Should you try to intervene if someone you care about has a problem with alcohol or other drugs?
Now that you are beginning to enjoy the serenity and joy of being free of alcohol or other drugs, you may find yourself growing concerned about the drinking or drug problems of your friends or family members. You may feel a strong need to help, but how?
First, be cautious. In early recovery, it can be very tempting to try to help the people you care about who have addiction issues—but don’t do it if it means you may sacrifice your own sobriety. In early recovery, the best way to help a friend or family member is by establishing boundaries and remaining focused on your own recovery. There is a lot of power in a changed life, and if you continue to get healthy, you may find others wanting to get healthy too.
If you make an effort to hang around using friends or family members in order to influence them to get help, you may be putting yourself into situations where it is difficult to say no. Going to the bar where you hung out while using or sitting at home with someone you always drank with—these are choices that could set you on the road to relapse.
Once you have some more time in recovery and feel much more solid in your sobriety, you can begin to look at how to help others. When you are ready, it might make sense to do an intervention on others. If so, here is some general information on interventions that could be of help.
How should you intervene?
It is extremely painful to stand by and watch as someone’s life is destroyed. That’s the position family members and friends find themselves in when an addicted loved one denies having a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Until that person admits the need for help, there is usually little that can be done.
It is possible to try to intervene in an attempt to help the addicted person see the broad impact of his or her use. There are actually people who lead interventions on a paid or volunteer basis. Professionals who conduct formal intervention meetings for addicted people believe they can help families and friends hold up a mirror to their loved ones, convincing them to confront their problem before they hit rock bottom—before they lose their job, health, and family.
The power of an intervention comes from the participants’ expression of concern and compassion for the addict’s welfare. One technique is to have family members and friends write letters to the addict and then read them aloud at the intervention meeting. The letters allow family members and friends to express their feelings without threatening or blaming the addicted person.
A family member or friend might say, “I love you, and I care about you, but I’m concerned. These are the things I see happening to you.” Then each person ties his or her own feelings to the statements. They might give examples of times they were hurt by the addicted person. For instance, a child might write or say, “You went to my basketball game, and everybody knew you had been drinking; I was so embarrassed.”
Intervention should stress love and concern. It should not take a negative, confrontational approach. The person should not be beat up by the intervention. Here are some additional guidelines:
- Participants need to be educated about the disease of addiction prior to the intervention. Their words should be concise, be well rehearsed, and should accentuate the positive.
- Interventions should take place in neutral territory. Find a location that will not feel threatening to the addicted person.
- People invited to the intervention should include family members, close friends, and, when appropriate, employers or fellow employees.
- Limit the intervention to about sixty to ninety minutes. At longer sessions, anger may flare up and compassion tends to decline.
- Schedule a substance use evaluation to follow the meeting.
Most intervention subjects will agree to the evaluation, but of course that is not always the case. That doesn’t mean the intervention has failed. Interventions never fail, because family members and friends get help, and the sooner they get help, the sooner their loved one will. The process plants a seed for recovery in the addicted person’s mind. It teaches family members and friends about the disease of addiction, how they may be enabling the addicted loved one, and how support groups such as Al-Anon can help them care for themselves.
While recognizing the value of formal interventions in individual cases, it
is important for families to think carefully about whether the process is right for them. If you want to work with a professional interventionist, shop around for one you will be comfortable with and check references.
Interventions are most successful when the alcoholic or addict is already close to recognizing that a problem exists. If somebody is right on the edge, an intervention can nudge him or her into getting needed help.