Empowering Change: A Guide to Family Intervention in Substance and Alcohol Abuse
When you have a loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder like alcoholism, the prospect of what they’re going through and how difficult it can be to get them to accept help can be soul-crushing. Of course, I am well aware that most loved ones want to do everything that they possibly can to get them to get help as soon as possible. However, a forceful approach – even when rooted in love – is rarely effective. Unfortunately, this approach is often met with anger and disdain, and you may even end up hurting your relationship and pushing your loved one farther away from getting the help they need.
While many people in the midst of alcohol addiction are aware that their alcohol use is causing severe issues, others may be in denial. Your loved one might not even realize that they have a problem. Unfortunately, it can be incredibly difficult to get someone to pursue help for a problem they do not even realize or want to admit they have. To begin encouraging your loved one to acknowledge a problem and suggesting they receive help in a compassionate, patient way, you could consider embarking upon the intervention process.
What Is Alcohol Intervention?
An intervention, as the name suggests, is a process designed to “intervene” in the situation with your loved one and their alcohol use. Stereotypically speaking, an intervention regarding someone’s alcohol use is a structured gathering in which a professional helps family and friends of the person struggling with substance use disorder speak to them about their problem. However, it is important to note that, much like recovery is a lifelong process your loved one will continue to experience long after they’ve ceased alcohol use, the process of intervention is not a single event but often a months-long coming to terms with addiction and the problems it has caused. In fact, this coming to terms must happen on the part of both the struggling individual as well as their friends and family.
Together, loved ones can pursue information about substance use disorder and how they can support recovery, while the impacted individual gains an understanding of how addiction has negatively impacted their lives – and the lives of those around them. This means intervention could require anything from a simple conversation between family members and a professional interventionist who will then work with the individual to pursue treatment, to family counseling, the creation of family impact letters, a formal intervention meeting, and more. The ultimate goal of the intervention process is to encourage the individual to accept a structured help plan.
A professional interventionist can help provide this crucial information to both the individual and loved ones, with the hope that they will be successful at encouraging them to accept help along the way. If a structured meeting becomes necessary, the interventionist can help ensure loved ones keep the conversation on track and facilitate open, honest communication. This is especially helpful because using any forceful tactics like anger, blackmail, or bribery to try and force a person to get help may ultimately make a problem worse and ruin a relationship. Worse, interventions that devolve into accusations can end in your loved one’s refusal to accept help.
Why Have an Alcohol Intervention?
If your loved one’s alcohol use is causing negative effects in their life and the lives of the people they love, an alcohol intervention may become necessary.
You may consider intervention if your loved one should:
- Experience a decline in physical and mental health.
- Experience strained relationships with family members, partners, friends, and colleagues.
- Put themselves and others in unsafe situations.
- Have problems going to work and completing their responsibilities at work.
- Become increasingly isolated from society.
- Engage in violent behavior toward themselves or others.
- Struggle with financial problems or legal disputes.
If your loved one’s alcohol use is starting to negatively impact their lives in any of the above ways, you should consider beginning the alcohol intervention process, which can serve to remind them of all the people who love them and guide them toward choosing recovery. Contrary to popular belief, you should not wait until your loved one reaches some arbitrary rock bottom to consider intervention. The sooner you start to show them that you believe in them and introduce them to the idea of choosing recovery, the better.
How to Have an Alcohol Intervention
If you’ve decided it’s time to pursue alcohol intervention for a loved one, it’s extremely important to do so in a planned, structured manner. When you are dealing with such a delicate situation involving someone who might not react well to being told they need help, preparation is key. Following the steps below can help you plan an organized intervention.
Step 1: Seek Alcohol Intervention Services
It’s extremely important to work with a professional to help you with this difficult, emotional process. Professional alcohol intervention services are conducted by compassionate professionals who show the utmost respect to you and your loved one struggling with alcoholism. Professional intervention services can help you in all kinds of ways, including providing education about the situation, helping you find the right treatment for your loved one, or even helping you and others seek your own aftercare.
The right alcohol intervention service will not only support your loved one on their road to recovery but also watch out for you and your relationship with your loved one as you go down this path together. This can be a harrowing journey for the family as well, and you deserve resources to help you navigate this difficult period.
Step 2: Consultation – Assemble Your Support Team, Develop a Strategy, and Clarify Goals
After you select your interventionist, they will begin organizing the intervention process by reaching out to the people you want to be involved. Most often, it is family members or close friends of the person who is struggling who have been the most affected by their behavior. A professional will not only assemble the most important people, but they can also make sure they understand what the intervention is about and how it will proceed. The interventionist will choose a date, time, and location for a preliminary meeting to discuss the intervention’s goals.
Your interventionist will make sure everyone understands the goals of the intervention process. Typically, the goal is not to force your loved one into a black-or-white decision about getting treatment or facing penalties. What you want is to get your loved one to realize that they have a problem with alcohol and that this problem is hurting themselves as well as those who are close to them. Only then can they become motivated to seek treatment. For this reason, the initial stages of the intervention process can sometimes take months, as all work towards building a mutual understanding of the needs of the individual involved. During this time, the interventionist can work directly with the individual or the family members to introduce the prospect of treatment and discuss the potential best outcome.
Everyone who agrees to participate must also acknowledge that this is a respectful process, come what may. Your interventionist should make sure they understand that there might be emotional challenges that arise throughout the process, like the individual arriving at an arranged discussion intoxicated or becoming angry. Everyone must be prepared to deal with this and calmly and carefully approach these intense emotions with effective strategies discussed during the consultation.
