Staging an Intervention the Right Way
12/02/19: AddictionDoes the term intervention bring about a sudden nauseating wave of anxiety? Do you inwardly cringe at the image of gathering in a circle and “ambushing” the addict in your life? Do you fear for your loved one’s safety and future, but the thought of having “the talk” with them is keeping you up at night? Don’t worry, it’s not as terrifying as you may think. Thanks to the dramatization of this important process by popular television shows like the titular Intervention, many people have developed misconceptions about what a true intervention should look like. An intervention isn’t supposed to be an ambush or a trap for your loved one, it should be a time set aside in a safe space for everyone to share their feelings about the person’s addiction, and hopefully get to the point where the addicted person is willing to consider getting help for their addiction. With that being said, here’s how to stage a proper intervention:
What is an intervention, exactly?Surely everyone has their own idea of what intervention looks like. In order to stage a successful intervention, it’s important that you know the true definition. An intervention is a meticulously planned process in which family and friends of a person with an addiction gather at a pre-arranged date and time. They will then invite the addict to the gathering for the purpose of having a discussion about the consequences of their addiction. Usually, the addict does not know this is occurring until the moment they walk into the room. This is done in order to prevent them from avoiding the confrontation. Once everyone is settled, family and friends are encouraged to express their feelings and concerns surrounding the addict’s wellbeing. The key to a successful intervention is a large amount of forethought and careful planning.
Pre-Intervention (AKA Step 0)Before planning an intervention, there are some things you want to do before calling everyone in. An intervention should be one of the final steps of attempting to communicate concerns to a person with an addiction. Before this, you should:
- Have at least one or more casual conversations with the addict. If you haven’t done this yet, we suggest that you sit down with the person in question and have an honest conversation about your concerns. This is a simple, low-pressure way to gauge how the person is feeling about getting clean. They may surprise you, and express their awareness of their problem and even a desire to seek treatment.
- Let them know that you are there for them. You want to open the conversation by simply asking how they are feeling, and letting them know that you are there to listen and want to do what is best for them. Do not come out swinging with accusations or statements about how they are making you feel. Remember that even though you may be affected by the addict’s choices, this isn’t about you.
- Ask them if they would like help. If the person expresses that they have been struggling, ask what you can do to help them. It is at this point, after they’ve admitted a problem, that you can lightly suggest perhaps seeking professional help. Ensure that they know that you will support them through this.
Step 1: Seek professional help.Your loved one has proven themselves to be in denial of their addiction, as well as resistant and perhaps even hostile to talk of seeking help. This is where the problem can be much too complex for one person to handle, and you will want to consult a mental health professional, interventionist, doctor, social worker, etc. This person or people will be able to help you to better understand what the addict is going through and also provide emotional support to you and everyone else involved. This person can also act as a mediator during the intervention process to keep the peace when the tough discussions are occurring.
Step 2: Rally the troops.Once you have identified a professional mediator for the intervention, you may start reaching out to the addict’s friends and family and ask if they would like to take part in the process. Ensure that all of these people are good role models, and are generally well-adjusted in their own lives. Those with unresolved addictions of their own should be excluded, as it may make the person in question feel unfairly singled out or provide a negative influence. Also be sure that anyone you invite is a part of the person’s inner circle, and that they have a good relationship with the addict, built on care and trust.
Step 3: Outline the plan.You will set your intervention up for success if you make a solid plan. This will include the date, time, and location of the meeting, preferably a day and time when most of the invitees will be able to attend. Try and pick a place where the person you are confronting will feel relatively secure and comfortable, such as the home of someone they love. Ask your invitees if they could prepare notes for what they plan to say at the intervention, and request they send them to you for approval first. It is important that they say the right things and remain positive, as to not derail the process.
Step 4: Get informed.For this step, you will want to set aside some time before the intervention occurs to research addiction — particularly the specific addiction that the person in question is struggling with. You can lean on the mediator you have enlisted to help walk you through the details of the addiction, and teach you how to speak to the person in a way that will be effective. You can also do your own online research. It would also be beneficial to encourage the invitees to do their own research as well to avoid any misconceptions being brought into the room with them.
Step 5: Prepare your speeches.Your talking points, referred to as impact statements, should be prepared by everyone in attendance. These will usually detail the invitee’s personal experience with how they see the addiction has harmed the person they love. These can be extremely powerful in demonstrating to the addict that their addiction doesn’t just affect them, it has a profound impact on all of the people they love and care about. These statements should come from a place of concern and love. There is no place for personal attacks in these statements.
Step 6: Figure out how you can offer help.There are many ways you can offer help to someone struggling with an addiction. For example, giving them rides to counseling appointments, pitching in for treatment costs, or simply lending an ear when they need to vent.
Step 7: Set boundaries.It is crucial to set boundaries in the event that the person refuses treatment. Actions that you think may be in the best interest of the addict (i.e. giving them money, providing them a warm bed, etc) can actually enable their destructive behaviors to continue. Every person in the addict’s circle needs to commit to ending codependency and enabling behaviors to show the addict that they will face consequences if they do not seek help.
Step 8: Rehearse.Going into the intervention blindly could leave you susceptible to being overcome by your strong emotions, potentially leading you to say things you may regret. If you practice what you are going to say, you will be better prepared to speak honestly, yet in a way that is measured, calm, and helpful.
Step 9: Manage expectations.You must be ready to accept the worst-case scenario. Addiction is a nasty, powerful, all-encompassing disease that can cause people to become the worst versions of themselves. Because of this, not all interventions are successful. The person often has to experience “rock bottom” in order to realize that something needs to change. Until then, they may be highly resistant, defensive, hostile, even aggressive and accusatory. You must be prepared for the person to say hurtful things to everyone in the room. Just know that this is their addiction speaking, and it does not reflect on you in any way.
Step 10: Follow up and follow through.No matter the outcome of the intervention, it is important that even if the addict does not uphold their promises, you must uphold yours. You have to demonstrate to them that you are going to remain faithful to your promises, and thereby faithful to them. Showing up as a firm, but loving, presence in their life is paramount in the turbulent existence of an addict. Good luck!
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