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An intervention is a deliberately created crisis point that causes an addict to recognize the problem and take steps to seek treatment.


An intervention is a deliberately created crisis point that causes an addict to recognize the problem and take steps to seek treatment. An intervention can be used to stop a variety of destructive behaviors, but is most often used for an alcohol or drug addiction. According to the Mayo Clinic, mental health conditions that may require an intervention include eating disorders, self-injury, compulsive gambling or sexual addiction.

The facts about addiction and the problems it causes in the U.S. are staggering. Some of the statistics compiled by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence include:

  • Addiction is the nations number one health problem
  • More deaths and disabilities occur in the U.S. each year resulting from substance abuse than from any other cause
  • Nearly half of all car crashes in the U.S. are related to alcohol consumption

Formal vs. Informal

A formal intervention is a structured, highly organized meeting set up and managed by a licensed therapist between an addict and certain family members and friends. An informal intervention can be used when the situation is less critical and does not necessarily require a licensed therapist. A less formal intervention involves only the family, friends and the addict and is a time set aside for loved ones to talk to the addict and make general comments about the addictive behaviors.

Whether formal or informal, the tone of an intervention should be one of love and concern, and should not be angry or confrontational. The intervention should show that recovery is possible if the addict is willing to take the steps necessary to implement a change in the self-destructive behaviors.

When to Intervene

An intervention should occur before the addict reaches the bottom due to accident or serious illness. An intervention is appropriate when a friend or family member is consumed by the addiction, is spiraling out of control and nothing else has worked. Indicators that an intervention is necessary include:

  • Failed relationships
  • Physical threats to others
  • Leaving children neglected
  • Homelessness
  • Unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Criminal activity
  • Driving under the influence
  • Failed attempts at previous treatment

The intervention will only be effective if handled appropriately before a tragedy ensues. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), successfully changing a behavior requires a commitment, favorable environmental factors, skills to make the change, a belief that change is possible, and social pressure.

How to Select an Interventionist

An intervention may be more effective when led by a licensed, credentialed professional who has a proven record of assisting with drug and alcohol abuse recovery, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Having an unbiased professional involved in the process is more necessary when the addict has a history of violence, mental illness or suicidal behavior. Unfortunately, health insurance usually doesnt pay for interventionists fees.

To perform an effective formal intervention, the interventionist will play a combination of roles -- moderator, facilitator and ally. In order to do this well, the person selected to head the intervention must be a person the family and the patient can trust.

The Intervention Process

The intervention is a time set aside for the family and friends to discuss the addicts problems and offer treatment as a solution. An intervention can also involve co-workers, managers, teachers, clergy and medical professionals. Anyone struggling with a substance abuse problem or mental illness should not be included in the group. If the addict accepts the offer of immediate treatment, the interventionist and the family help the patient go into a treatment program to help end the addictive process. Be prepared to list the potential outcomes if the addict refuses treatment. For example, the family will no longer assist with food, shelter, money or clothing. Also, the family might state in the plainest terms possible that they will not help bail the addict out of trouble if the drug or alcohol abuse continues.

Successful Approaches

The most effective interventions are those in which friends and loved ones show compassion mixed with definitive plans to help the addict find treatment. An intervention should not be delayed once it has been determined that addiction is the root cause of the friend or family members problem. The following guidelines should be followed when intervening:

  • Be calm yet assertive toward the addict
  • Ensure that the addict has not been using drugs or alcohol before the meeting
  • Show concern but not judgment
  • Avoid name-calling and accusation
  • Indicate the direct problems that have resulted from the addicts behaviors
  • Have a specific plan of action that includes a stay at a treatment facility.

Planning an intervention and pre-arranging the best treatment option may take weeks. Rehearse the intervention at least once before the actual event occurs. This will give the family, friends and interventionist time to plan what is going to take place. It will also allow everyone to become more comfortable with the roles they play in the intervention, according to The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Beyond Intervention

An intervention is not a guarantee of success. It is merely a first step in providing a potential road to recovery for an addict. So much depends on the level of commitment and readiness of the addict, but evidence has shown that when friends and families indicate their desire for the addict to let go of a habitual substance abuse, it is a strong motivator to seek help and recover.

Successful recovery requires addicts to evolve in their perception of themselves and their ways of coping with life. Participation in regular meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can help recovering addicts to continue to sustain a life of sobriety. AA and NA offer weekly meetings in cities and towns nationwide and provide anonymous support for those in recovery, according to Alcoholics Anonymous.

In addition to AA and NA, there are many online discussion boards and communities where recovering addicts can go for support, such as the Addiction Recovery Guide

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