Step 3: Continued Strategy and Rehearsal
A great deal of planning is necessary to ensure an organized, effective alcohol intervention process. Your interventionist will schedule at least one meeting so that you and other loved ones can meet to discuss the situation at hand. Your interventionist will hold open, honest conversations with all involved to discuss not only the person with alcohol addiction and their needs, behaviors, and psychological and medical history but also the experiences of family and friends.
To make sure you are organized and able to communicate openly with your loved one, the interventionist will encourage you to write down your thoughts. Often, people write letters directly to the person who is struggling to communicate ways the individual’s alcoholism has affected them. Each person who wants to speak should prepare their thoughts ahead of time so they are ready to verbally express their emotions in a controlled manner.
When you are writing down your words in your letter, focus on conveying how the person’s drinking has impacted you in a direct, detailed manner. Try to use “I” statements to make what you are saying personal.
For example, you could say things such as:
- It hurt me when…
- I was unhappy when…
- I remember when…
It is also important to reinforce that you are not pursuing the intervention process because you are angry with the person or because you want them to suffer for their actions. You want to help them start to see that their behavior is causing problems for themselves and the people they love. Reminding them that you love them and that you want them to be healthy and happy is also important for an effective, supportive intervention process.
What To Remember When Planning an Alcohol Intervention
Even if you plan your intervention well in advance and everyone is organized and prepared, you might still encounter major challenges that put your emotions to the test. Fortunately, your interventionist can help you keep the process on track or deal with any roadblocks you may encounter. Problems can include the following:
Your Loved One Will Likely Continue to Be Intoxicated
Your loved one will likely continue to consume alcohol as the process begins. If they participate in intervention-related events, like a meeting with the interventionist or a reading of a family impact statement, while intoxicated, it will likely be very difficult for them to listen and develop an understanding of the situation at hand. This can be upsetting, but you should try to remain calm. Your professional interventionist can often still guide your loved one to a headspace where they can hear what you are saying, but this may not be possible. Depending on the situation, the intervention process may need to be extended further, so be prepared for this possibility.
People Can Become Angry
Interventions deal with heavy emotions, and people who are participating may encounter feelings of anger and betrayal. If this happens, it might seem like the entire process is spinning out of control. Take deep breaths and trust in the trained professional who is guiding you to work on deflecting issues that lead to violence or swiftly resolving these issues. If the situation becomes dangerous, the best option might be to continue your efforts on another day.
Your Loved One Might Refuse Treatment
If your loved one still says no to treatment as the intervention process continues, it can be understandable to feel upset and discouraged. However, remember that this does not mean your intervention was not impactful. You and others have reminded your loved one how much you all want to see them live a happy, full life, and intervention can still help them start to see the extent of the problem.
It can take time for people to realize how intense their problem with alcohol is, and in many cases, even when they do recognize it, they might not be able to bring themselves to get treatment right away. It can take months and even years of reflection, counseling, and other forms of support to encourage someone to go to treatment. This does not mean you should give up or stop showing them your love and support.
The Role of Professional Alcohol Intervention Services
When you work with a professional interventionist, you are taking a wise step toward helping your loved one overcome their difficulties with alcohol. When you love someone, it can be challenging to determine what the next steps should be. This is where a professional interventionist can come in.
Planning the Details
Your professional interventionist can bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the table when determining how to best go about planning and implementing the intervention process. An interventionist can help you decide who should participate, as well as the timeline. They can also settle other details, like potential meeting locations and communication guidelines. You can work with your interventionist to anticipate how to handle situations such as people getting angry or violent.
Preparing Treatment Plans
Together with your interventionist, you will discuss the potential treatment your loved one needs as the intervention process continues. That way, if your loved one does agree to go to treatment, you have a plan ready to propose to them. Professional interventionists have often built relationships with a number of treatment providers to ensure your loved one will have access to the help they need. They can also patiently and respectfully listen to any questions or concerns that you might have about the treatment process so you understand what to expect.
Guiding the Intervention Process
A professional alcohol interventionist can also make or break the intervention process. When it comes to all of the unpredictable challenges, like your loved one remaining intoxicated or refusing treatment, your interventionist can use their knowledge of these situations to gently help the person become more receptive. Interventionists can often diffuse heated emotions or inclinations of violence so the process can continue smoothly.
Providing Ongoing Support
Remember that an intervention is not a one-time fix for your loved one’s problems. Instead, they will need continuous care and support as they walk down the road toward recovery or toward recognizing they have a problem. The right interventionists can help you create a plan to provide alternative forms of support if they are not ready to seek recovery. Interventionists can also help you and other loved ones seek your own support regardless of the result of the intervention process.
Remember: Treatment Is Not the End
It is important here to clarify that your loved one accepting or denying treatment is not the end of the intervention process any more than finishing rehab is the end of the recovery process. All involved, including the individual, loved ones, family, and friends like yourself, and even others, will need to adjust how they interact with one another, especially in the new world presented by recovery. Learning about substance use disorder and recovery is just as much of a lifelong process as recovery itself, and that includes the time during and after intervention and treatment begins. However, as you all progress through this learning, you will come away with positive effects as a result of your participation.
Family Intervention: A Step in An Ongoing Recovery Process
As you face the potential of intervention for your loved one, here’s just one more reminder that intervention isn’t a quick fix for your loved one’s problems. Many times, interventionists like me work with someone experiencing alcohol use disorder for a matter of months before they decide to pursue recovery. Sometimes, people realize far before they hit what others would deem “rock bottom” that they need help – they just need to be reminded that this is all those who love them want for them, as well.
No matter what your loved one’s journey has been so far, there’s always hope. Whether you’d like to discuss intervention for your loved one or you’re currently struggling with alcohol use yourself, consulting with a seasoned professional who has walked this path before is a critical first step. I’ve been where your loved one is at, and I know how important it is to meet them there to secure the best chance at encouraging them to accept help. Reach out today to get started on this important recovery journey.