Deciding On An Intervention

One of the hallmarks of alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction is that individuals with AUD often do not recognize that they have a problem with alcohol. This is usually referred to as denial.

Most who struggle with a substance use disorder find other avenues to place blame or provide excuses as to why they have behaved the way they have for so long. They will often refute the idea of needing treatment for their alcohol use and try to place blame on the individual attempting to help. This can make the process of encouraging a loved one to seek help a difficult task, often resulting in unwanted conflict in the relationship and increased frequency of unwanted behaviors.

In most cases, multiple attempts at helping the individual seek help are made. However, when these attempts are unsuccessful, it often leaves the loved ones in a difficult position. In these situations, many turn to professional guidance for assisting in the process of getting their loved one into treatment; this is called an intervention.

The Intervention Process

A commonly asked question is, “At what point should we have an intervention?” This is a difficult question to answer as each person is unique, however, the answer is usually as soon as possible.

An intervention is a preplanned strategy to assist with motivating an individual to make a change in their behavior. When led by a behavioral health professional,  often a licensed therapist or addiction counselor, it will include people who are close to the individual and have been provided with strategies to best share their concerns. These strategies often include specific language to use with intention to reduce the defensiveness of the individual during the intervention process. To help make the process more streamlined and approachable, basic intervention systems have been developed.

The Johnson Intervention Model

The Johnson Model of intervention is perhaps one of the most utilized and researched models, with proven effectiveness in assisting those struggling with addiction to enter treatment. The Johnson model primarily involves utilizing an identified behavioral health professional and people close within the individual’s social network that are optimal choices to share their concerns about the individual’s substance use.

Those who are chosen to take part in the intervention will usually complete a counseling session with the professional to explore concepts around dangerous enabling behaviors, rehearse soft language and communication skills, as well as refine the goal of the intervention. Once everyone within the group is ready to move forward, the intervention is delivered.

This model breaks down the intervention process into seven core elements.

Create A Team

One of the most important elements of staging an intervention is assessing who will be the best to help the individual see how their behaviors have harmed others. This may require creating a list of important people who are close to the individual. Family members, romantic partners, business partners, and close friends are commonly involved and invested in the individual’s well-being. It is important to remember this is for the individual’s benefit and no one else’s, so no separate agendas are to be utilized during the intervention process.

This is also the time to identify a qualified professional who can help lead the intervention and provide clinical support for the team. It is best to pick a professional who has experience performing interventions and knowledge of the abused substance. It is also helpful if they have connections to treatment programs to make the transition process smoother.

More support at the start of the process will have more impact for everyone involved, including the individual who is the center of the intervention.

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Make A Plan

This important step is the backbone of the intervention. Making a plan includes determining the best date, time, and location for having the intervention while the individual is not intoxicated.

It also includes who will be in attendance as well as what exactly will be said by everyone. This process allows the professionals to assist in guiding appropriate language, wording, and body language for everyone in a way that promotes the feeling of concern versus judgment.

This is a good opportunity to review potential excuses or answers the individual receiving the intervention may make and develop thought-out solutions to minimize the chance of the intervention not being successful. It is also helpful to have a few different treatment options identified and immediately available.

Set The Focus

The focus of the intervention is key to ensuring the individual understands that the primary concerns being expressed are based on love and acceptance versus anger or judgment.

If individual agendas or feelings of resentment arise, the intervention will often not result in success. Everyone invited to attend the intervention must have the intention to promote a space of safety to explore emotions and eventually motivate the individual to seek treatment.

Set The Limit To Addiction Only

It can be tempting to drag up old history and feelings during an intervention, as emotions are heavily connected to memories we hold. However, the purpose of an intervention is to strictly discuss issues surrounding the substance use. That means that everything discussed is kept strictly to substance use and addiction-related behaviors.

Past recollections must directly involve the substance used to be brought up, otherwise the conversation can become muddled and increase the potential for external blame and excuses. The professional will be able to assist in connecting the dots of behaviors to substance use and will encourage members of the family to share their experiences with the substance use behaviors that results in harm to them.

Provide Proof

To reduce the risk of excuse-making, external blaming, or minimization of these events, everyone who attends the intervention is encouraged to write a letter detailing their thoughts and emotions or recalling a specific hurtful event caused by the individual’s AUD.

The individual will be encouraged by the professional to witness how these events have caused harm in their loved one’s lives. The more evidence of the harmful behaviors and experiences, the more opportunity for the individual to recall the events themselves. This format also helps each member of the intervention use language that is consistent with wanting to help.

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Set A Goal

After everyone has an opportunity to share their letters and feelings, the entire group will provide the goal of the intervention. The goal is simply to have the individual enter a form of treatment that has been previously decided at the planning stage. The level of treatment should depend on the individual’s needs and can better be assessed by the professional throughout the intervention process.

How the goal is presented can play a role in how it is perceived. Presenting treatment as an option is usually more effective than presenting it as a punishment that must be completed.

It is important to remember that this process does not always go smoothly, and there is potential for the individual to still say no to treatment. Not all interventions work and sometimes people are simply not ready to enter treatment. This is often the point that requires each member to identify their boundary or the limits they need to impose to feel safe. Boundaries consist of the line an individual may not cross and a consequence for crossing the line.

Regardless of the boundaries and consequences that are set, the most important part is to follow through. Setting boundaries that are not followed through does not help encourage safe behavior and, unfortunately, may teach the individual that there is no “real risk” for their behaviors.

Boundaries may feel like ultimatums, and in some sense, they will feel that way to the individual. The difference is that boundaries are designed to keep people safe from harm and allow the individual a choice in this process as opposed to ultimatums which are designed to force others to make certain actions.

The intention of these boundaries is quite important and should be discussed and developed during the planning stage. It can be helpful to consult with the professional during this process as well to ensure the way it is stated comes from a place of concern versus anger.

Provide Treatment Options

This is the time to share that there are different treatment options available, and that everyone in the room would like the individual to pick the option they feel would be best.

Traditionally, having at least three options is considered optimal for selection, though making sure to not include too many options is also important to not overwhelm the individual. If they decide on a program, it is best to have them go to treatment as soon as possible to prevent a change of heart or return to alcohol use before entering treatment.

Many interventionists will personally bring the individual to treatment regardless of location. This might mean purchasing flights or planning travel in advance for the individual and the professional. It can be helpful, if possible, to have a bag already packed for the individual so the process can start immediately.

Finding Help

It can feel overwhelming to start the process of an intervention, especially when there is concern about how the individual may react. These feelings are valid and clearly reflect love for the person and concern for their wellbeing. It is also that sense of love that acknowledges that doing nothing will often lead to an even greater risk of danger.

For more information regarding available treatment options, contact a treatment provider today.