Alcohol Intervention: How to Help an Alcoholic
Over the years, there have been a number of headlines claiming the various health benefits one can attain when drinking alcohol, especially red wine. Though there may be some truth to these assertions, drinking over the amount of what is considered a standard drink (14.0 grams or 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol) and all trace of health benefits disappear.
It is a slippery slope, and one definitely not worth the climb. Alcohol can be extremely destructive to almost every organ in the human body.
Harmful Effects of Alcohol Abuse:
- Liver damage and cirrhosis
- Permanent damage to the brain
- Extreme vitamin deficiencies, which can cause dangerous levels of anemia
- Increased risk of cancer, especially cancers of the gastrointestinal tract
- Increased risk of heart failure, heart attack, and stroke
- Dementia and memory loss
- Depression and anxiety
- Permanent tremor, especially in the hands
- High blood pressure
- Erectile dysfunction and loss of libido
- Nerve damage, leaving many people unable to feel their hands and feet
- Decreased immune function, so chronic drinkers are more likely to develop serious and even fatal infections
In addition, there are many social and psychological negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Many people lose their jobs, their families, and their spouses due to this illness. It is crucial to learn how to help an alcoholic so they can avoid these devastating effects on their health.
What is an Intervention?
Many alcoholics are in denial about the severity of their disease and the need for help. An intervention is a meeting that can be made up of friends, family, counselors, and/or intervention specialists, who come together and work to break down the barriers of denial and pain to convince an alcoholic to get the help that they need. The purpose is usually to get the person abusing alcohol to agree to enter a treatment program, such as an inpatient facility.
Family and friends are most often involved in an alcohol intervention. However, anyone who cares deeply about the person and who can contribute to the effort should be involved. Adult children certainly can be part of the meeting, but it would probably be best to leave younger children under the care of a babysitter.
Once everyone has gathered, the loved ones should share their concerns about the alcoholism. The intention is to show the alcoholic that their drinking is a problem and that it is destructive. An intervention can also be a way of setting firm boundaries and making it clear that you will not enable them anymore. People should be encouraged to seek treatment immediately.
It is very easy for an addict to feel attacked or ganged up on in the process. It is important to plan what you will say so that it is as gentle and non-confrontational as possible. The goal is to get the person to seek help, not to unleash all of your anger out on them or make them feel bad.
What Should People Say During an Intervention?
The exact words vary and every intervention is unique in its own way, but a successful alcohol intervention includes the following elements:
- Addressing changes that you have noticed in your loved one since they began drinking heavily, such as changes in their personality, behavior, and reliability.
- The impact that their drinking has had on their career and their role in the family.
- How each person has been personally affected by the drinking.
- Fears for the alcoholic’s future if they continue to drink.
- Expressing your love for the alcoholic and the unique traits for which you love them.
- Your hopes for the future including sobriety and health.
- Promises to help the drinker get sober.
- A firm statement that you will no longer enable the drinking, but that you will always be there to help, if and when they decide to get sober.
- Gentle pressure to immediately get help.
Ultimately, your loved one cannot get sober on their own. A successful intervention will include emotional support and resources for immediate treatment.
When is an Intervention Necessary?
If you are asking yourself whether an alcoholic intervention is necessary, chances are, the answer is yes. However, you should evaluate the situation to make a decision if you are not sure.
If a person is drinking in a way that is destructive, they likely will not quit on their own. While experts used to advocate letting an addict “hit rock bottom”, we now know that getting help earlier is actually more successful. Your loved one does not need to have completely destroyed their life to benefit from an alcohol intervention or get help in regaining a sober life.
Alcoholism is a road to physical and emotional destruction. Many people do not understand that their drinking will eventually affect their lives in terrible ways. Even if they haven’t lost their career, their health, or their family, they can easily do so if the drinking continues. If your loved one does not understand the impact of their drinking, an intervention is a powerful way to help them understand.
Lastly, many alcoholics do not understand that their drinking has changed the way that other people see them. As a person continues drinking in a destructive manner, they often act in ways that hurt their credibility and trust with their family and friends. An intervention can show them that their loved ones are aware of the problem and are hurting.
Destructive drinking only gets worse when an alcoholic is left without the help they need. If you are determined to stop the downward spiral, then an intervention is needed. This strategy gives you the best chance of making a meaningful difference right now and getting your loved one the help that they desperately need to make a change in their life.
