A person with an addiction is often in denial. Someone struggling with alcohol or alcohol abuse might be unaware that they have a problem. Or they don’t realize the damaging effects addiction is having on their life, including hurting their relationships, family members, and career. In many cases, the person doesn’t want to admit they are an addict, or that they need help. It’s also very common to feel shame about addiction, especially given the stigma that is still associated with it (as well as with mental illness). Both loved ones and addicts may feel intense shame, which can prevent them from seeking life-changing.
An intervention helps someone in this position to make the decision to change. While we often think of addiction in terms of drug and alcohol abuse, there are other types of mental health issues and behavioral problems a person may need treatment for. For anyone struggling with someone with an addiction or mental health problem, an intervention is an effective way to get them into treatment. The goal of an intervention is to get an addict into a treatment program.
An intervention is a meeting that involves family members, loved ones and the person who needs help. An intervention should be staged only with a trained intervention specialist present during the intervention.
Family members and loved ones should consider staging an intervention if:
- Someone is unable or reluctant to admit that they need help
- Attempts to talk to the person one-on-one have failed
- The person continues to abuse drugs and alcohol, or engage in unsafe behaviors
- Someone is in crisis and needs treatment right away
- Due to their addiction or mental health condition, the person is a danger to themselves or others
- Loved ones themselves are struggling to deal with the person in need
- Family members/loved ones are contributing to the pattern of addiction by remaining in denial about it and “enabling” the addict (i.e. giving the addict money that is then spent on the addiction)
Staging an Alcohol Intervention (for Alcoholism)
There are different ways to stage an alcohol intervention. In general, most alcohol interventions involve a few key steps. Families and loved ones meet with an alcohol intervention specialist (also called an interventionist) in advance to plan the intervention. There is a detailed plan for what loved ones will say and when the interventionist will step in during the meeting. There is also a plan for how and where the person in need will seek treatment immediately following the alcohol intervention.
For families with a family member struggling with alcoholism, an alcohol intervention can be a crucial step in their decision to seek treatment. An alcohol intervention is often viewed as a “last resort,” but it doesn’t have to be. Staging an intervention for alcohol abuse early on can prevent the problem from getting worse.
Many alcoholics don’t view their drinking as a serious problem. When loved ones stage an alcohol intervention, an alcoholic might think that their alcohol use “isn’t that bad,” compared to heavy drug users or drug addicts. Because of this, it can be tough for someone to admit they need help during an alcohol intervention. Family members and loved ones might have to help the person see that they do have a drinking problem. They should also emphasize that the alcohol addiction has a negative or damaging effect on themselves and the people around them.
An alcohol intervention should focus on these harmful actions and behaviors, rather than how much someone drinks. During an alcohol intervention, an intervention specialist can help families stress the seriousness of the person’s alcoholism, and motivate the alcoholic to finally seek treatment.
Drug Interventions (for Any Kind of Drug Addiction)
Compared to an alcoholic, a drug addict might keep their behavior more hidden or secret. This can make it hard to bring up instances of drug abuse or confront the person about their drug addiction. During a drug intervention, an addict might deny their drug use or say that they don’t do drugs. Some drug addicts can be “high-functioning,” which means that they go to work, have relationships and seem “normal” even when they are high (aka functioning addicts). When drug abuse interferes with a person’s job (i.e. they lose their job because they are high all the time), living situation (they are kicked out of housing for reasons related to the addiction), or other critical life situations, that person is no longer considered high-functioning.
During a drug intervention for abuse or addiction, it might take longer for someone to admit that they are an addict. However, a drug intervention can make someone realize that their life is spiraling out of control and they need to seek treatment. A drug intervention can be a wake-up call for someone who is heavily abusing drugs and should focus on treatment options.
Like alcohol intervention, a drug intervention should highlight the impact on loved ones of the drug addict’s behavior. Instead of going into how much someone does the drugs (or doesn’t do them), a successful drug intervention will show the addict how their behavior affects those around them (i.e. not being able to count on them because they’re often high, or feeling unsafe having children around them because they’re unreliable). Drug intervention specialists help loved ones grasp the severity of the issue, and motivate the addict to actually seek treatment.
For some addicts, a drug intervention can also provide some relief, in that they no longer have to hide or suffer alone. After a successful drug intervention, an addict is often willing to seek treatment and enter into a rehab program.
When to Stage an Intervention for Behavioral Problems (Gambling, Eating Disorders, Sex Addiction, etc.)
Interventions for alcoholism and drug addiction are widely used, but substance abuse is not the only problem that an intervention can help with. Interventions can also be effective for individuals dealing with behavioral problems and other mental health issues, such as gambling addiction, eating disorders, love and sex addiction, porn addiction, and video game addiction.
When staging an intervention for behavioral problems, it is usually not recommended that family members try a “tough love” approach. In fact, sometimes “tough love” can make things worse for everyone. However, it is important that the person with the behavioral problem understands how they are hurting themselves and others. Those planning to stage the intervention might think that bringing attention to a person’s behavioral problems will make things worse or damage their relationship. However, loved ones need to know that help is available for these behavioral problems and that they don’t have to suffer from these issues for the rest of their lives.
Especially when dealing with someone who has a behavioral problem, an intervention specialist can help families talk to the family member using words they will understand. For example, someone with a behavioral problem like a gambling addiction might act defensive or manipulative when confronted with their behavior; it helps to have a professional present to assist in the response to that. Or someone with an eating disorder might not realize that there is help that is specific to what they’re going through and may not have grasped the extent to which their behavior is impacting their loved ones.
An interventionist can help loved ones try a new tactic when talking to someone with a behavioral problem, which can result in the person deciding to seek treatment. Depending upon the behavioral problem, the interventionist might use a different approach with each person. Again, interventions for behavioral problems are unique because they have to do with a person’s “choices,” meaning behavior they may still think they have control over.
Staging a Mental Health Intervention (for Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, Personality Disorders, etc.)
If left untreated, mental health issues can get worse and cause major damage to a person’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. In some cases, individuals struggling with serious mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), or schizophrenia, are unwilling or resistant to getting help for these issues.
For someone with bipolar disorder, one of the symptoms is the inability to notice their extreme mood swings or see that their behavior is erratic. Often family members are concerned or worried that the person with bipolar disorder will hurt themselves, but they cannot force them to seek treatment.
In some cases, a crisis intervention is necessary to prevent the person from attempting suicide or harming themselves or others. When someone with bipolar disorder is in a manic state, it’s important to have a trained mental health professional (like an interventionist) present. The interventionist can help families deal with the bipolar person’s unexpected or unstable reaction to seeking treatment.
Early intervention is key for someone struggling with mental health issues. The sooner a person seeks treatment for their mental health problems, the better. Untreated mental health issues can also lead to substance abuse. For example, someone experiencing PTSD might self-medicate by drinking heavily or abusing drugs. When staging an intervention, loved ones might need to address the person’s addiction, as well as their mental health issues.