Do Addiction Interventions Work?
Most people are familiar with the concept of an intervention. They sometimes appear in movies or television shows. And, of course, there’s the reality television show Intervention, which is exclusively about drug and alcohol interventions. The basic idea is that the friends and family of someone with a substance use disorder all get together and confront her about her problem. If all goes well, she will accept the reality of the situation and agree to enter treatment right away. Viewers of Intervention know that sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Is it possible that interventions do more harm than good?
First of all, it’s important to note that people typically organize an intervention as a last resort. The person in need of the intervention has obviously lost control of her behavior and needs help. The intervention may come after years of addiction self-destructive behavior. Family members and friends may have been enabling this behavior to various degrees as well. By this point, the addiction is deeply ingrained and recovery will be more challenging. The gravity of the situation already puts a good result in doubt, but her loved ones feel they have to do something.
Before going straight to intervention, it’s better to have a conversation, or perhaps many conversations. When you first bring up the subject, it’s important to make clear that you are concerned about her wellbeing. Your goal should be to understand what she’s going through rather than criticizing or judging. You might bring up treatment as an option, but don’t force the issue. Judging, criticizing, or pushing treatment is only likely to make her defensive. Early on, it’s much more important to keep communication open. It may become necessary at some point to set boundaries so you can be sure you aren’t enabling addictive behavior.
An intervention usually comes after all other attempts have failed, so it’s already clear you’re dealing with an entrenched problem and you should adjust your expectations accordingly. What does seem clear is that someone is very likely to enter treatment after a well-executed intervention. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, an intervention run by a trained and experienced intervention counselor results in the person going into treatment about 90 percent of the time. What’s more, people who don’t immediately decide to get treatment sometimes decide to get treatment later as a result of the intervention. Given that more than 90 percent of people with substance use disorders don’t get treatment because they don’t believe they need it, the high rate of interventions that lead to treatment suggests interventions do have some benefit.
The next question is whether treatment leads to recovery. Family and friends can bring a lot of pressure to bear during an intervention. The person with the addiction may be facing the threat of homeless, divorce, unemployment, or prison. When the situation looks that bleak, treatment is hard to resist. However, agreeing to treatment doesn’t necessarily lead to recovery. Treatment can be challenging and people do bail out if they aren’t fully committed.
The good news is that treatment can often be effective even if you aren’t fully committed at first. Many of the motivations for entering treatment don’t disappear the moment you arrive at the facility. Most people will at least make a good faith effort even if they don’t particularly want to be there. And therapeutic techniques such as motivational interviewing can help people discover their own motivation for recovery. Even people who enter treatment voluntarily with no intervention are often ambivalent about recovery, so developing motivation is actually a normal part of treatment.
Studies show that, statistically, people recover at about the same rate whether they enter treatment voluntarily or are ordered by the court, and sometimes they have better results under threat of legal consequences. A family intervention doesn’t have quite the same weight as jail time–although that might still play a part–but the practical consequences are often compelling enough to take treatment seriously.
If you do decide to stage an intervention for a loved one, the most important thing is to seek the help of an experienced intervention counselor. A successful intervention requires planning and coordination. It’s hard to do it well on your first try if you don’t have expert guidance.
When preparing for the intervention, it’s important to write out specifically what you want to say. This prevents angry extemporizing in the moment. You should focus on specific ways your loved one’s addiction is hurting her and others. Avoid general accusations. So instead of saying something like “You’re ruining our marriage with your drinking,” stick to specific actions like, “Last Wednesday night, when you were drunk, you got angry and threw your phone at me. Then you passed out on the porch five minutes later.” Whatever you decide to share should come from a place of love. An intervention is not a trial. You’re not there to prove her guilt, but to encourage her to get help.
By the time you’re ready to stage the intervention, you should already have found a treatment center and booked a place for your loved one. You lose momentum if you have to arrange all of that after she agrees to treatment. She should be able to leave right away and you should even have a bag packed for her if possible.
If you stage the intervention and it doesn’t work, don’t lose heart. Sometimes people get defensive when they feel ambushed. A failed intervention doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll never get treatment. If she doesn’t agree to treatment, it can still be helpful if the rest of the family participates in therapy without her. Addiction is often called a family disease. It’s likely that there’s a codependent relationship somewhere in the family, and possibly another family member struggling with addiction. If you can sort out the problems in the family dynamic, it could have a positive influence on the addicted person even if she doesn’t participate.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use established, research-backed treatment modalities such as CBT and MBCT, as well as cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.