Interventions for Drug and Alcohol Abuse
If you have a friend or family member who you believe is using substances in an abusive or addictive way, you may be wondering what to do. Perhaps you’ve heard of interventions, but don’t quite understand what they are.1
An intervention is a conversation with a person in your life who has been using drugs and/or alcohol in a way that concerns you. An intervention can be informal or formal. Informal interventions can be as simple as telling a person that you have noticed their use and have concerns. Formal interventions for drug and alcohol abuse involve a group of people who meet with the person who is using and let them know that their drug use has affected each member attending the intervention. 1
Formal interventions often result in the person becoming defensive and angry. However, getting someone into treatment for drug addiction can save their life. When properly organized and handled with the assistance of a professional, interventions for drug and alcohol abuse can be successful in persuading people to seek treatment.1
When is an Intervention Necessary?
If you believe that a family member or friend is displaying signs of addiction, and you are worried about their safety and health, you may wonder when an intervention is necessary. The need for an intervention is escalated when a person has ignored pleas to seek help or has flatly refused treatment in the past. In addition, a person with a substance abuse disorder will demonstrate such signs as:2
- Using alcohol or drugs in risky situations, such as driving.
- Ignoring responsibilities at home, such as not caring for children.
- Not going to work, getting fired, or receiving poor performance evaluations due to substance abuse.
- Spending a great deal of time and resources finding and using substances.
- Using more of a substance than was originally intended, such as promising to have only 2 or 3 drinks with dinner and drinking many more.
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or stop drinking, such as promising to not drink before a family event but doing so anyway or promising to stop using drugs or to stop drinking after a certain time but continuing to do so.
- Symptoms of physical withdrawal. For example, when they stop drinking, you can visibly see signs of withdrawal, such as shaking. Or if they stop using opioids, you may observe them becoming nauseous, having gooseflesh, sweating excessively, or complaining of severe body aches.
- Having increased conflict with others over their use of drugs and alcohol.
People with a substance abuse disorder are increasing their risk for mental and physical health problems. People who have an alcohol use disorder, for example, are greatly increasing their risk for numerous types of cancer and for disorders of the liver, heart, and brain.3 People who have an opioid use disorder are at very high risk of overdose and other negative outcomes, such as depression, and have increased risk of falls, fractures, and disorders.4
How Successful are Interventions?
While there is not a lot of research on the success of interventions, there are countless stories from family members who have staged interventions and the people who entered treatment after someone staged an intervention for them. An addiction intervention may be the last effort to persuade a loved one to enter treatment. You may feel you have no other option. It is important to remember that people can recover from drug addiction and intervention is often the first step to getting them into the treatment they desperately need. 5
How to Host an Intervention
If you have reached a point where you are ready to conduct an intervention, one of your many questions is how to do it. You might consider following these recommended steps:1
Gather Your Loved ones
This group can include family members, coworkers, religious leaders, neighbors, friends, and/or the person’s doctor. Try to get anyone who can speak to the person with the substance abuse issue to explain how his or her use has impacted them, or what they may be concerned about.
Consult a Professional
A therapist or substance abuse professional is a great resource here. A substance abuse intervention is not an easy thing to do, and a professional can provide advice and guidance on how to conduct the intervention in the best possible way. The professional can prepare the group with intervention support to address what the most likely responses will be to the intervention and how to overcome objections. The professional can also coach your group on how to stay calm and not lose control during the intervention.
Have a Treatment Plan Ready
Call ahead to the treatment center and make sure that they can do an assessment, that your insurance coverage is accepted, and other possible barriers that may prevent a person you love getting into treatment.
Understand your Place in The Intervention
Know your role in the intervention. This is particularly important for whoever is leading it. You should all rehearse what you are going to say.
List the Consequences and Be Ready to Communicate Them
If the person doesn’t agree to go to treatment, you’ll need a list of consequences you may need to use to motivate them to go to treatment.some examples of this would be:
- Asking an adult child to leave your home.
- Following through on a plan to physically and legally separate from your spouse.
Host the intervention
. This should be done in an open, caring way that conveys to the person that you are concerned about their use of alcohol and/or drugs and to get the person to admit he or she has a substance use disorder that requires treatment. The biggest goal of an intervention is to get the person to agree to go to treatment and to do so immediately. Be prepared to follow through with your consequences if the person does not agree to get help immediately.
You may wonder if a drug intervention is different than an alcohol use intervention, or if there is different advice for parents dealing with a child’s heroin addiction. Know that a substance abuse intervention is the same for any type of substance or any situation with a loved one who has shown signs of a problem with drugs or alcohol. The substance may change from one person to the next, but the steps involved in a substance abuse intervention are the same.
What to Say at a Drug & Alcohol Intervention
It is hard to know what to say in an alcohol or drug intervention. However, keep in mind that there are things you need to do, such as the following:1
- Do not shout or yell.
- State specific concerns, such as “you recently got a DUI,” which can help demonstrate the consequences of the person’s use of drugs or alcohol.
- Only state what you know or saw, such as, “I saw you have 6 drinks the other night.” Do not use hearsay, such as, “your sister saw you using heroin.”
- Do not use labels like “alcoholic,” or “addict.” Instead, say things like, “I think you have a problem with alcohol.” Or, “I am concerned about your use of heroin.”
- Be prepared that the person will become defensive.
- Stay calm no matter what happens.
- Decide ahead of time who will speak first and when.
- Develop a script and rehearse it.
Is Someone You Love Struggling with Substance Abuse?
Is addiction ruining your loved one’s life and your own? Are you ready to ask for help but not sure where to start? If you answered yes to either of these questions, it is time to reach out for help. Remember that everything may seem overwhelming right now, but treatment does work.
American Addiction Centers Can Help
American Addiction Centers has helped thousands of people reclaim their lives that are troubled by addiction. Our treatment model focuses on not only recovery from addiction but also helps people understand the triggers and items that stimulate their addiction. We operate facilities across the nation and can be found in the following states:
Still Unsure About Seeking Treatment?
Learning about addiction and treatment options may feel overwhelming. If you are still unsure about how treatment works, how to ask for help, or how to get treatment, consider the following guides:
1.Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. (2016). America’s need for and receipt of substance use treatment in 2015.
2.Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. (2015). Treatment episode data sets (TEDS) 2005-2015.
3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition).
4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction.
5. National Institute on Mental Health. (2016). Substance use and mental health.