Alcohol Intervention

Alcohol Intervention


Here are a number of useful alcohol intervention tips if you are attempting to convince someone to get help for their problem.

There are basically two types of interventions–formal and informal–and we are only concerned with the formal type here. Informal interventions are basically just conversations–short, unplanned confrontations with the alcoholic to try to get them to stop drinking or using. If you are considering a formal intervention, then you have already tried and exhausted a series of informal interventions at this point.

This is not something that should be rushed into, as there is a chance that the net outcome of an intervention could actually make matters worse. Therefore, we will start by examining the question:

Should we do an Alcohol Intervention?

A formal intervention should not be the first reaction from a concerned family. A series of informal interventions–simple confrontational conversations–should have been tried up to this point. The formal intervention should only be considered when other efforts have failed, or when the person’s life seems to be spinning hopelessly out of control. The addict in question should have suffered a number of different consequences from their addiction already, yet remain stuck in denial. This is an appropriate candidate for a formal intervention. If someone is simply suspected of addiction or alcoholism, but hasn’t suffered any real consequences or demonstrated their addictive capacities, then that is a poor candidate for an alcoholic intervention.

This is going to boil down to a personal choice, or a gut level feeling with the people who are closest with the alcoholic or addict in question. Chances are good that family relations are already strained because of this persons addiction, so understand that any attempt at a formal intervention could ultimately fail and result in even more tension and resentment than before. Things could get worse, not better. The intervention is a calculated risk. We are going to make every effort possible to maintain the peace during the intervention, but the risk of resentment is still there. Therefore, the decision to organize and perform a formal intervention should not be taken lightly. If you are not willing to risk further agitation with someone, you might be better off trying more informal conversations with them first. You can always encourage various friends or family members to do so without organizing a formal intervention. It is only when all of that has failed, over and over again, and the addiction continues to get worse and worse, that a formal intervention should be organized.

Do we need professional help for the intervention?

There are professional intervention services and agencies that you can hire to help you with this process. They often have an individual–usually a counselor in recovery themselves–who can come and help conduct the intervention with you. This intervention specialist also helps by speaking to everyone who will be at the intervention, and instructs them on how best to communicate with the addict/alcoholic in order to convince them to comply. If you can afford such professional services, then this might be a good option for you. Keep in mind that those services are not cheap, and the outcome is far from guaranteed. A formal intervention is a step towards recovery, but having a paid professional does not ensure success. The determining factor is going to be the addict’s ability to break through their denial, and their willingness to try to change. Professional interventionists don’t have any magic tricks up their sleeve–all they can do is teach you how to communicate with the addict in a loving and supportive way. The remainder of this article is meant to serve as a substitute for those professional services, and hopefully you can use the information here to organize an effective alcohol intervention by yourself.

Planning the intervention

Drug Intervention
Photo by madmonk

Do not feel overwhelmed at the idea of planning an intervention. You are going to reach out to someone and try to make a difference in a loving and supportive way. As long as you are genuinely concerned, the following principles and ideas should be sufficient to guide you.

Basically, you are going to get organized and do some thinking about what the best approach will be. You are going to decide on a handful of close people to have at the intervention, and we are going to decide how they should best approach the situation. You are then going to set a time and a place to do the intervention and provide some brief coaching to the participants beforehand. Then you will do the intervention and hope for the best. You are going to try to reach out in a loving and caring way. The idea is not to force a change, because that is impossible. Forcing someone to do anything will only push them away from you. This is the best we can do….to intervene in hopes for a change.

Who to Involve

At one point in time, popular opinion held that you should get anyone and everyone associated with the person involved in the intervention. This would have included any friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and so on. More recent studies are showing greater success with a more limited selection of people–maybe about six to ten individuals. Obviously, the people selected to be at the event should be close to the alcoholic, and they should be able to describe how that person’s drinking or drug use has affected them. Don’t involve kids. If the person has drinking or using buddies, those are going to be poor choices as well. Many times the alcoholic will be in a relationship with someone who is also addicted–again, this makes a poor choice, even though they might be really close with their partner.

Here is another idea, but this one must be handled extremely carefully: Get the employer involved, if there is one. This can be very effective if it is done properly, but there can be a lot of problems with it. You don’t want to go to their employer and get them fired before you even get a chance to do the intervention. But most employers will be understanding and helpful if you approach them properly, and ask for their cooperation in sending the person to treatment. Ask their boss if they would be willing to give them leave to go get help, and guarantee their job when they come back. If the alcoholic has any sort of personal relationship with their boss, you may even want to have the boss present at the intervention–this can be extremely effective.

When and Where to do it

Drug Intervention
Photo by *clarity*

A successful alcoholic intervention requires proper balance. On the one hand, you want to be loving and supportive and reach out and offer help without antagonizing or threatening the alcoholic. On the other hand, a bit of leverage can be useful in convincing the person to agree to treatment. When and where you do the intervention can play a big part in determining the outcome.

