Imagine that you have a son with a drug problem. Let’s call him “John”. John is coming home from college. He’s been using drugs quite heavily over the last few months, and due to his low grade point average at school, he won’t be returning for another semester. He doesn’t have any plans for when he comes home, but he needs addiction treatment to get his life back on track.
All attempts to get John outpatient treatment failed in the past. He tried counseling, support groups, and even methadone, but he let them all go for his drug of choice – heroin.
With more than 10,000 people dying every year in the United States from heroin overdose, anxiety levels are high that John will become a victim. With nothing occupying his time when he comes home from school, time is of the essence.
A family intervention to convince John to enter addiction treatment at a rehab center may seem like the best course of action for John. But will it cause more harm than good?
The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports, “Many people are compelled to enter treatment by the pressure of their family, friends, or a court system. However, there is no evidence that confrontational ‘interventions’ like those familiar from TV programs are effective at convincing people they have a problem or motivating them to change. It is even possible for such confrontation encounters to escalate into violence or backfire in other ways.”
Interventions are not meant to cause additional problems for loved ones or addicts. They are meant to help people suffering from addiction see they can seek treatment with the support of the people who care about them most.
This message often gets lost when families come together to stage an intervention themselves, and the results can be dangerous.
Failed interventions are risky. According to Dr. Joal L. Young, “The primary risk posed by interventions is a disruption in your relationship with the addict. Some addicts respond to interventions with anger, storming out before the process is complete. In other cases, the addict may refuse to go to treatment, which will require you to follow up with the threats you’ve made”. When people decide to walk away from the addict, it leaves the addict to do whatever he feels he needs to do to cope with the abandonment.
This could lead to the following dangers:
This is not to say that interventions are ineffective. They are extremely effective, if they are done in the right way. Staging an intervention without the help of a professional interventionist often fail because of many reasons.
As a loved one of a person struggling with addiction, emotions run high. Even when people know exactly what they are going to say entering an intervention, their emotions get the best of them. They may still say what they have written down, but their voice can make the words sound harsh and unloving. The pitch, volume, and tone of voice during an intervention is important, and in times of desperation, they are hard to control.
In addition, the actions during the intervention can make the addict feel like a failure. When faced with loved ones crying and pleading, an addict can shy away from it (physically, mentally and emotionally). Someone who suffers from drug abuse issues already feels out of control and is disappointed with himself. When loved ones express disappointment, it can be enough to lead an addict to want to run far away from everyone.
It’s the miscommunication in an intervention that is most devastating to the addict and loved ones. The threats that often come into play during interventions can make addicts feel as though their loved ones don’t care about them anymore. They feel as though their family and friends are turning against them.
Rehab is frightening to addicts, especially if they haven’t ever done it before. Going through withdrawals, being away from familiar places and people, and facing the root causes of their addiction is scary. It’s easy for an addict to feel as though his family is trying to make life worse rather than better.
Interventions can easily lead people suffering from addiction to never want to face their family and friends again. This is particularly true when addicts often have another support network – drug friends and dealers.
Ineffective interventions can often cause addicts to turn to the very thing that loved ones want to pull them from, which can lead to benders and deadly overdoses.
Not only that, the experience of an intervention can make addicts think and feel negatively towards addiction treatment forever. Whenever they consider seeking help, they will always remember the horrible time with their family and friends who tried to push them towards rehab.
Staging an intervention without a professional will leave everyone involved feeling bad, and loved ones will be back at square one not knowing how to help. People will turn their backs to one another, and that will make helping the addict even more difficult.
Steven Gifford, LICDC, LPC told PsychCentral “it is important to understand that the family dynamic in drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly powerful, and that addressing an unhealthy imbalance in communication is your first step in moving your loved one towards addiction therapy.”
To safeguard supportive relationships between addicts and their loved ones, it’s crucial a professional be present during an intervention for addiction treatment.
Experienced interventionists have studied the most effective ways to convince addicts to enter a rehab center. They have performed countless interventions. While not all of them may have been effective, they gained knowledge along the way to know what to say and do in response to the way addicts react to their loved ones.
The following are some of the ways interventionists help addicts understand that starting a rehab program is the best decision for them:
Don’t stage an intervention without the help of a professional. Addiction treatment isn’t supposed to appear as something that will harm an addicted person, but instead help the person get his life back on track. A professional can help explain this to an addict. They will use the family as a backup, showing that the addict has the love and support of his family to face the work that is about to come in order to recover from drug addiction. Loved ones need to stay connected to someone who is struggling with addiction… They are all they have in the darkest and hardest of times.
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