There are several ways to do an intervention, but the biggest mistake anyone can make is not addressing an addiction at all. Ignoring an eating disorder or substance abuse can lead to dire consequences including death. Other addictions lead to poor physical and mental health due to the stress incurred from never having enough. But turning a blind eye is precisely what most loved ones do, usually because they don’t know how to intervene. Whether you act alone or hire a professional, successful intervention depends on knowing what to say and how to convey your message with love and strength.
HAVE A PLAN
When approaching someone with addiction, there must be a plan. The time, place and all parties involved should be carefully thought out. Coming sideways or aggressively toward someone who’s addicted is guaranteed to fail. An interpreted attack will create defensive or aggressive behavior.
It’s best to approach the addict at a time they aren’t using. Whether you hire a professional interventionist or not, you should do a practice session before you intervene. You must present factual evidence of the addiction. For example, blackouts, DUI’s, inability to manage their life, missed work, embarrassing moments, financial losses, etc. Facts, not feelings. Also, make sure you have a specific direction you want the person to take right now: a treatment center, therapist, Twelve Step meetings, etc. Some negotiating is acceptable if the person agrees to comply with the original plan if the new method fails. In any event, the plan must include some type of therapy or treatment. Since addiction is a mental, physical, and spiritual condition, abstinence is never enough.
Leverage means that continuing an addiction is worse than the loss if leverage is applied. A boss has the leverage of making employment conditional on getting help. A family has the leverage of withdrawing from the relationship. Money is also good leverage if someone is financially dependent. Leverage is not a threat. It’s a warning. For example, “Jean, we care about you, and we feel you’re a valuable employee. However, we have several concerns about your drinking (give examples), and we’d like you to get help. You understand the company can’t afford any more of the mistakes that have been made (missing appointments etc.), so if you decide you don’t want to get the help we’re offering, we won’t be able to keep you.” Or “Bob, I love you very much, but your (drinking, gambling, spending, eating disorder) is affecting the whole family. Our finances are a mess. I can’t find you half the time. I can’t manage the kids like this. If you don’t get help, I’m not going to be able to stay in this marriage. I’ve met with an attorney, and I’m ready to file for a divorce.”
Some people will comply right away; others will test you. Be sure that you don’t use leverage that you will not stand by. The addict will not want to lose something near and dear and will take the help offered in most cases.
If all else fails, there’s always legal intervention. But most of the time, when faced with involuntary commitment, the addict will agree to treatment. At least this approach offers the dignity of compliance instead of the humiliation of courts, arrests and assessments. It may not be apparent, but most people are already severely humiliated by their powerlessness and heaping on more will not inspire change.
Once you use the leverage, be sure that you follow through. If you are going to terminate employment, financial support, or even a relationship, you must stand firm. All addicts have enablers—people who protect them from the consequences of their actions. Once you lovingly enforce new boundaries, they’ll likely be tested. Temper tantrums, threats, and accusations are commonly hurled at the loved ones who are intervening. You must recognize that nothing is loving about enabling or caving in to addictive demands. DO NOT ENGAGE even if you have to put cotton in your ears. Most addicts won’t remember all the times you helped them out of trouble. And down deep they’ll resent you for doing the very thing they begged of you. You must consistently tell the person you love them enough to stop your role in the problem, and you will not change your mind. Keep focusing on the person getting healthy and telling them you look forward to getting back to the person they used to be.
There’s never a guarantee that an addict will stop, but the odds are much better when loved ones care enough to intervene. Sometimes, there’s even a sense of relief by the addict that the insanity can end. But before that ever happens, someone must be the change agent and realize that intervention is the loving thing to do.
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Dr. Donna Marks has been an author, consultant, public speaker, and psychotherapist for over thirty years. She was licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987 and then certified in Addiction, Gestalt Therapy, Hypnosis, Sex Therapy, and Psychoanalysis. She currently has a concierge psychotherapy practice in Palm Beach, Florida.
She has appeared on numerous podcasts and local television. She is the author of two books, Learn Grow Forgive – A Path to Spiritual Success, and Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Solution (revised), and winner of multiple book awards. Her next book, The Healing Moment: Seven Keys to Turn Messes into Miracles, will be released in 2023.
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