Addiction interventions are events organised by others to get addicts to accept help when they are resistant to change or unable to rescue themselves. Effective intervention strategies are based on tested, proven guidelines and result in the addict submitting to a medical detox, as well as therapeutic treatment to rectify the emotional roots of the problem.

Some people do not understand why addicts deny their obvious problem or refuse to accept help to overcome it. They often assume the addicts are simply being foolishly obstinate. However, addicts actually know they have a problem and have their own hidden motives that compel them to resist actions that will disrupt access to the addictive substance.

Although getting addicts to admit their addiction can be difficult, they often do if you approach them correctly. The more difficult step is to get them to actually go for detoxing and therapeutic treatment, but this can be also be achieved if you know how to conduct an effective intervention.

Most people confront addicts in spontaneous, one-on-one exchanges that end in unfinished arguments. This happens repeatedly, until the complainant either gives up and accepts the terrible consequences as part of life, or completely abandons the addict. These outcomes can be avoided if the complainant obtains professional advice and arranges an effective intervention.

There are different types of interventions, but the most common method is a direct intervention by a group of concerned people who face the addict in a united and determined manner to convince them to go for treatment. Effective direct intervention is based on compassion and urgency for an immediate commitment to treatment.

The group members are carefully selected and consulted in advance. They will be family members and compassionate friends. Authoritative people with a justifiable interest should be included, for example; employers, church ministers and addiction therapists.

The event may be planned without the addict’s knowledge. Depending on your circumstances and the addict’s personality, you may either inform the addict of the actual event in advance, or you may surprise the addict with an unexpected event. Discuss this with an addiction therapist to clarify what would be best for your circumstances.

Loved ones and friends underestimate their influence on an addict. Just because the addict focuses on the drug and not them, does not mean the addict does not care about them. Neglect and abuse of loved ones and friends are dictated by the drug and intoxication – addicts feel guilty about it. Direct intervention brings this to the fore.

Of course, interventions can also be conducted by employers and co-workers who appreciate a person’s value, and want to restore their skills, rather than simply having the person fired.

In extreme cases addicts reject all efforts, so sometimes it is necessary to get a court order and have the addict forcibly committed for treatment. There is a thought that forced treatment does not work. That is not true. Almost all addicts are, in fact, forced into treatment. They are forced into it to keep their jobs, to restore marriages, and so on. The bottom line is the same.

Types of intervention:
There are three main models of intervention:

Direct interventions are the most common, where loved ones, family members, friends and employers, assisted by an intervention therapist, confront the addict. If the intervention is performed by a group, all members must be trustworthy and have a justifiable compassionate reason for being present.

Indirect interventions are for situations where addicts resist going for treatment, but their partners or family members receive treatment or counselling from professional therapists. The addict can be allowed or encouraged to participate at any time.

Forcible interventions are judicial acts enforced to have addicts committed for treatment against their will, such as when an addict’s behaviour poses a threat to themselves or others, or when an addict’s health or circumstances are critically poor.

A guide to direct intervention

Do homework. Interventions are intense, sensitive events – people and circumstances differ. You need to be properly educated about addiction and intervention. Do not assume you know all the facts. Always consult a professional addiction therapist for proper advice regarding your specific situation.

Make a list. Choose the group members. Include a therapist, family and trusted friends. Choose people whose compassion the addict will find believable. Include an employer or church minister for fresh comment on the topic. Avoid people who are too biased or have a grudge against the addict.

Be safe. If the addict has a history of physical aggression, ensure that there will be a friendly person, not the police, at the meeting who can restrain them if they lose control.

Limit the group. The group should consist of four to eight people. More than eight can cause confusion and the intimidating “crowd” effect can make addicts withdraw into themselves.

Inform the group. Ask each person on your list if they will be willing to participate and tell them you will contact them for a rehearsal at a later date.

Anticipate. The addict may protest that going for rehab is impractical. As far as possible, try to take care of things before the intervention takes place. This includes getting assurances of job security from employers, arranging transport for children, arranging the detox, and similar requisites.

Share. Gather the group for information and rehearsal sessions at a private place where the addict will not be present. Educate them about what addiction really is. Agree on a suitable date and time for the actual intervention. Plan the intervention to last no longer than 90 minutes.

Write essays. Each member must make a shortlist of happy memories of the addict and also drug-related events that hurt them. Listing the joys, heartbreaks, compassion and concern, unleashes the emotional impact of an intervention. They must balance the list – do not overdo the negatives.

Pack a bag. Before the meeting, pack a small bag with overnight necessities for the addict. If the addict accepts treatment, be ready to take them to a centre immediately. Do not allow them time to reconsider.

