How to Hold an Intervention for an Alcoholic
More often than not, having an addict in your life means standing back and watching them continue to make dangerous or unhealthy choices. Most people won’t really be ready to seek or receive help until or unless they’re able to first admit there’s a problem—a realization they must come to on their own, despite all our best efforts to get them there. But that’s part of the power of interventions. The sheer numbers behind the group gathering could be big enough to stop denial in its tracks, and inescapable enough to finally force an addict or alcoholic to start seeing clearly.
How To Prepare For An Intervention
Before preparing for an intervention, you might want to consider whether it’s the right time for an intervention. Have you already tried discussing this problem with your loved one? Are they still exhibiting signs of alcoholism or addiction, such as high tolerance, deceptive behavior, and routine trouble with money or work?
Another good way to determine if it’s the right time for an intervention is to assess whether the person seems out of reach. That could look like the lack of response or effort after previous talks, a continued lack of control over their actions, or seem oblivious to the true impact of their behavior.
Enlist A Professional
Once you’re sure it’s time for an intervention, your first step should be to contact an intervention specialist or other professional, such as a:
- Mental health counselor
- Social worker
- Addiction counselor
This person will help guide you through the difficult process, with advice on where to hold the intervention, who to invite, and how the event should play out.
Most intervention specialists will also sit through the actual intervention with you, in order to help facilitate conversation and be on hand should anything go wrong during or after the event.
Enlisting a professional isn’t always possible, but it’s highly advised, as the intervention process is typically very emotionally charged, and, unfortunately, has almost as much potential to backfire, making your loved one feel attacked or alienated.
Make A Plan
There are many different types of interventions, but most have the same three basic objectives:
- Providing your loved one with specific examples of their destructive behaviors or the unfortunate impact their addiction has had on themselves and others.
- Presenting your loved one with a plan for receiving treatment, whether it’s admission to a rehab facility, outpatient program, therapy sessions or other forms of help.
- Designating certain consequences your loved one will experience should he or she not follow through with seeking treatment.
To achieve these goals, you’ll have to carefully orchestrate the intervention.
After you contact the intervention specialist, they’ll likely help you create a planning group—a core of three or four of your loved one’s closest friends or family who can help gather the information needed for the above initiatives.
That group will then go on to form the intervention team—the larger group of friends and relatives who will be participating in the intervention.
Once the group is set, you’ll have to choose a time, date, and location for the intervention, help everyone figure out what they want to say and how they want to say it, and possibly even schedule a rehearsal.
The person in question should not know about any of this and will need a reason to meet up at the designated location.
Who Should Be There
Again, the exact size of your intervention team depends on many factors that your intervention specialist will help walk you through. (You want the process to be impactful but not overwhelming.)
Whatever the size of the team, it should include the people who mean the most to your loved one, such as their:
- Spouse or partner
- Siblings or other adult relatives
- Best friends
- Members of their congregation
Perhaps as important as who gets invited is who shouldn’t participate, including anyone the person doesn’t like or someone who doesn’t like them, or someone who may be at risk of sabotaging the intervention. Others with addiction struggles should also not be involved and it’s often advised to keep children out of the upsetting process.
Anyone who agrees to help should also be genuine about the effort and ready for the amount of serious work that goes into it. Participating in an intervention means setting aside time not just for the act itself, but possibly for a rehearsal, and the time to come up with thoughtful things to say to the person.
Preparing statements beforehand is key, as is keeping a unified front. The tone of voice these speeches take on, as well as the examples or information they cite, should be complementary across the group, so some coordination is necessary.
This is intended to help on several fronts: Emotions tend to run high at these events, which can lead to conversations quickly going off course. A pre-arranged script not only helps ensure the group gets across what they want to say, but allows them to say it with the calm, measured—and, if at all possible—positive tone that will be most likely to help.
If you’re working with an intervention specialist, they’ll further advise you on what types of things to say or not say to your loved one.
What Should Happen at the Intervention
Before the intervention even begins, it’s important to choose the right place for where it should happen.
