Approximately 21.5 million people who were at least 12 years old in 2014 suffered from a substance use disorder involving drugs or alcohol, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports.
In 2013, more than 20 million American adults needed treatment for a substance abuse or dependency issue; however, they did not receive the proper care at a specialized facility, NSDUH further reports.
There are many potential barriers to treatment, including cost. Substance abuse costs the people of the United States more than $700 billion each year in expenses related to lost production in the workplace, criminal justice costs, and healthcare expenses, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates. Cost of treatment is much lower in the long run than the expense of continued substance abuse and addiction.
Perhaps one of the largest potential barriers for getting help for addiction is that the individual does not recognize that a problem exists. Addiction takes a toll not only on the individual affected, but also on families, loved ones, coworkers, and society as a whole. In 2013, according to that year’s NSDUH, more than 95 percent of those who needed treatment for a substance use disorder, and didn’t get it, didn’t think they needed help; they did not perceive the need for treatment. An intervention can help individuals to see the need for substance abuse treatment and encourage them to get the help they require.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is a structured meeting between the people impacted by an individual’s struggles with drug or alcohol abuse and/or addiction and the individual who needs help. The primary goal of an intervention is to motivate the individual to enter into a drug or alcohol treatment program voluntarily. Family members, other loved ones, neighbors, coworkers, teammates, school peers, church members, or anyone else who may be affected by an individual’s substance abuse may wish to participate in an intervention. The key is that these individuals should be close to the subject of the intervention.
Typically, loved ones will plan and schedule an intervention without the individual’s knowledge. Interventions should be well structured and occur at a time when the individual is not intoxicated and may be in the most receptive state. If the individual has a history of mental illness, violence, or patterns of self-harming behaviors, a professional mental health, substance abuse provider, or interventionist is especially beneficial and able to ensure the safety and security of all participating parties. Trained interventionists may choose to become members of the Association of Intervention Specialists (AIS), and families choosing an AIS member can get help from a professional who adheres to stringent code of ethics and meets both performance and educational standards. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD) reports that about 90 percent of interventions run with the help of a professional interventionist are successful, resulting in the person in need seeking professional help. An interventionist can help families to set up, plan, and run a smooth intervention.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a disease that influences a person’s ability to control their substance use, and the disease actually interferes with the way the brain functions. Addiction is highly personal, and what works for one person may not work quite the same for another.
Fortunately, there are multiple methods and variations of drug treatment programs for families to choose from that can help a person’s brain to heal and enhance a sustained recovery. NIDA reports that there are over 14,500 facilities provided specialized drug treatment within the United States.
The first step is getting the individual to agree that treatment can be beneficial and to enter into a program.
Some general steps for carrying out an intervention are as follows:
- Develop a structured plan. Talk to the individual’s primary care physician, a mental health treatment professional, and hire an interventionist to help. Trained professionals can offer support and guidance during this emotionally charged time.
- Gather people to form the intervention team. Anyone who is impacted personally by the individual’s substance use may be a useful part of the intervention team. This group of people will all work together to design and implement an intervention meeting. Both family and non-family members can be helpful during an intervention.
- Research treatment options and the scope of the drug problem. First, loved ones need to understand the depth of drug dependency the individual may suffer from in order to best choose a treatment plan. Education on addiction treatment and research into the available options can help families to prepare for the steps following an intervention. If there are any co-occurring mental health or medical issues, then it may be helpful to have professional help in understanding how to approach these issues as well.
- Determine the intervention specifics. Try and find a time of day when the individual is most likely to be relaxed and calm, ideally when they are not intoxicated or “coming down” from a high. Pick a location that is neutral and safe, and determine the people who will be present. If it is thought that the person may react violently, be sure to have a medical, mental health, or professional interventionist present to help.
- Set specific consequences. Have set consequences in place if the individual decides not to seek treatment after the intervention. For example, family members may decide to no longer provide financial aid to the person unless they get help.
- Prepare for the intervention meeting. During an intervention, people intrinsic to an individual’s everyday life are asked to provide specific instances and circumstances wherein the drug abuse directly affected them. Keep these instances deeply rooted in fact and as free from emotion as possible, as it is hard for individuals to argue with specific things that have happened as a result of drug abuse. Statements should be prepared ahead of time, and they should not be aggressive. An intervention is not meant to be judgmental or overtly confrontational. Participants should stick to “I” statements about how the drug abuse has impacted them. Team members often write letters that they can read to the individual during the meeting, so they don’t feel pressure to speak on the fly.
- Host the intervention. In most cases, the individual will not be aware that an intervention is taking place ahead of time. The meeting itself, therefore, needs to be carefully planned and executed to ensure that all of the intervention team is in place before the subject of the intervention arrives. During the intervention, members of the gathered team will go around the room presenting their prepared statements and concerns. Treatment options should be presented and consequences for not entering into a program should be laid out as well. All team members must be prepared to follow through on consequences if the person doesn’t seek help.
- Follow through with consequences or treatment admission. If the goal of getting the person into a treatment program is achieved through the intervention, take steps to make this happen as swiftly as possible, ideally directly after the meeting. If the individual does not agree to enter into treatment immediately, follow through with the stated consequences.