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    Interventions: do they work?

    Interventions make us think of the proverb, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” An intervention can get your loved one into rehab, but it doesn’t affect the outcome of the treatment itself.

    Interventions are often a desperate attempt by family members to help a loved one struggling to overcome a chronic drug or alcohol addiction. The family does them on their own or with the help of a professional addiction care specialist who helps facilitate the process. Your loved one may agree to go to rehab after the intervention, but there is no guarantee it will lead to recovery. Sometimes the groups best intentions make things worse.

    What is an intervention?

    What is an intervention

    An intervention is a carefully staged process facilitated by family and friends to persuade a loved one to seek help for an addiction. Peer pressure is used to impress upon the person how their addiction affects each individual, encourage them to acknowledge they have a drug or alcohol problem, and implore them to seek treatment that they urgently need.

    Each member in the intervention group lists consequences for the person not accepting help and participating in an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment Program. These include cutting them off financially, kicking them out of the house, not allowing them to see their children, or filing for divorce.

    Once consequences have been given, each member must follow through with them; either if the person refuses to go to rehab or relapses shortly after receiving treatment. Someone with a chronic addiction that is coerced or forced to go to rehab has a higher chance of relapsing because they are mentally ready to commit to their sobriety. Knowing they will suffer dire consequences for continuing their drug or alcohol habits is sometimes a wake-up call.

    Interventions are usually emotionally charged and highly upsetting for family and friends, often because each person has reached a breaking point. It helps to involve a qualified interventionist who can guide the process and keep things from spiralling out of order.

    Types of interventions

    There are four different ways interventions are managed. Each one requires a planned approach with a clear goal in mind; to get the person the help they need for addiction and support them on their sobriety journey. Avoid spontaneous interventions; they don’t work and can harm already fractured relationships.

    One-on-one intervention

    This simple approach is often better than confronting your loved one in a large group. You can speak to your loved one on your own or recruit the help of a professional addiction care specialist who’ll guide you through the intervention process.

    Johnson intervention model

    This approach involves getting everyone in the person’s family and peer group together except the person with the addiction. A qualified addiction therapist uses the Johnson Intervention Model to counsel, educate, and guide peer group members, including family, friends, and colleagues.

    The goal of the Johnson Model is to help the group understand how addiction works, provide support to alleviate the strain of living with an addict and develop a strategy to confront and persuade the person to accept help for addiction treatment.

    Once a concrete plan has been developed, a traditional intervention can be held that includes the person with the addiction. This approach works best if the peer group acts as a united front and commit to doing what is required of them to get the person with an addiction the help they need.

    Crisis intervention

    Crisis intervention usually occurs when a person living with an addiction hits rock bottom. Either they are in trouble with the law, have overdosed, or their physical and mental health severely declines. Crisis interventions are often impromptu when the person is a danger to themselves.

    This type of intervention is challenging for family members and often spirals out of control with high emotions and accusations thrown at each other. The best approach is to involve a qualified interventionist from your local inpatient rehab centre to help manage the process.

    Family system intervention

    The family system intervention focuses on the family unit and how a loved one’s substance use disorder affects the mental health of other family members. The goal is to educate the family on the condition and provide tools to cope with dysfunctional behaviour.

    With the help of a qualified addiction therapist, family members are encouraged to reflect on their relationship with drugs or alcohol, whether they are enabling the person and the state of their mental health. It is a form of structured psychotherapy, with the goal being to reduce conflict and distress and improve family interactions.

    The outcome of a family intervention is to improve understanding of substance use disorder and determine future goals, treatment plans, medical detox and medication supervision, behavioural management and ways to improve communication within the family unit.

    Do interventions cause more harm than good?

    Interventions produce a mixed bag of results. In many instances, an intervention is just what your loved one needs to take the first step in their recovery journey. The situation is made worse in some cases. People who have been pulled into staged interventions later say they felt attacked, overwhelmed and targeted during the process.

    The risk is your loved one will respond with anger and storm out the meeting, go into hiding or avoid all contact with members in the peer group. This response can damage already strained relationships, put more stress on family and friends, and further endanger your loved one’s life.

    It’s well known that someone with substance use disorder must be fully committed to an addiction treatment Program to be a successful outcome. It’s estimated that between 40 to 60 percent of people relapse after spending time in rehab, which is higher among those who do not willingly commit to addiction treatment.

    Remember, substance use disorder is a chronic, relapsing condition that leads to a person compulsively seeking substances regardless of harmful consequences. It is a mental illness and complex brain disorder that cannot be fixed on demand.