The best types of locations for the job are non-public, neutral, and non-threatening. That is to say, at a place where the person can feel comfortable though not necessarily too comfortable.
Holding the intervention at home might allow the person certain “outs,” like the retreat to a bedroom or bathroom. Instead, think of places like your intervention specialists’ office, or possibly a private room at a church or community center. This might help keep the person on better behavior or make them think twice about walking out.
Once the location is chosen and the person arrives on the scene, the intervention specialist, or a designated facilitator, should step up to introduce themselves and explain what’s happening.
The group will then take turns reading their prepared statements, including any consequences they may have come up with. It’s recommended for the process to last somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes, in order to keep compassion or momentum from flagging.
The intervention should culminate with the group presenting its plan for help, whether that be enrolling the person in a rehab center, outpatient program, or further therapy. And it might be helpful to ask for an immediate response, in order to take the most advantage of the moment.
Still, your loved one’s response to intervention can take any number of turns—some better, or worse, than others.
What Might Happen at the Intervention
It’s quite possible that the response to the intervention will not be good, and you should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Once an intervention kicks off, it can be very hard to predict a person’s behavior. They might feel deceived, hurt, or angry and lash out in any number of ways. They might act out their feelings verbally or physically, and possibly even violently. They may start physical or verbal altercations and may even attempt to hurt themselves, during or after the event.
This is also why it’s especially recommended to go through the process with a professional. Most intervention specialists have the credentials to facilitate group therapy sessions but many also have additional training in dealing with mental health crises that may arise during or after interventions.
In terms of what non-professionals can do, a good strategy is to plan ahead on how to address any possible objections your loved one may raise. Physical back-up plans—like what to do if, for instance, the person walks out of the situation—are also important to have in mind.
You can also give yourself the best chance possible at making an impact by planning the intervention for a time and day when your loved one is less likely to be drinking and more likely to be relaxed and open-minded. Open body language, positive affirmations, and controlled tempers during the intervention are also useful.
Still, even if your loved one doesn’t lash out, he or she may still refuse your request to go to rehab. In these cases, it’s important to stick to the consequences you laid out during the intervention, such as taking away the person’s car, or making them move out, and following through on them to ensure your message is delivered, one way or another.
What Happens After An Intervention
Going through an intervention can be harrowing but it’s only half the work. Perhaps even more important than the intervention itself is what happens afterward.
The entire point, after all, is to help convince the person in question to seek help or treatment for their addiction issues. And follow-up is key in ensuring the plan goes through.
If the person enters a rehab center, continue to show them your love and support to help make the process as positive as possible. If he or she commits to therapy or an outpatient program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, you might want to check in to make sure they’re sticking to their word.
You may also have to prepare yourself for the long-haul. Recovery is a messy process that typically includes any number of starts, stops, and stall-outs. Even if your loved one agrees to, and even completes, a therapy program this time around, they’ll still need to commit to a number of lifestyle changes to stay on top of their sobriety and may even relapse down the line.
Overall, try to be as patient as you can with the person. Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how difficult it must be to first admit you have a problem you can’t control, then try to change it without having your reliable, albeit unhealthy, crutch, all on top of the stress that comes from making so many major life changes as well as stressors faced in everyday life.
Try to show them as much kindness and compassion as it took to organize the intervention in the first place. Maybe attend an AA meeting with them, or be there for them when they’re facing moments of doubt.
Still, it’s equally as important to keep your own mental health in mind through this process. If you’re not there for yourself, you can’t possibly be there for others, especially with the amount of time and energy this type of situation often demands.
Come into the situation prepared with your own personal boundaries and red lines and stick to them. Under no circumstances should you tolerate any physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from the person you’re trying to help.
This may be difficult to determine, especially if there were previously-established abusive dynamics in the relationship, but it’s important to stay strong for the sake of you and your loved one.
Groups like Al-Anon and Al-Teen offer further help, resources, and outreach for those who have an addict or alcoholic in their life. And if you want further information on rehab options, you can speak to a specialist by calling 800-839-1686Who Answers?.