- Written by Marcel Gemme C.C.D.C
Drug and Alcohol Intervention in Canada
When a drug user has reached a point where his or her drug and/or alcohol addiction has consumed most of their life, it is not uncommon for the user to still not be able to admit to a problem or ask for any type of help from their family. This is normally the crucial time to conduct a family intervention to help the addict come to a decision to want to do something about his or drug addiction. An intervention can be conducted as a family without any outside help. The other and sometimes most successful way of doing an intervention is to bring in a professional intervention counselor. Both approaches can be successful if done properly.
An intervention itself is a carefully staged process that could potentially take two to three days, depending on the difficulty. Typically the first day is spent planning the actual intervention. Such things as where it will take place, who is going to attend, what treatment center is he or she is going to should all be planned out. When deciding on where to do the intervention, it is best to pick a spot that the addict is very comfortable being in. If they are coming to a place that feel comfortable in and can recognize, it will then make the intervention process much smoother. When deciding on who should be at the intervention it is of the most importance to not have someone there who will cause the addict to become enraged or whom the addict has no respect for. If there are people attending the intervention that the addict does look up to or does respect, the family will increase their chances of the addict actually listening to what is being said. Another very important part of the intervention is to have an actual treatment center lined up and/or paid for if necessary for when the addict does say yes to treatment. If this is not done and a treatment center is not lined up for the addict before doing the intervention, the family will only lessen the chance of the addict going to treatment.
When conducting the intervention the most common approach to take is that of, ‘we love you and never will stop loving you, but we are not willing to watch you kill yourself with drugs. ’ In some cases where the addict is refusing to get help and does not accept what the family is offering, this is where the family will have to follow through with plan ‘B’ of the intervention. This is the tough love approach that must be taken in order for the addict to truly realize they have no other options but treatment. The family must be prepared to cut off all support, and this does include living arrangements, finances, etc. For the addict, and only offer treatment, nothing else. Although this will be very difficult to do, it is sometimes the only option that will be available to the family, and the intervention professional will be able to help with this process. Always remember, a family will never stop loving the person battling drug addiction, but it is OK to not like what they are doing.
Family drug Intervention
Once a family recognizes that a loved one has an alcohol and/or drug problem, they fear for the lives of their loved one pushes them into wanting an instant solution. Unfortunately, the addict may not be willing to admit that there is a problem or his denial leads him to defend the fallacy that his problem isn’t severe enough to require treatment and that he can quit any time he wants, this is where intervention comes in.
At this point, families know that they are going to need to intervene to change the willingness of the addict to get help or they may soon be regretting that they didn’t get him/her help and now it is too late.
There are many decisions and commitments that must be done before one starts an intervention.
First of all, you must be sure that you have chosen a treatment center that has immediate availability and meets your specifications in terms of outcomes, price and patient satisfaction. (Go to the “rehabilitation” section of this site for help in choosing the best rehab facility) During the intervention, when the addict says that he will go to rehab, you have to move very quickly because he will change his mind as he builds up fear of change. This will happen in a matter of hours and certainly if he is allowed to “think about it” overnight. You must plan your intervention so that there is plenty of time to get the addict to treatment before nightfall and certainly before the next day. Any responses from the addicts like, “I will think about it”, or “I think that outpatient will be fine” should basically be seen as a polite way of saying “No way in h…. And I am going to treatment.”
On the other hand, you can’t expect the addict to be thrilled by the idea of confronting the drugs that have been his support for some time. (Note to the Reader: for ease of writing and reading, the male pronoun has been used in describing the addict, however, if there are specific differences that need to be distinguished between male and female, it will be noted. Also, the use of addict is used here to be synonymous with alcoholic.)
What is the ruin of the addict?
In the process of doing an intervention on someone that you know need residential treatment in spite of their resistance to seeking help, is to find their “ruin”, which is a term that denotes the painful incident and its memory that is more painful than they can confront. This isn’t a hidden incident, but it is something that they do not think about often because it has a large amount of misemotion connected to it and whenever they think about it, they are unable to resolve their emotional ties to what happened. Many times the addicts are very confused about the real facts of this incident, but nevertheless, it is something that is “ruining” their ability to function without being overwhelmed by the pain and sadness connected to this problem. Knowing this mechanism can help greatly with the intervention itself.