Think about your history with this individual and their pattern of drug or alcohol use to determine if there are any obvious opportunities for interventions. If they are a binge drinker, you might be able to stage the intervention so that it follows a day or two after the binge ends, before they have a chance to start again, and also when they are most able to listen to your arguments. Obviously, staging an intervention when someone has been using or drinking is not going to be very effective. You have to plan it out so that the person is relatively sober and at least somewhat receptive to what you’re saying. For some people, this might be after a night spent in jail for a drunk driving offense, or perhaps after losing their job or some other catastrophic event occurs. Doing the intervention after one of these events will take some patience, but it might make it that much more effective. You can still organize the intervention and alert the people involved to be ready for when you think the time is right. Timing can be everything. It’s all about when you think the person might be most receptive to listening and making the change.

Where you do the intervention might be equally important. There is potential to do something sneaky here and put the alcoholic in a corner–manipulating them into a situation where they are forced to listen to you. This is probably not a good idea. If the person feels threatened and manipulated, they are likely to shut down and things will just get worse. Try to find some neutral ground–a setting that is comfortable for everyone without being too threatening to the alcoholic.

Remember that it is very scary for an alcoholic to walk into an intervention. If the situation is too overwhelming for them, they will just shut down and refuse to cooperate. You are seeking a balance here. The idea is to be loving and supportive and yet still try to elicit compliance. If you are too overbearing or try to manipulate them too much, things will turn out badly and the intervention may actually be counterproductive.

If you choose to involve the employer, here is another idea that has shown some success recently: have the employer tip them off a few days in advance. Have the boss say something like “I need to meet with you on Friday after work for a quick meeting. It’s about your…..drug problem. Don’t worry, you’re not being fired. I just need to talk some things over with.” This way, the person is expecting a confrontation and won’t feel completely ambushed. This has been shown to have better results than catching the person completely off guard with the usual “surprise” intervention.

Specifying the Goal of the alcohol intervention

Those who organize interventions recommend that you come up with a goal ahead of time. You need to have a very specific and realistic goal for the intervention or it is likely to fail. It is not enough to get everyone together and simply express concern for someone’s drinking or drug problem. Having a specific goal is important. “We want you to stop drinking or using drugs” is not a realistic goal. While this is ultimately the desired outcome, it is not specific enough to be actionable. You need to have a very specific action that you want the person to take. The most popular example of this is to have them agree to go to a treatment center. Ideally, admission to an inpatient treatment center should be the goal of most interventions, because the controlled environment guarantees at least some period of sobriety, which then gives the person a fighting chance at staying clean and working a program of recovery. Anything other than inpatient treatment as an intervention goal runs the obvious risk that the person will simply continue using drugs or alcohol.

Unfortunately, most drug and alcohol treatment centers do not take clients on a walk-in basis. Part of your planning process will be to locate a treatment center and contact them well in advance of the intervention (at least two weeks prior). If you can set the person up for admission at a later date, then the intervention can be scheduled around that, so they can go directly to treatment if they agree to do so. This is the most ideal situation and best possible outcome for an alcohol intervention: for the person to agree to go directly to inpatient treatment, and having the ability to do so immediately.

Remember to emphasize that the goal is for the person to get help….the emphasis should not be on abstinence. Telling someone that they have to stop using drugs and alcohol forever is likely to just shut them down, and they will likely be more defensive. Get them to agree to treatment, where the emphasis will eventually be on abstinence anyway. Don’t put them off by overwhelming them with what sounds like a death sentence to a using drug addict or alcoholic.

Overcoming Objections

Drug Intervention
Photo by barto

The overall strategy that should guide the intervention is a loving and caring concern for the person involved. However, you are attempting to coerce this person into doing something that is going to be a bit scary for most people. To agree to suddenly stop using their drug of choice and enter a treatment facility is a really big deal for most addicts and alcoholics. They are going to have objections, and you need to know how to handle these objections. The best way to do that is to anticipate those objections and figure out a suitable answer in advance. For example, you might anticipate that the person will say that they cannot possibly go to inpatient treatment because they would miss to much work. You could either work something out in advance with the employer, or you could point out that the person isn’t going to be able to keep the job much longer anyway due to their drug use. For every potential objection they might have, you need to either work something out for it in advance, or have a reasonable and logical argument prepared to deal with it.

Setting Boundaries and Consequences

An intervention is a formal opportunity for communication to occur. One of the goals of the intervention should be for you and the others involved in the intervention to set some boundaries. These boundaries should include what behavior is unacceptable to them. For example, you might say “It is completely unacceptable that you continue to drink and drive on a regular basis.” This can then be followed up with the consequences that you will enforce if the behavior continues. “If you continue to drink and drive, I will call the police when I see it, and I will not bail you out of jail if you get arrested.” Or, you might say “I can no longer accept that you are using drugs more and more frequently these days….if you refuse to go to treatment, then you’ll be kicked out of the house.” The consequences you set should be specific and enforceable. Do not set consequences that you do not intend to follow through with.

To recap: If you are serious about planning an intervention, then here is what you need to do:

1. Decide whether or not to do the intervention
2. See if you want professional help and whether or not you can afford it
3. Decide who to have at the intervention and where to do it at
4. Specify the goal of the intervention and schedule at a treatment center if possible
5. Anticipate objections and rehearse overcoming them
6. Define your boundaries of acceptable behavior and determine consequences if they don’t comply

The final preparation will be a coaching session with all of the people who will be involved with the intervention. This will help everyone to be on the same page, and also to know a little bit more about what to expect during the intervention.

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