Interventions Due to Substance Abuse
However, the term intervention is most associated with confronting a person who is struggling with addiction and convincing them to seek help to overcome this dangerous health condition. In this sense, an intervention should be an educational process, expressing how a loved one’s addiction has changed their behaviors in a detrimental way; how substance abuse may harm their physical, mental, and even financial health; and what they can do to overcome the condition.
Interventions in any setting, but especially involving a person who struggles with addiction, require community support. Loved ones, like friends and family members, can stage an intervention; a doctor may stage an intervention in an emergency room after treating a patient for an overdose; or a social worker may confront a student who is taking illegal substances on a school’s campus. Although interventions have been featured on television shows and in other popular media, these do not often promote a process to recovery; too often, they instead show an emotional breakdown, placing blame on the person who struggles with addiction. It is important that an intervention expresses concern but does not blame the individual or prompt too much guilt; and it is just as important that an intervention offers solutions and support.
When Is an Intervention Necessary to End Drug or Alcohol Abuse?
Again, pop culture promotes the idea that an intervention occurs when the person struggling with addiction has hit “rock bottom,” but staging an intervention before their life is seriously disrupted, before their health is significantly damaged, or before they lose their job, marriage, or another relationship is important. Generally, the sooner loved ones take action, the better.
A person struggling with addiction may suffer from denial; they may not realize that there is a problem with their consumption of substances or their behavior while they are intoxicated. People who struggle with addiction and realize they are suffering may feel alone, depressed, or guilty, so they may believe they deserve any negative consequences of this disease. An intervention can show this individual that they have a problem that is straining their relationships and health, but that they have support – from loved ones, community structures, medicine, and more – to get help.
Some substances, like alcohol, are legal for recreational use among adults in the United States. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found, in the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), that over 86 percent of adults ages 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime. Just over 70 percent consumed alcohol at least once within the past year while 56 percent reported that they drank alcohol at least once in the past month. These percentages cover all kinds of alcohol consumption, including rare and moderate drinking.
Almost 27 percent of those surveyed reported that they engaged in binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks in one setting for men and four or more for women. Additionally, 7 percent of the adults surveyed reported that they used alcohol heavily, which is defined as consistently drinking more than seven drinks per week. While neither binge drinking nor heavy drinking is the same as alcohol use disorder (colloquially called alcoholism), they are both problematic patterns of drinking that may lead to alcohol use disorder and may require an intervention.
In some instances, people may receive a prescription for a potent drug, like benzodiazepines or opioid painkillers. They may take these as directed for a little while, but they may struggle to stop taking them when they no longer need the prescription. They may begin taking too much or taking the drug more often. This is abuse, and it can lead to stealing, lying, or purchasing drugs illegally to continue feeding the addiction. A person who struggles with prescription drug abuse may require an intervention.
Other dangerous drugs, like heroin, cocaine, or MDMA, may require an intervention immediately. These are potent substances that can quickly lead to substance abuse and addiction.
Where Interventions Are Conducted
While many people assume interventions are between family or close friends, there are several situations in which an intervention could occur to help a person overcome substance abuse. In fact, prevention programs through local governments are a form of intervention; these help specific demographics, such as school-aged children, LGBTQA young adults, or pregnant women, avoid substance abuse or find resources to end substance abuse.
Another kind of intervention is the workplace intervention. This uses a human resource department, group of managers, or other resources for workers to help employees understand the dangers of substance abuse on their job performance and provide access to resources so these employees can get into an appropriate rehabilitation program. A workplace intervention may include:
- Steps through the disciplinary process if dangerous behaviors at work are caused by intoxication
- Consultation with concerned coworkers, managers, family, and friends
- Consultation between HR or the interventionist and managers or employers to guarantee the employee’s smooth transition back to work if help is accepted
- Consultation with the employee about resources offered through the employer, including healthcare, time off, referrals to a rehabilitation program, and more
- Drug screening
- Help from a case manager or social worker to manage resources
Many people who need help overcoming substance abuse enter the criminal justice system. An intervention could be part of a larger sentence for a crime; for example, a judge may require that a defendant enter a drug rehabilitation program rather than serve a prison sentence. The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights (CPHHP) reported that a major survey spanning five large US cities found that 83 percent of those incarcerated had drugs in their system, usually marijuana or cocaine; opioid and methamphetamine abuse among prisoners is on the rise too. CPHHP notes that most people who withdraw from drugs in prison relapse once they are released; however, only 11 percent of those in prison who need help overcoming substance abuse receive treatment. This indicates that more resources need to be available and also that people who are incarcerated could benefit from more interventions to help them find the resources they need while in prison.