Choose a place. An addict will be more inclined to leave the gathering and seek refuge in a bedroom at home. If they can be lured elsewhere, they will have less freedom of movement. The choice of venue depends on the circumstances and must be carefully considered.

The meeting. When the intervention starts, emphasise that the people are there, not to ambush the addict, but because they care. Let each person read their list of joy, sadness and concerns out loud. They must state they can no longer tolerate the addiction and expect an immediate commitment to rehabilitation.

Pacify. Put the addict at ease. Tell them that the withdrawal systems have been discussed with a doctor and that it will be overcome with medical care. All those present will also continue to support the addict while in treatment.

Maintain balance. A therapist or other authoritative person must support the addict to ensure fairness and to avoid turning the gathering into a totally biased, lop-sided affair.

Do not punish. Lashing out with a stream of accusations, without emphasising empathy and caring, will make the addict uncooperative. Avoid hostility and arguments. Use a placating tone of voice. The purpose is to present a crisis based on caring.

Discipline. Try to keep the conversation from straying or wandering away from the topic. If the intervention lasts too long, it’s impact and emotional leverage will fizzle out.

Create a crisis. Press the addict to go for detoxing and treatment immediately. Inform the addict that the problem has reached a saturation point – that refusal will be seen as a personal rejection and that all members in the group will then have to walk away from them.

Try again. If the intervention does not succeed, approach the addict again later. Sometimes addicts just need time to reconsider.

Last resort. If all else fails, consider getting a court order to force the addict to go for rehab treatment. It is not true that forced treatment does not work. Almost all addicts are forced into treatment in some way (to save a job, a relationship, etc.). Most addicts develop the true motivation to fight addiction only after they start treatment.

Why addicts fear treatment

Addicts sincerely dread facing their emotions without their drug-crutch and, above all, they fear the withdrawal symptoms. Just the thought of not having enough of the drug on hand can cause panic. Anxiety also forces them to distrust assurances that they can overcome their problems and live a normal life. Because of these immediate fears, they strongly resist going for treatment, despite knowing that they are sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Why addicts admit abuse but refuse treatment

In the face of strong evidence, addicts may admit a problem, yet refuse treatment. This is because they want to keep a back door open. Sometimes they may genuinely believe they can cut down, but they still want to remain in control, in case they need free access to the drug if anguish overwhelms them. Often they simply play for time, hoping that the urgency of the intervention moment will fade away and allow them to resume the abuse later.

How addicts respond when confronted

Because of their fears, addicts spend a lot of time thinking about how they should respond if someone tries to hinder their drug usage. Over time, they build an array of defences. Deflections like these make it difficult to persuade them to accept help:
  • Outright denial that there is any problem.
  • They deny it but promise to reduce consumption.
  • They blame circumstances, pretend drug is irrelevant.
  • They know better, others are biased or over-reacting.
  • They deflect attention to worse problems than theirs.
  • Insist treatment will not, or does not, work for them.
  • Treatment will cause loss of employment or income.
  • Not ready, need time to finalise other matters.
  • They admit abuse but insist they can control it.
  • They admit abuse but say they can stop on their own.
  • Anger, or aggressive dismissal of the complaints.

Reasons why addicts need treatment

  • Extreme emotional, physical and social complications.
  • Addiction’s ripple effects harm many others, including children.
  • There are hidden emotional disorders that trigger addictions.
  • Addicts are not able to heal themselves without professional care.
  • Their situation will only get worse, and will probably be fatal.
  • Some need more than one therapy method for long-term success.
  • If previous treatment “failed”, a repeat is more likely to succeed.
Addicts who underwent rehab treatment before and relapsed, are keen to argue that rehab “does not work” for them. The truth is, while many succeed after one treatment, others need repetition to develop long-term success. This is established fact, but the reasons differ from case to case, so generalisation is not feasible. Trained therapists can identify why relapses occur and make adjustments to treatment programs. The alternative to treatment is so loaded with the risk that speculation about it is a waste of time.

The case for enforced treatment

Most addicts go for treatment due to external pressure, whether it is to save a marriage, avoid prosecution, under pressure from employers, or by order of the court. Successful treatment does not require voluntary submission. Most addicts develop a motivation to fight their addiction only after they have started treatment.

Professional Assistance

If staging an intervention on your own is too daunting, addiction counsellors can help you to prepare it. These professionals are trained and experienced in constructing the best intervention scenario for a particular situation. Feel free to contact a therapist at the phone number on this page to discuss the matter.