Author of Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
The French have a saying, ” Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, which roughly translates to “The more things Change, the more they remain the Same”. And, I think that’s true for addiction. The 21st Century has introduced us to a whole new slew of threats on the addiction front, and we’ve been hard-pressed in trying to first confront and then adapt to them.
Across our country, we’re hearing terrible reports of people using bath salts to get high; teenagers are purchasing over-the-counter hallucinogenic drugs like Salvia; and marijuana clinics are becoming more and more ubiquitous (at least here in Los Angeles where I live). The list goes on and on, and it all adds up to the same thing: The world is changing.
But how we relate to each other – how we love each other – does not. And, in my experience, whenever a loved one is in trouble, whenever an intervention is necessary, it has always fallen upon the family to determine how quickly the self-destructive or nihilistic behavior is arrested.
Formal drug interventions save lives
I am a man who has been clean and sober for 28 years. Now, that’s no mean feat, I’m sure, but it would not have been possible for me to get one day had it not been for the resourcefulness and resolve of my parents.
Thankfully, they’d the wherewithal to seek professional help, so not only was my intervention highly organized, but it was effective as well. And only because my parents had been told to draw very strong boundaries and stand by them.
Which they did.
My father, who’d been the last to speak at my intervention, explained that – unless I got help – he was going to withdraw any and all financial support. And he meant it. And I knew he meant it. Coupled with the emotional pleas of my friends and siblings, I knew I had no choice but to surrender to changing the way I’d been living my life. And, for me, that meant checking into rehab.
Not many families can do that to the addict. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen families rally around the addict and draw a boundary and then, one week later or one month later, renege on that boundary and go back to enabling the addict. These people do this all in the name of love, but what they don’t understand is that they are, instead, participating in the destruction of their loved one by giving him or her the means to go and destroy themselves with no accountability.
And, it’s painful to watch.
Drug intervention with family: How to set the stage
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. What I’d like to do is give you a few tools, on the front end, for staging an intervention. These tools – these steps – absolutely need to be adhered to; there is no shortcut for saving someone’s life. And, I’m giving them to you in the spirit of the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In an exorcism, you do not swat the priest aside and untie the child simply because it has stopped speaking in tongues and threatening murder; you wait for the green light from the priest. So it is with an intervention: You draw your boundary and then, no matter how much they beg or manipulate, you adhere to it.
Because, you’re doing it for their own good. And that’s what love looks like.
And here is where you start.
Planning a family drug intervention
1. Meet with friends and family members, but do not include the addict or the alcoholic. Between three and six people is a good number. Agree that you will maintain confidentiality, and please do not include children. Discuss the facts about the patient, and note the harmful behavior you have all observed. Plan what each of you will say and in what order. Try not to be repetitive. Discuss how you believe the patient will react, and anticipate how you will address denials, tears, anger and so forth.
2. Meet with a professional counselor or therapist before the intervention, with your whole group but not with the patient. Rehearse what each of you will say, and discuss possible reactions with the therapist. The therapist may ask that you write down a list of behaviors that will no longer be tolerated and what the consequences will be if each behavior continues. You might also make a list of losses that resulted from the addict’s behavior, such as a job, a relationship, or money. Choose a spokesperson for the intervention.
3. Discuss treatment options with the therapist. Ascertain that the situation merits intervention, that the patient is causing harm but is otherwise not suffering from a mental condition. Choose a facility in advance, and contact that facility to discuss your plan.
4. Choose a private location, and decide who will sit where. Make sure there will be no interruptions, including cell phones. All should be in attendance before the patient arrives. Arrange a time when you believe the patient will be sober.
5. When the patient arrives, speak calmly and do not accuse anyone in the room. “We are all here because we love you and are concerned about you.” You don’t need to use the words addict or alcoholic. Begin each sentence with the word I or we, and not the word you. Such as, “I am upset about how you are drinking and stressing out the family,” or “We are here to save you from yourself.”
6. Ask the patient to confirm there is a problem. If he or she denies a problem, go around the room and ask each group member for evidence of the problem. Remember to avoid accusations or anger. Listen to what the addict says, but don’t agree with him or her. Tell the addict you love him or her, and that you don’t want the addict to destroy his or her life.
7. Offer immediate treatment, and explain the details about the therapeutic facility you have arranged. It is not acceptable for the patient to say that he or she will seek treatment “later.” This meeting is an ultimatum, and you have prepared in advance for what you will say to every objection. It will be difficult, but the counselor will help the patient deal with anger or denial. You don’t want the patient to feel as if everyone has ganged up on him or her, but be strong. Don’t cave in.
8. Close the meeting on a positive note: “We just care so much about you, or we wouldn’t do this at all.” In most cases, the patient will agree to go to rehab. If not, then that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Your efforts may start a chain of events that ultimately leads to change for the patient. In addition, you’ve made it known that you will no longer enable his or her behavior.
An intervention is a success even if the client refuses to go to rehab, because at least the family has united to set a boundary. This means life will not be the same for the addict, and a process has started that will one day result in the addict getting treatment.
And that, my friends, is when the healing begins.