About Interventions

In recent years, “interventions” have become a pop culture phenomenon. What is an intervention? Can it be helpful to a family or the individual being intervened upon?

Many people decide they want to “do an intervention” on a loved one. Is it that simple? An intervention is difficult to define, in its simplest term, it is a “process of engagement to level with an individual about a behavior, most often, drug use”. This can look like many different things. The truth is, very few interventions run like the TV narrative where the mother reads an emotional appeal, cries, and off the person goes to rehab, on their road to being a counselor. Understanding what an intervention is involves understanding what an intervention is not.

An intervention is not a magic wand that will to bring peace to a family and stop a person from being self-destructive through their use of alcohol or other drugs. Interventions are not “law”. The standard to force someone into treatment varies from state to state but it is very high, no one can “make” an individual choose a better path. An intervention is not a “surprise party”. “Hey, lucky you, you are going to rehab!” So what makes an intervention successful?

Clear goals are critical. Most people say the goal is to “get the person to stop”. That’s a pretty tall order and it may or may not happen. A better goal might be “bring the issue into honesty and shift the responsibility to the person using”. Once an individual is carrying the full weight of their life as an active user, they will be more likely to choose treatment. It also frees the family from guilt. While everyone involved in an intervention wants the person to go into treatment, walking away with a sense of “we did everything we could” is successful.

An intervention is a process of setting realistic boundaries. Do not say anything you cannot or will not be able to carry out. In fear, anger, frustration and desperation many people want to say “I won’t speak to you again” which is not really helpful and few people can do this. A more realistic approach is clear and detailed oriented. “I will no longer have any financial entanglements”, or “If you call me and you are impaired, I will hang up”. This kind of message, followed through, can go a long way in supporting someone into treatment. An intervention is not just an event, it is a long process that can continue for months. Addiction destroys trust and, while we like to assign blame to the addicted person, we all play a role. Trust is built by “words matching actions over time”. The restoration of trust, must also come from the family. If we say “I won’t give you any money” but then pay the cell phone bill, we are not doing our part.

Interventions are seldom wrapped in a bow or finished in an hour, they can take months or even years to resolve. So why do one? When addiction strikes in a family system it is chaos provoking and years in the making. The idea that it will all be unraveled with a conversation is not realistic. We do them because the addicted person has the inherent worth and value that all humans do and we have to try or we are banished to a life of crushing guilt if/when the worst happens. It is incredibly sad to see a family grieving death and adding “We should have..” to the grief and loss.

Be realistic about goals
Be clear with boundaries
Do not expect it to be solved with one conversation.