Intervention Help Getting A Loved One Into An Alcoholism or Drug Addiction Treatment Program

For those caught up in the grips of addiction, the disease is akin to being in a plummeting elevator, with every second spent in that downward trajectory growing more desperate and miserable.

Conventional thinking has led many people to believe that such a plunge can’t be interrupted until the elevator hits a bottom, but for those of us in the substance abuse treatment field, we know differently. There is a process by which the elevator can be stopped and the addict can exit before that final devastating crash, either of their own volition or through the assistance of family members and loved ones. It’s called an intervention, and at Cornerstone of Recovery, we’re intimately familiar with that process.

Bill Lee, the assistant director of our Recovery Renewal and Young Adult programs, had helped redirect addicts, alcoholics and their families from their paths of destruction for almost 20 years. As one of numerous Cornerstone staff members in recovery, he brings a combination of real world knowledge, academic training and vocational experience to the intervention process, and he’s often the first person family members and loved ones reach out to when they want to persuade an addicted loved one to enter an addiction treatment program.

“We intervene because addicts don’t just wake up and want help,” Bill says. “Most of the time, their motivations for treatment come when the consequences of their addiction are greater than they’re willing to face, or when they’re shown the emotional damage their addiction is causing to those they care about.”

Often, addicts and alcoholics are so consumed by their illnesses that they don’t grasp the full measure of the havoc they’re causing in their own lives, much less the lives of those around them. The goal of an intervention is to assist the family and/or friends to establish that awareness; but it needs to be done in a way that is loving, caring and works toward a desired outcome for the addict and the family: an agreement by the addict to enter a rehab program immediately, and for the family to learn how to assist the recovery process rather than simply blame and coerce.


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During an initial phone call, Bill gathers information from the concerned caller about the addict’s personal situation and substance use; usually an invitation is then extended for the caller and at least one other family member or loved one to sit down with Bill to discuss intervention options. That first step brings some level of relief almost immediately: “For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve sat down and talked openly about the person they’re concerned about,” he says.

The next step in the process is for those two initial individuals to gather other family members or loved ones – a group of four to five – and meet the addict in a public place. (Bill suggests a restaurant because interventions tend to get emotional, but all parties tend to conform to social niceties in public, which prevents tempers from flaring and scenes from being made.) The addict is given an opportunity to decide then and there whether they want addiction treatment; if the answer is yes, then the goal is to depart immediately, arrangements having already been made beforehand to secure a bed at Cornerstone of Recovery or another facility.

Many times, however, the addict refuses. That’s when a more formal intervention is arranged, one that Bill attends and one that includes more people. It’s a scripted and structured empowering process for those individuals to express the emotions they’ve often bottled up and hidden away, because only on an emotional level will a connection be made.

“The language they use is important, and a formal intervention is designed to create a lot of emotion,” Bill says. “We don’t talk about what’s going to happen; we want to talk about what has happened. We want them to describe specific times the addict’s behavior or actions have affected them and how it made them feel emotionally.”

The formal intervention is over when the addict agrees to treatment – which usually happens about 80 percent of the time, Bill estimates. For those who still refuse, loved ones will verbalize pre-determined boundaries. If after all the boundaries have been verbalized and the addict continues to refuse, then the addict will be asked to tell the assembled group: “My drugs are more important than you are.” Such a powerful statement resonates, and in Bill’s experience, even those who say it are likely to call later – sometimes in an hour, sometimes the next day – with a change of heart, especially when loved ones implement their boundaries after the intervention has been adjourned.

“An intervention changes the dynamic of how these people relate to their addicted loved one,” Bill says. “After it’s over, it’s important for family members to get help as well, either through Al-Anon or one of Cornerstone of Recovery’s family support groups.”

Because, he points out, addiction is a disease that sickens more than just the addict. An intervention can be the first step on a journey of healing that results in long-term sobriety for the afflicted, and a rebuilding of trust and love between those individuals and their loved ones. For more information on interventions, download the Cornerstone of Recovery Intervention Guide on this page, or call Bill Lee.