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Things Not to Do During an Intervention for a Drug Addict or an Alcoholic

You’ve decided to stage an intervention to coerce your addicted or alcoholic loved one into receiving treatment. Hopefully, you’ve consulted our Intervention Guide, or you’ve talked with a professional interventionist like Bill Lee, part of the Cornerstone team.

Regardless, you’re determined to move forward, because your loved one’s addiction and/or alcoholism isn’t calling a time out or slowing down, and it’s only a matter of time before already serious consequences grow to catastrophic ones. Before you get started, however, there are some things to keep in mind, tips that you’ll want to pay attention to so that the intervention process isn’t derailed before it even begins.

  • Don’t choose family members, friends or loved ones who are overly emotional. An initial intervention is designed to secure a simple “yes” or “no” from the addict or alcoholic, using individuals who have an emotional connection to them. However, addiction and alcoholism often drive those afflicted to harm the ones they love, and that harm comes with certain emotional consequences. Those who have suffered at the hands of the addict or alcoholic may feel extreme anger, frustration or even rage, and if those emotions are expressed during the intervention process, things can get messy, complicated and ultimately unproductive.
  • Don’t stage an intervention when the focus of it is likely to be intoxicated. You’ll want to schedule an intervention when he or she is sober — or as close to sober as possible. They’ll react  more calmly and rationally, register everything that’s being said and be able to unequivocally answer “yes” or “no.” Holding interventions in the morning is a recommended time, or immediately after a drug-related incident such as an arrest or hospital stay, when they’re likely to be influenced by the consequences of their actions.
  • Don’t hold an intervention at home. It’s too easy for the subject to retreat to a bedroom or bathroom and end the conversation, and private places tend to become more emotionally charged than public settings. A restaurant is a good place to hold such a meeting, because everyone involved will comport themselves accordingly, and there’s a time limit on how long the intervention can drag itself out.
  • Don’t go into an intervention without some sort of plan. Who is leading the intervention? In what order will the assembled individuals speak? It’s a delicate situation, and if it’s approached without forethought, the results may well present in the same manner — haphazard.
  • Don’t speak extemporaneously. Successful interventions are scripted affairs, so the more each speaker plans what he or she will say beforehand, the more effective it will be. Ad-libbing can often bring about unintended consequences when speakers are swept up in the emotions of the moment, and when tensions arise, they can undo all of the careful planning that’s gone into the intervention.
  • Don’t use your allotted time to impose guilt. Believe this: No one feels worse about their actions, decisions and choices than the addict or alcoholic. To berate or belittle them isn’t the point of the intervention; the goal is to get them to agree to seek treatment. You can certainly talk about how their decisions and actions make you feel, but don’t use your own emotions as a cudgel to beat them into submission.
  • Don’t talk in generalities. The more specific you are about how your loved one’s addiction or alcoholism has affected you, the better. Don’t talk about all of the nights they came home late and drunk; talk about one night that had a significant impact, that was horrifying or devastating to witness, and then recount all of the details. Those specifics will have much more of an emotional impact that anything else.
  • Don’t negotiate. The only response you want from the addict or alcoholic is a “yes” or a “no.” If you agree to give them another week, or money, or anything else, then you’ve already shown that you’re willing to bargain, and in typical addict fashion, they’ll use that to their advantage. Remember: They’re in the grips of a cunning, baffling illness, one that has convinced them they’re not sick, and the disease will do whatever it can to convince them to avoid treatment as long as possible.
  • Don’t panic if things don’t go according to plan. They seldom do; addicts and alcoholics often react in unpredictable ways when forced to confront the realities of their drinking and using. They may leave the room, provoke an argument, breaking down sobbing or lash out in ways that seem purposefully hurtful. Remain flexible and be prepared for anything, knowing that there are a number of reactions you won’t be able to predict no matter how hard you try. Stay on task, however: getting that “yes” or “no.”
  • Don’t give up hope. If the answer is a “no,” you need to be prepared to move into the next stage of the intervention process. Our trained intervention specialist, Bill Lee, specializes in arranging for more formal and steadfast interventions, and he can help you take this process to the next level.

Because it is a process. The best outcome, of course, is an immediate “yes,” and that does happen. But even with a “no,” that doesn’t mean the process is a failure; it just means you keep going — because your addicted loved one is worth it, but more important, you’re worth it. Your sanity and your serenity have been jeopardized for far too long, and with the right methods and a substance abuse treatment center as the final destination for the addict or alcoholic in your life, you can get them back.