Many times this is the incident that spurred their increase in drug use and hence their addiction become problematic after such an incident. A ruin may also be something that they feel keeps them from being able to be “normal” and succeed in life, such has an early childhood trauma. Addicts many times have ruins connected to their drug use, such has the death of a friend from an overdose or a car accident when they were using drugs together or the haunting ideas that their anger is dangerous to themselves and others.
These ruins are problems the addict encounters that are real and significant in the addict’s life which justifies their continued use of alcohol and other drugs.
It is important to identify these ruins so that you can use them during the intervention to help them better understand the purpose of treatment is to not just detox someone off of their drugs of choice, but to handle the emotional upsets in their lives that continue to haunt them and keep them from being successful.
What pressures does the addict feel now?
An addict doesn’t have the same reality about their addiction that you or other non-addicts share. For instance, it is common for an addict to look at the disrepair of his life, no money, no friends, no future and to believe that he is really okay. Alcohol and other drugs take away the natural observations that we make in evaluating our existence and tend to make the person feel as though they are really okay with their past and present situations. It isn’t uncommon for an addict to be taken to the Emergency Room with an overdose, spend the night in the hospital and upon release, immediately use the same drug. Not because they are necessarily trying to kill themselves, but because they live with a feeling that they are invincible when it comes to their need for their alcohol or drugs.
These sorts of actions and feeling can help you understand the fear that the addict experiences when the effects of the alcohol or drugs are no longer hiding him from the obvious state in which he is living.
With this in mind, the addict from time to time will encounter added pressure, which forces them to make an actual decision about whether to seek help or continue to use.
Pending legal charges that could easily lead to jail time, the threat of losing a spouse, pending loss of job, all are possible situations where a person has enough pressure to fight the Addiction and seek help. Although anyone in particular may not work in your situation, there are pressures that can come to bear which will help prod the addict into a decision to seek help. It is easy to assume the addict is "only seeking help to avoid jail" or some other evaluation which in many cases is true. The fact remains that an addict will only seek help when someone or something pushes him out of his " Addiction Comfort Zone" and forces him into a decision. This is the essence of an intervention. Very few addicts with access to money, a place to live, people who agree with his usage and no legal issues seek help. They "don't have a problem". This is very important to understand and will be crucial in any attempt at intervention.
Who should be present during the intervention?
This is one of the crucial decisions to be made in planning your intervention and the idea that the more significant others you have at the intervention the better, is not usually what is best in getting the result that you are seeking. It isn’t necessarily about the number, but who should be involved and who shouldn’t.
There are usually people in the addict’s life that are combative and have been continually confronting him about his addiction. Because of cultural roles, this may be the father of a male addict and the mother of a female. Certainly, almost all family members have the addicts best interest at heart, but in the addict’s state of confusion, he/she may feel that certain people only want to see them fail. This concept should be looked at for anyone that you plan to engage in the process, such as competitive brothers and sisters and others that may have benefited by the addict’s failures. It is most important to have individuals that can honestly attest to the talents and the special-ness of the addicts. People that can see past his addiction and recognize the true qualities of the being without being influenced by his addictive/drug behaviors. Getting an addict to do the right thing for himself is fostered more by granting him to "be", or building his strengths, than listing all of the ways that he has failed himself and others.
There are people in every addict’s life that are Opinion Leaders in his environment. It is good to have these people involved if you feel that it isn’t going to shock the addict that these role models know the extent of his problem. Some awakening that those whom he respects know and care about his problem is important, but they need to be close enough for the addict that he feels that they only want him to be more of himself and they automatically forgive him for his drug related problems.
It is important to identify the people in the addict’s life that are very judgmental, such as some clergy and some grandparents, but there is no fast rule regarding who you should be involved, but the organizer of the intervention should understand the concepts that have been discussed in this overview and to carefully choose those people that can love and support the addict in this very threatening time. It should be kept in mind that the number of people involved in the intervention isn’t the important factor determining success or failure; it is totally predicated on which people are present and which ones are not involved.
One of the major considerations involving a drug intervention is selecting who will be there. This matter should be well thought out before hand. The number of people there is less important than who is there. If at all possible, the person in the family whom the addict respects the most should be there.
