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Intervention to Stop Substance Abuse

by Alan Brandis, Ph.D.

A Family Intervention is a well-planned, rehearsed meeting in which the alcoholic or addict (the "subject") is lovingly but firmly confronted about his addiction by a group of people who are important to him and who have been directly affected by his drinking or drugging.

The Intervention is prepared in secret, without the knowledge of the subject, to ensure that the element of surprise is on your side. Otherwise, they have time to prepare their defenses and arguments against you. Preparation for the Intervention causes the participants to take a good, long look at how they have been affected by the subject's substance abuse and forces them to look at their own denial, and how they have managed to avoid facing the problem for years.

Once all the participants have agreed to attend the several sessions needed in order to prepare their statements, the meetings proceed. Each participant prepares several statements in which they describe an event in which the subject's drinking or drugging had a direct effect on them. Possible events include times when the subject embarrassed them, made them angry, hurt their feelings, caused them bodily or financial harm, or in some other way hurt them. The statements end with a plea for the subject to get help.

The addicted person may be tricked into coming to the place where the Intervention is to occur, or it may occur at a time when he or she can be caught off guard at home. The Intervention Specialist uses the element of surprise to get the subject to agree to at least hear their loved ones out, and they commence to share their statements with him or her.

Eventually, it becomes clear whether the person is being persuaded to try treatment or not. At that point, if the subject is needing more motivation, each participant informs the subject of how they will respond if the subject refuses to get help. Often, this involves the enforcement of limits on, or the temporary or permanent ending of, the relationship should the subject continue his drinking or drugging. This is the hardest part to do, since these are not threats but simply statements of what each participant can tolerate and what they cannot tolerate in their lives.

When this process is well-planned and well-orchestrated, the subject stays and listens to their friends and family and about 80% of the time agrees to go into treatment for their addiction. Even if the subject refuses to go to treatment, the family benefits tremendously because they have all had a chance to air their feelings and concerns, and "all the cards are now on the table."

If you have questions about whether a Family Intervention might work for your alcoholic or addict, ask an agency such as the National Council on Alcoholism in your area, or ask a psychologist trained in the Family Intervention technique. If you are in the Atlanta area, AAPA can help to set up a Family Intervention, to help your loved one see the need to get sober.