A person who overdoses and spends time in the emergency room may go through an intervention with a social worker or medical professional during their hospital stay. A doctor may discuss the long-term harm and potential death the person will experience if they continue ingesting intoxicating substances, and a social worker may help the person find resources like health insurance, government programs, and medical services to overcome addiction or substance abuse.
Family and friends can, of course, stage interventions to help loved ones who may be struggling with substance abuse or addiction. Because loved ones may not have specific training in creating an intervention, they may consider hiring an interventionist to help for at least part of the process.
How Can Loved Ones Stage an Intervention?
it is important for loved ones, like friends, spouses, parents, children, and close extended family, to be part of the intervention. This shows support for the belief that the individual needs to make changes. The family can hire an interventionist to moderate or lead the intervention, and an interventionist can offer advice or professional help in creating the intervention.
The Process of Creating an Intervention
- Get a good team and choose leaders. it is important to make sure that people important to the person struggling with addiction are present. It is likely that everyone can’t be there; this may be due to scheduling conflicts, or it could be because they may not be able to talk to the person without blaming them, causing grief, or expressing their strong emotions. People invited to the intervention should be able to discuss destructive behaviors related to the addiction but also remain level-headed and loving.
- Gather information. Understand the addiction the loved one is struggling with, and research the best rehabilitation programs and support groups that specialize in the individual’s addiction and will suit their needs.
- Make a plan and stick to it. Create an order of speakers and have them write statements so they can stay focused. Set a specific time, day, and location, and ensure everyone sticks to the commitment. Have a rehearsal, so kinks can be worked out. Focusing on love, support, and concern rather than fear, anger, loss, or blame will help the intervention be more effective; for people who have suffered due to a loved one’s addiction, this could take extensive preparation.
- Make specific offers for support. For example, offer rides to support group meetings or a place to live that is closer to the rehabilitation program. Make sure not to offer more than can be provided; for example, do not offer to pay for treatment if this will lead to debt.
- Decide on consequences. If the person does not accept offers of help, it is important to have specific consequences that will be put into place. This could include withdrawing financial support or housing assistance.
- Do not expect anything. People who struggle with substance abuse may refuse help for all kinds of reasons. Hope for the best, but be prepared that this will not happen. Consider getting support networks set up for the core members of the intervention team, including therapists and loved ones, because they may have strong emotions if their help is refused.
- Follow up. Whether the person agrees to get addiction treatment or not, be sure to follow through with offers of assistance or consequences. Check in with other people present at the intervention to see if they are also holding to their offers or consequences.
How Can a Professional Interventionist Help?
If this seems overwhelming, a professional interventionist can help. According to the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS), an interventionist uses a specific outline for an intervention to create a process tailored to the individual’s needs. Professional interventionists may help the family craft the intervention and then moderate or lead the meeting itself. The interventionist may even stage the intervention alone or gather professionals like doctors and psychologists, rather than loved ones, if that might be more effective.
An interventionist can be a calm, professional presence in the room and clarify specific parts of the process. They can also help to manage resources, like helping families learn how to use health insurance and how it applies to specific rehabilitation programs. Overall, the interventionist mainly helps friends and family maintain a non-confrontational and caring presence while discussing destructive patterns of behavior with their loved one.
While interventions can be successful without an interventionist, a person who has a co-occurring disorder will generally respond better to a professional interventionist than just loved ones. People struggling with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or who have a history of violence, along with substance abuse, typically respond better to a professional interventionist than to friends or family, and a professional can help to ensure the safety of all involved.