Interventions for Alcohol Abuse: Planning for Success
It is important to plan ahead for your intervention. Knowing what you will say ahead of time, who will be present, and other key factors will keep things moving smoothly and prevent the event from spiraling out of control.
In general, for a successful intervention, the following should be determined:
1. Decide who will be present
It is important to include loved ones who have been personally affected by the drinking. However, you should be careful with this. Younger children are likely to be upset by this meeting and should not be included. Anyone who cannot act appropriately and keep their negative emotions in check should also not take part in the intervention. They can, however, write a letter that can be read during the intervention by an attendee.
You may need to do some sleuthing to figure out who to invite. For example, does the person have a therapist who could contribute to the intervention?
2. Choose a time and place
These are both crucial to the intervention. You should choose a time when all of the important players can be present. In addition, it should be at a time when the alcoholic has time to talk and has no excuse to leave the intervention early.
Similarly, the place needs to be carefully selected. It should be somewhere comfortable that is either neutral or a place that the addict frequents at ease. Try to avoid using the home of one of the people involved in the confrontation. Public places also should be avoided. The goal is not to embarrass your loved one, but rather to convince them to make a positive change.
3. Plan what you will say
It is understandable to have many negative feelings about a person’s drinking. However, your negative emotions will need to be controlled for now. Plan carefully how to express how the alcoholism affects you and your loved one without blame, shame, or other negative emotions.
4. Consider whether to involve experts
Although you may be tempted to do it yourself, there are definite advantages to involving experts. Experts are trained professionals who can advise and help guide the intervention so that the entire process runs smoothly and calmly.
5. Collect resources for treatment
If your loved one agrees to treatment, you will want to have a bed at a treatment center immediately available to them. You will need to call around to find out about treatment resources, especially ones that have openings right now and either take your loved one’s insurance and/or are financially feasible right now.
DIY vs. Professional Intervention
There are obvious benefits to planning and executing an intervention yourself. Many people do not want to involve outsiders in their family problems, even if those outsiders are experts. In addition, it costs money to hire an intervention specialist.
However, there are several reasons to hire professionals to assist in your intervention. First, it can be very difficult to get treatment resources without a professional. You may not know what type of treatment is best for your loved one or what is available in the correct price range. A professional interventionist will be aware of the different options in your area and can assist you in getting the right kind of help.
Second, an intervention professional will have resources for the people participating in the meeting. There are several books and handouts that can help you to prepare. You may also want to practice what you will say before the intervention. A professional can help you construct a productive approach in expressing what you really want to say.
Many families have toxic dynamics that the members are not always aware of. A specialist can assist in seeing these dynamics. An intervention that is caring and free of conflict will be more successful. Sometimes a person from the outside, especially an expert, is needed to help people stay focused and productive.
Ultimately, experts know what wording and ideas are more likely to be successful with people who have a drinking problem. This knowledge and experience will give you the best possible chance of success with your intervention. Your loved one deserves that advantage in overcoming the disease of addiction.
Different Models of Interventions
There are many different types of intervention. Most fall under one of four categories:
- One-on-one Intervention. A simple intervention between you, your loved one, and a counselor (if you choose to include one) can often be effective. In this type of intervention, you plan what you are going to say and deliver your message face to face with the problematic drinker in your life.
- Classic Intervention. This is also known as the Johnson Model. It is the type of intervention seen on television and the most popular type. In a classic intervention, people gather and confront their loved one about the addiction and its impact.
- Family System Intervention. In some families, there is more than one person with an addiction or other problematic behavior. This type of intervention seeks to intervene with several people in the family. After the initial intervention, the person or people with addiction issues go to rehab while everyone else continues with intensive therapy and coaching. The result is not just sobriety, but a changed and healthier family dynamic.
- Crisis Intervention. Although it is ideal to plan to have an intervention at a time and place that is both calm and peaceful, it isn’t always possible. Addicts often find themselves in crises, e.g., legal problems, health issues, and other extremely dangerous and chaotic situations. These are often the ideal times for an intervention to take place because the need for addiction treatment is obvious. An intervention specialist can help you convince your loved one to get help and find inpatient care immediately.
There are many options to alcohol interventions. Although it can be difficult to decide how to help an alcoholic, it can be done and there is plenty of help out . Consult an intervention professional at Northeast Addictions Treatment Center and find out how you can help lead your loved one toward a life of sobriety and health.