    Family and friends need to manage their expectations, hope for the best and expect the worse. However, you should never give up trying to help your loved ones lead the life they deserve free of drugs or alcohol.

    How to hold a successful intervention

    How to hold a successful intervention

    You must approach a one-on-one or group intervention systematically. Avoid an impromptu gathering that is unstructured and disorganised. It’ll hijack the person with the addiction and make things worse.

    Involve a professional therapist

    Get help from a professional therapist with experience in interventions. You can enlist the services of a counsellor from a reputable addiction treatment centre, a social worker or your doctor.

    Determine who joins the group

    An intervention peer group is usually made up of close family members, friends and colleagues; people who love and care about the person and have their best interests at heart. Keep the peer group small, so your loved one is not overwhelmed. You should not include anyone who is enabling your loved one or struggling with substance abuse themselves.

    Plan when the intervention will take place

    Choose a day, time and location that suits everyone in the peer group. Meet before the intervention date to discuss how the process will work, what is expected of everyone, and the desired outcome. Everyone must be on the same page before the intervention takes place.

    Unless it is a crisis intervention, avoid organising an intervention when your loved one is stressed, strung out or emotionally volatile. Choose a day and time when they will be relaxed and more willing to cooperate.

    Gather evidence

    The peer group needs to provide concrete proof of the person’s substance abuse and destructive behaviour. If possible, gather evidence of drug paraphernalia found in the house or alcohol abuse and other signs that put the person at risk of going to jail or hospital if they don’t accept help.

    Educate the group

    Addiction is a complex brain disorder that causes permanent changes to brain chemistry and function. Your loved one may have drug or alcohol dependency, not necessarily a substance use disorder. You must gather information to help peer group members better understand the science of addiction and what treatment plan is required for their individual needs.

    Prepare impact statements

    Impact statements read out by each member must be carefully constructed, short, and to the point. Impact statements are personal statement that tells the person how their addiction is affecting them and what boundaries they will set to protect themselves from future hurt, financial ruin or emotional or physical abuse. Impact statements should be prepared out of a position of love, support and care and should not blame or attack the person.

    Confirm boundaries

    Each peer group member must spell out the consequences if the person does not agree to go to a rehab facility or commit to making changes. Write down your boundaries, so they are set in stone because it is vital that you follow through with them and not issue empty threats.

    Decide who will help

    Your loved one will need help with transport to an outpatient facility or to take care of their work and home responsibilities if they agree to go to an inpatient addiction treatment facility. Have a clear plan for who will step in to take over various responsibilities.

    Have a clear goal in mind

    After you have researched the type of treatment your loved one needs and the best place to receive it, formulate a plan to ensure that they can get the help they need if they agree to go to rehab. Many reputable inpatient facilities have a waiting list, and you also need to get pre-approval from your medical insurance company. You need to strike while the iron is hot if your loved one agrees to go straight to a treatment centre. If they have to wait for plans to be put in place, they may change their mind.

    Monitor progress

    If your loved one agrees to accept the help offered to overcome an addiction, follow up on their progress with the psychologist or counsellor at the treatment centre. If they refuse to attend a treatment Program, make sure everyone in the peer group follows through with the consequences outlined in their impact statement. Failure to do so will leave your loved one thinking they have outsmarted the group.

    The Do’s and Dont’s of effective interventions


    • Keep calm
    • Carefully plan the intervention process
    • Involve a qualified intervention therapist
    • Nominate someone to lead the group
    • Keep the group small, only close family, friends or co-workers
    • Have a pre-intervention meeting with the peer group
    • Keep impact statements short and to the point
    • Speak out of love, concern and care
    • Be specific about what harm has been caused
    • Function as a united front
    • Be clear about your boundaries
    • Set a clear objective
    • Follow through with your consequences

    DO NOT

    • Go in unprepared
    • Shout or raise your voice in anger
    • Shame or guilt the person
    • Call them names
    • Point fingers or personally attack them
    • Let everyone talk at once, talk over each other
    • Ramble and go off script, stick to your impact statement
    • Speak in vague terms, be specific
    • Only point out their failures
    • Choose a time when your loved one is unapproachable, high or drunk
    • Enable your loved one or cover for them
    • Accept their excuses, allow yourself to be manipulated
    • Give them more money
    • Allow them to threaten you physically or emotionally
    • Feel guilty for putting them through an intervention
    • Give up after the first try

    We’re here to help.

    Contact us today if you’d like a confidential and free chat with one of our qualified mental health and addiction care professionals at White River Manor in South Africa.