Intervention: What to do--What not to do.
Updated: Sep 4, 2020
By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS and Sean C. Orr, M.D.
August 31, 2020
In his best selling book, I’ll Quit Tomorrow, the late Dr. Vernon Johnson wrote that the hallmark of addictive disease is denial, which from a clinical perspective is not the same as lying. To avoid the internal dissonance between their values and behavior most addicted persons assert that their problems are caused by others, bad luck or circumstances beyond their control. They can be very convincing. As a result of failing to make the connection between their substance abuse and harmful behavior, an intervention is necessary.
Intervention is: Telling the truth, in a way it can be heard
Johnson defined intervention as: “Telling the truth—in a way it can be heard.” Shouting and empty threats may be grounded in truth but generally are counterproductive. For example, a frustrated wife meets her inebriated husband at the door at 2 a.m. and gives him a piece of her mind, to which he replies, “No wonder I stay out and drink. Every time I come home you start screaming at me.”
What is an intervention?
Intervention is a process in which concerned family, friends and sometimes an employer or clergy convene under the direction of an addiction specialist who is trained to educate the participants and facilitate the process of intervention. We say process because intervention is not an event like on TV. It is developing and strategy and tactical plan to get an addicted person to agree to go to a treatment program--not to agree that they have a problem--that is the job of the treatment team at the treatment center. Planning is the key. Accept that It may take several weeks to find an intervention specialist, recruit, select and educate the participants, and develop a strategy and taking points, and if needed, to rehearse the actual face to face meeting. Waiting for a good intervention is better that doing a bad one in a hurry.
Why are interventions hard?
Deciding to intervene is a difficult decision. Anticipating the fear, antagonism, conflict, and emotional drama of an intervention can bring up all sorts of emotions. Remember that the life of a loved one is at stake. It takes courage to stand up and tell the difficult truth to a loved one who lash out at you and blame you for their problems. Anger, guilt, blame are all defenses designed to back you down and give in, give them anther chance, etc. The addiction expert handling the intervention is paid to help everyone stay on point, on message and lovingly tell the painful truth to an addicted person. Its like throwing a life preserver to a drowning person who angrily tells you that they are not drowning and to leave them alone. Remember we all have a powerful system in our brain known as the fight-or-flight system that is part of the human survival drive, that has been usurped by addiction, so much so, that the thought of being without their drugs or alcohol feels overly threatening. So keep the bigger picture in mind. You are doing this out of love and to save someone's life. Having a professional educate and walk beside you through the process will help you stay focused and on task.
Dos and Don'ts
Here are some things to do- and not to do, during the intervention process
✅ Don’t wait for a loved one to hit bottom, because the bottom he may hit may be jail, or serious injury to self, others or death.
✅ Do decide how much longer you are willing to live with the pain, fear and frustration caused by addictive disease, because that is exactly how long it will continue.
✅ Do stay focused on the goal. If you are ambivalent about proceeding, ask yourself: “Of all the time, energy, anger and tears I have invested in trying to control this, what has been successful?” If the answer is “nothing,” you are in good company. Anger, tears and empty threats have never cured one single disease. If all your efforts to help your loved one have failed—and made you miserable in the process, then letting go and getting help couldn’t be any worse. And your time is better spent on those people for whom you can make a difference.
✅ Don’t enable the problem by continuing to minimize. your pain or making excuses and “covering up” for the substance abuser any longer. When a person has to face the consequences of her actions directly, she is more interested in seeking help.
✅ Don’t go it alone. Ask for help. Let trusted friends, family or clergy in on the secret. Tell them you want their help in doing an intervention.
✅ Do spend your time in the solution, not the problem. Focus on the step directly in front of you—not a cure for addiction.
✅ Don’t go it alone. Ask for help. Let trusted friends, family or clergy know the Hell you are going through. Tell them you want their help and support in helping your loved through intervention.
✅ Do contact an addiction professional and ask for help. The very best ones will spend at least 30 minutes on a phone call or Zoom meeting to listen, explain the process and the goal and discuss next steps. You can contact us at The Neurogenesis Project for our help or for a referral.
✅ Don’t ever bluff. Be willing to follow through on any demands or conditions you impose. Be sure to communicate these conditions clearly and calmly. In this sense its not about what they will or will not do. It is you telling them, in no uncertain terms, what you are going to do--and not do. You are simply offering them a choice.
✅ Do use descriptive, non judgmental language when talking about how your loved one's addiction has impacted your life. In other words, use "Facts and Feelings". For example: "Last Thanksgiving you smelled of alcohol and marijuana when you cane in the house. You were loud and rude to my sister and called her 'bitch' in front of my parents and our children. I felt so humiliated, hurt and angry."
✅ Don’t expect a miracle. The purpose of an intervention is to force someone to get help. The person does not have to like it or thank you for it. As soon as he agrees to the recommendations, the intervention is over. Do not expect him to be happy.
✅ Do attend support groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Parents Anonymous or other support groups. Many local churches and synagogues welcome 12 Step Recovery meetings in their buildings and some offer faith based programs.. These groups offer excellent support for family and friends of substance abusers. Find one you like.
Lastly, keep in mind that no one chooses to become addicted and enslaved to a substance. The lifetime prevalence of addictive disease is just over 15%. It is an equal opportunity disease. It does not respect ethnicity, gender, age, income or zip code. Although the specific cause of addictive disease is unknown, neuroscience is showing us how the brain of an addicted person "neuroadapts" and is different from the brain's of non-addicted persons. In addition, exciting new advances in diagnosis and treatment are emerging that will both expedite and improve the outcome for those suffering from thus dreadful disease.
Personalized Behavior Management
In previous posts, we've discussed how Reward Deficiency Syndrome, Depression, and Addiction share genetic and environmental factors that interact with one another to degrade the quality of life which we believe is based on healthy relationships and optimal physical and cognitive function. Fortunately, an emerging model of treatment utilizing genetic testing, brain scans and mapping, Forgiveness provides real hope for the rescue and recovery of people suffering from these addictive disease and and all the drama that come along with it.. Remember forgivingness is not the same thing as Trust. Our approach is personalized to the needs of the individual with the disease and the family and friends who have been affected in order to bring about personal, physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual transformation
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