Intervention: Guiding Your Loved One Toward Addiction Treatment

Watching a loved one struggle with untreated addiction is an intensely painful experience that leaves many feeling helpless, frustrated, and confused. Perhaps your gently expressed concerns regarding your loved one’s substance abuse have fallen on deaf ears. Perhaps your attempts to remove alcohol or drugs from the house have proven fruitless, as more arrive to take their place. Perhaps you have even pleaded with your loved one to enter addiction treatment, to no avail. So what now? The answer may be an intervention.

Representations of interventions in popular culture can leave many families feeling wary of implementing an intervention strategy. Television and film scenes of unsuspecting addicts walking into a room full of people waiting to confront them and force them to change their ways provide a poor representation of how successful intervention strategies work. Specifically, they too often portray the intervention as an act of aggression against the person with the addiction, a kind of group bullying that serves to alienate rather than transform. However, intervention doesn’t have to be that way. Thoughtfully planned interventions led by experienced intervention experts can be not only a way of getting your loved one to recognize their substance abuse and seek addiction treatment, but to begin to heal and grow as a family.

The Value of A Professional Intervention Specialist

Intervention specialists have the knowledge and perspective to design effective intervention strategies to help both your loved one and your family as a whole. By drawing on their expertise and following their lead, you can optimize your chances of success while focusing on your own role as a concerned family member, not an addiction expert. The intervention specialists will talk with you about the nature of your loved one’s addiction and gather relevant information to determine how to best address their needs. They can also help you select whom to invite to the intervention, provide education to enhance the group’s understanding of addiction, and offer guidance regarding what kind of treatment will be appropriate for your loved one. This last part is particularly critical, as pre-arranged addiction treatment should be immediately available following intervention to harness the momentum of the moment.

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Fortifying Families

Not all intervention specialists are created equal, and some do still favor the ambush-style intervention where family and friends bombard the addict with grievances and demand change. Renowned interventionist Kristina Wandzilak believes that this type of intervention is not only counterproductive to establishing a trusting relationship between the addict and the interventionist, but also fails to address the needs of the family as a whole:

My main problem with the surprise method is that the process is entirely addict-focused, with the whole family’s health hanging on its most dysfunctional member. I do not want the success of my interventions—and the health of my clients—to be contingent on the choices of the most impaired person. Why create an intervention for just one person when the whole family is hurting and needing help? I consider it a successful intervention when I have a family who is looking at their caretaking and enabling behaviors and at their own relationships with the addict and asking themselves, “How did we get here?” “What is my part in this?” “What can I change in me that will benefit my life and my family?”

By choosing an interventionist who recognizes the complex and nuanced relationship between families and addiction, you can increase the chance of successful intervention while also beginning your own process of self-discovery and healing that will allow you to create positive change regardless of your loved one’s choices. Just as the interventionist can make recommendations for your family member’s care, they can also make recommendations for resources to help you begin your own recovery process.

The Power of Love

An intervention is an opportunity for you to express your love, concern, fears, hopes, and support for your loved one to ultimately try to penetrate their denial and resistance. Trying to come up with the right way to express yourself in the moment of intervention can be extraordinarily difficult, and planning what you will say is a critical step to optimizing the power of your words. For many, writing down your thoughts in the form of a letter gives you the opportunity to carefully choose your words and avoid wandering into dangerous territory in the heat of the moment. Rather than confronting your loved one with anger and accusations that can make them respond defensively, withdraw, or shut down, speak from a place of love and validation. Remind them of not only their addiction, but their value, potential, and goodness.

Interventionist Jeff Jay has seen the power of this approach even in extreme cases of addiction and denial. One of his most remarkable intervention experiences took place in a hospital, where a 40-year-old woman lay bedridden following liver failure caused by long-term alcoholism. Even as she was being denied a liver transplant due to her refusal to seek alcohol addiction treatment, she remained steadfast that she did not need help. Then, with Jay’s guidance, her family members organized an intervention. By her bedside, they read their letters. “They told her how much they loved her, even in her disease, and how proud they were of her accomplishments. Most of all, they recalled instances when she had helped them or inspired them, and this brought tears to everyone’s eyes.” Finally, after years of unrelenting addiction, she agreed to seek help. Three days later she died. The family’s sorrow was accompanied by a deep gratitude for the opportunity intervention had given them to come together as a family, with honesty, compassion, and love. Although she was taken before she had the chance to recover, “they were able to create a moment of grace for her, in which she made the sacred choice to change her life.”

Accepting Your Loved One’s Choice Regarding Addiction Treatment

Interventions are tremendous acts of love driven by a generosity of spirit and deep compassion. Ultimately, however, how your loved one receives the intervention is out of your control. While most addicts do decide to enter treatment following an intervention, you must also accept the risk that they will not, and ensure that your own well-being is not compromised by that choice. As Wandzilak says, “Families do not have to suffer with addiction; they can heal, with or without, their loved one.” While the intervention may have fallen short of one of its goals, using the process to fortify your own healing and create a springboard for both collective and individual change means it was not wasted. The fact that your loved one decided that they were not ready to start on the path to recovery at this moment doesn’t mean that they won’t be ready in the future, and in the meantime, helping yourself will not only allow you to create a richer, more fulfilling life for you, but will expand your ability to support your loved one when they do decide to seek addiction treatment.

Finding Support

At Alta Mira, we are committed to supporting the families of people suffering from addiction, regardless of whether or not your loved one becomes our client. Our addiction specialists are always available to offer information and advice regarding addiction, addiction treatment, and intervention, as well as provide referrals to highly trained intervention specialists in your area. If Alta Mira is part of your loved one’s post-intervention treatment plan, we can also arrange for secure transportation to our facilities following the intervention to immediately begin the process of recovery. Once your loved one has begun treatment, we invite you to participate in our renowned Family Program to help you continue your own healing journey and strengthen your relationship with your loved one.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction treatment for people with a range of substance abuse issues as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us for more information about our innovative program, advice about how to guide your loved one into treatment, or referrals for intervention services in your area.