict is often clean and sober. Emotions can run high in these talks, and drugs of addiction can make it easier for people to say things they don’t mean or strike out with violence when they’re confronted. It’s best to hold the talk when the person is open and receptive to what the family has to say.
An interventionist might also help the family to choose
several treatment programs for addiction, and obtain brochures for the options chosen. At the end of a successful intervention, the person will be provided with treatment choices, and the addict will need all of this information in order to make an informed choice. Some families balk at the idea of choosing a program, as they’ve had conversations about addiction in the past and the addicted person never agreed to enter a program. An intervention is different, however, and many people with addictions do agree to get help when these talks are complete. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that alcoholics who were confronted about their addictions were more likely to enter treatment programs for addiction, and stay in those programs, when compared to people who were not confronted. It’s best for families to be prepared to act just as soon as the addict agrees to get help. Planning is essential in this effort.
When the Day Arrives
The amount of people in need of treatment far exceeds the number who actually receive help for drug addiction. According to a 2010 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the following excuses featured among the reasons given for not receiving treatment:
- 9 percent believed they could conquer their addictions without treatment
- 8.4 percent were daunted by the prospect of commuting to and from their nearest treatment centers
- 7.9 percent were fearful of work-related consequences if they were to undergo treatment
- 7.1 percent were concerned about what their neighbors might think
- 6.5 percent simply didn’t feel the need for treatment
When the intervention begins, the interventionist is firmly in charge, asking the addicted person to listen while the scripts are read. By this time, the participants know just what they’d like to say, and they know the order in which they will speak, but it’s not uncommon for people to find the experience to be difficult to get through. Tears are common. Addicted people sometimes get defensive, but participants are encouraged not to strike back or argue. Instead, they’re asked to stick to their prepared statements, and encourage the person to get help.
If the addicted person leaves the intervention, which some do, a participant tries to encourage the person to come back. When the addicted person is back in the room, the conversation continues. If the addicted person never comes back, the conversation is over. An intervention also ends when the person agrees to get treatment. Sometimes, this ending takes place long before the last participant has spoken, and that’s completely acceptable. The group has done its job, and can go home happy while the interventionist immediately takes the person to the chosen treatment center. If all of the talks are complete and the addicted person has still not agreed to enter care, the family might follow up with another intervention, or follow up with one-on-one talks designed to bolster the person’s interest in rehab. Both can be effective ways to encourage the person to act on the information provided.
Help at Axis
We often work with families who are planning interventions. We provide information about our facility, and sometimes we even help families to fill out enrollment paperwork for the person they love. When the intervention is over, the person can simply enter our facility, as all of the preliminaries have been attended to. If you’d like to know more about this service, please contact us today.