Usually, the addict has many enemies and has done wrong to most of the family. But, naturally, arguments that are agitated and disturbing will not benefit the cause of getting the addict to seek treatment and in fact will usually result in stopping this from happening because the focus of attention gets placed on the argument and not on how important is the issue of the addict taking the responsibility to do the right thing. Many people hire professional intervention counselors to run the intervention. This is advisable in many situations but not a necessity. It depends largely on individual circumstances. For instance, does the person have pending legal issues, external pressures etc. Or does the person deny completely any drug usage. These factors need to be thoroughly evaluated before you will be able to predict the success of your intervention. If you do hire a professional interventionist, you should take the advice of treatment center where you have committed to bringing the addict since they will have an Interventionist that they know are successful in circumstances such as yours.
If you don’t hire an Interventionist, it would behoove you to go over your plans for the intervention with a professional that understands the dynamics of these actions and can help you in deciding who should attend and what should and should not be addressed. Many successful interventions are done on a one-on-one basis with a mother or other caregiver that is their most important Opinion Leader and someone they know has only their best interest at heart.
When is the appropriate time?
When does the intervention take place? Ideally this has less to do with the family schedule and more to do with what's going on in the addict's life.
The optimum time for an intervention is just after a major event, like an overdose. Such an event would be arrested, or when he has violated (lied, stolen, cheated etc.) A family member or has just had a spouse leave because of the addiction. If the addict is demonstrating guilt, regret or remorse for our actions, then this would be a time when he is vulnerable to logic.
Even in the absence of these situations, an intervention can be successful especially if the family is close to the addict daily so that every little situation is known. An addict's life is a major roller coaster and the only way an addict can deny their problem is to successfully hide these problems from those who love him and it is impossible to hide in most families. Again, consideration of the dynamics of which family members are chosen is paramount importance.
Another major consideration in timing the intervention is finding the time when the addicts are the least drug-affected. In the case of cocaine, methamphetamine etc. This should be in the morning after the addict has slept. In the case of heroin or methadone or opiate type drugs, it is best to do the intervention when they are beginning to withdraw. In either case attempting an intervention while a person is extremely high will usually not be productive because the addict can not see many of their problems and their attention willelsewhere.
In general, the timing of the intervention is crucial and needs planning but at the same time an addict's life is very unstable so opportunities present themselves somewhat frequently.
What is the general language or message?
The tone of the intervention should be one of concern. The intention should be clear and unwavering.
" We love you, we've always loved you, we'll never stop loving you but we're not willing to watch you kill yourself on drugs".
The family should definitely express concern but not sympathize with the addict. Sympathy is a form of agreement and can back fire by justifying the addiction.
Everyone present for the intervention should be sure that the addict understands that the addiction is known and that he needs treatment. Don’t allow the addict to point to other problems in the family in an attempt to defuse the importance of his problem. It is common to initially hear the addict talk about how much grandpa drinks or uncle Joe, etc. Don’t allow him to dodge the intention of this gathering; it is about his problem and nothing else. It is always helpful to recognize that most addicts will only be partially in attendance, meaning that their attention will be continually darting to justifications and alibis and they will miss many of the communications that are expressed by the family members. It is a good rule of thumb to know that it is best to repeat everything three times that you want the addict to hear and comprehend. You are not talking to someone that is easily tracked with your conversation, so repeat and deliver your messages slowly and with strong intention.
What is Plan B?
An intervention with proper planning and carried out correctly will result many times in an addict agreeing to receive help. But you must accept the fact that ultimately the addict may for whatever reason say "NO". This scenario needs to be thought out in advance so that the family consistently moves to the proverbial -plan B.
If for whatever reason the intervention fails, the addict is still an addict and statistically the situation will likely get worse not better, so what actions do you take if the addict refuses to agree to go to treatment? The family knows the person is addicted and the addict has been confronted with this fact so whatever message the family gives the addict at this point is critical.
By refusing to seek treatment the addict in general is saying to the family " I want to continue to use drugs. I want to continue the families suffering. I want to control my own life." You must understand that no matter the excuse, this is what is being communicated if the addicts disagrees with getting help.
At this point of the intervention, you must make it CLEAR that all contact will be cut. Let the addict know that you have done all you can and you cannot continue to watch him kill himself, so if he won’t take the love of the family seriously, then he is on his own. This should mean that no one accepts any further calls and certainly there is no more housing or monetary support. You will be amazed at soon the addict will tell you that “He Has Decided” to go to treatment. Not that you are right, but He Has Decided. Fine! Now just be sure that he is going to an effective treatment center.