How Do I Stage An Intervention?

The intervention concept has been popularized by the excellent A & E television series of the same name, several of which have been recorded right here at Sunrise Detox. Many folks have seen the show and are familiar with the basic idea, but I thought it might be a good idea to go over some points here.

First of all, we need to understand that interventions are the “big gun” when it comes to getting addicts (including alcoholics) to turn the corner and become willing to deal with their addictions. Done properly, they can have a terrific effect, allowing the client to see how his addiction has affected others, and getting him into treatment before his denial can kick in and before he can begin to justify his behavior.

On the other hand, an intervention is pretty much a one-shot deal. If it doesn't work the first time, it is highly unlikely to work on subsequent tries. It is, therefore, important to get it right.

A proper intervention involves an addiction professional (leader), and as many of the client's family members, friends and co-workers as can be gathered together at one place and time, including his employer or immediate supervisor if possible.

The leader will, ahead of time, instruct the participants to prepare carefully. Each person will need to think about the way the client's addiction has impacted their life, and be ready to tell the addict about it. A spouse can speak about how she misses the man she married; a child about how he felt when Dad missed his graduation. A friend can tell how much he misses his buddy, the employer about how the client is a valued worker, and how he would very much like to see him become his “old self” again (and keep his job).

It is important that the client not know what is going to happen. Sometimes the group can assemble at a restaurant meeting room. The home might be appropriate, or some other location. Ideally, the client will walk in unaware of anything in store, for maximum shock value.

Most important of all is that the participants talk about how the client's addiction has impacted them, about their feelings, and not direct comments at the client: “You did this to me,” “You ruined our family,” and so forth. The object is to let the person know how his actions have affected others, rather than putting him on the defensive. That can be nearly impossible for angry members, another reason the leader, trained in interventions, is necessary: to act as a guide for the participants and keep them on track, both before and during the actual intervention.

Finally, it is vitally important to have the next step ready to go. If the addict acknowledges the problem and promises to “do something about it,” he needs to be presented with packed bags, an open car door, and a prearranged admission to a treatment facility — another reason the professional is there.

As we saw above, this is a one-shot project. Once the client's denial is broken, the next steps have to be definite — and put into place before he can change his mind. It is easy to see how, once exposed to an intervention, the addict's likelihood of responding positively to a second one is vanishingly small. Done properly, however, an intervention can literally be the difference between life and death.

It was for this addict/alcoholic.