Do Brief Interventions Make a Difference with an Addict or Alcoholic in...

Do Brief Interventions Make a Difference with an Addict or Alcoholic in Getting them to Attend Rehab?


Someone asked me the other day if brief interventions make a difference or not in getting the addict or alcoholic to attend a drug rehab.

This led to quite a discussion between the two of us because we ended up exploring a few different ideas:

1) One brief intervention is not going to change the world.  We are talking about an informal intervention here, not a formal one.  So if you are a mother and your son is slowly killing himself with drug addiction, and you confront him after school one day and the two of you have a big huge discussion about it, that is what I would consider to be a “brief intervention.”  It is also informal.

So just one of these is probably not going to make a difference, or cause the person to pack their bags and head off to rehab.  But, that does not mean they are without value, or that you should never attempt them, as we will see in a minute.

2) Formal interventions are not much better.  They actually have about the same impact as an informal intervention in terms of how much they could actually motivate someone to change.  Sometimes we can fool ourselves a bit into thinking that a formal intervention really worked well, because in some cases, the addict or alcoholic was already very near the point of surrender.  So it appeared to work.  But this is a fallacy, anything would have worked, the person was finally ready.  If they are stuck in denial, guess what?  The formal intervention changes nothing (at least nothing immediate).

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3) So it seems like we are saying here that both formal and informal interventions do not have any power to convince someone to attend treatment.  This is true.  They don’t, for the most part.  When they seem to work, it is a stroke of luck and good timing and is NOT due to the intervention process.

So do interventions still have value?  Should they ever be pursued?

Surprisingly, the answer is “yes.”  They do still have value, even though they do not actually “work” in the sense that we want them too.  They don’t actually convince people to take action.

So what is the point of them?

There are still a few benefits to doing any sort of intervention, both formal and informal:

1) You are letting the addict or alcoholic know that you care.  At first they will be defensive and pissed off that you confronted them, probably.  But later on they will realize that you would not have done any sort of intervention if you did not care at all.  But you did it, so you must care.  This will sink in eventually.  It will take time though.

2) You are letting the addict or alcoholic know that there is a solution.  You are saying “go to rehab.  Get help.”  Whether they choose to go or not is up to them, and you cannot control it.  But you can at least make the offer known, and this may be important down the road, when they become ready.

They may not be willing to attend treatment just yet.  Maybe they are not quite ready to surrender.  Or maybe they are years away from surrender.  But if they ever get to that point, they can think back, and remember that you offered them a solution at one time.  A way out.  And so the intervention that you do today that “fails” may actually be part of what is necessary to get them the help they need one day.  It may still play a part in getting them to rehab at some point.

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