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How do you do an intervention for an alcoholic?

A man holds his wife's hand during an intervention for her alcoholism

Updated on

You’re worried nonstop. In fact, you’ve been worried for a very long time now. You’re so concerned that you’re finding it hard to focus on anything else.

Someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, and you’re terrified that this problem is going to result in serious consequences. You’re also tired of enabling the behavior or pretending that it doesn’t affect you.

Maybe you’ve only ever seen an intervention on television. You’re wondering, do they work? Are they worthwhile? And how do you go about executing one if you decide it’s the right time? Let’s get into what every loved one should know.

What Is An Intervention?

An intervention refers to an organized, structured delivery provided by loved ones. Interventions should be planned and prepared in advance. When intervening with an alcoholic, each family member or friend describes how the drinking has impacted him or her. Participants also have the opportunity to express their feelings and set their boundaries moving forward in the future.

Families or even single loved ones can provide interventions on their own. However, many people choose to hire a professional interventionist to facilitate this service.

The approach will vary depending on the family system. However, the overarching goal of interventions is to convince an individual to seek and accept treatment for their drinking.

When Is the Right Time To Hold an Intervention?

There isn’t a perfect time. Unfortunately, many loved ones believe they must wait until the person reaches rock bottom to seek help. This myth is far from the truth.

Rock bottom can look different for everyone. Likewise, many people benefit from treatment without hitting this proverbial bottom. You don’t want to wait until it is too late. Hesitant people risk something terrible happening to their loved one in the meantime.

You may not be sure about the severity of your loved one’s problem. This is normal. Many alcoholics become gifted in hiding, downplaying, and downright lying about their drinking. Because of the shame and fear of ‘being exposed,’ they will often try to pretend their problem doesn’t exist.

That said, there are a few warning signs you should consider in assessing the seriousness of the problem:

  • Increased alcohol tolerance (needing to drink more to achieve feelings of intoxication)
  • Withdrawal symptoms (shakiness, tremors, cold or flu-like symptoms)
  • Anger and irritability when confronted about drinking
  • Withdrawing from one’s usual activities, hobbies, and friends
  • Work performance problems (showing up to work late, getting written up)
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Decline in grooming and hygiene
  • Legal issues (DUI, public intoxication, domestic violence)
  • Making frequent jokes about being an alcoholic
  • Frequent and intense mood swings
  • Stealing money from friends/family or stealing from stores
  • Memory problems and blackouts
  • Making (and breaking) rules about drinking (i.e., I’ll only have one beer tonight)
  • Lack of concentration and focus

Any of these symptoms could indicate alcoholism. Like all addictions, the severity of alcoholism lies on a spectrum. That said, the drinking tends to become more progressive over time.

A man embraces his alcoholic wife after his staged interventionOnce recognizing the problem, it’s wise to start thinking about the next steps you need to take. You may want to consult with a therapist or attend a support group like Al-Anon to increase your comprehension of addiction. You may also want to start contacting potential treatment centers to learn more about what their programs offer.

Determining Intervention Members

Interventions are most powerful when the alcoholic is surrounded by people he or she loves. This means that you want to have the closest people involved during this process. These people also tend to be the most guilty of enabling the alcoholic behavior.

Consider the following people for the intervention:

  • Immediate family (parents, children, spouse)
  • Extended family (grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles)
  • Close friends
  • Mentors or advisors
  • Employers, teachers, coaches

Members must be willing to assert their feelings honestly. Not everyone will be able to do this. Those people, while important to the process, should not be involved in this intervention.

If you are working with a professional interventionist, this individual will facilitate the communication between the parties. He or she will also work with particular members who may be resistant or skeptical about the process.

Practicing, Staging, and Rehearsing

It is essential that each intervention member has foundational knowledge about alcoholism during this preparation process. This knowledge helps people identify their needs- while also being sensitive and compassionate to the fragile nature of addiction.

All members will need to prepare what they intend to say in advance. Many people choose to write their thoughts down. This method allows them to read from the paper directly- rather than risk getting meddled with emotions once the individual is in the room.

Members will use I-statements when describing how they feel. Statements will sound like, I feel worried when you drive home after drinking at the bar, or I felt frustrated when you received your second DUI. I-statements show ownership over your feelings. By owning your perspective, you remove the blame towards the other person.

They will also recount specific alcohol-related experiences that affected their mental and physical well-being. These examples must factual and objective; this is not the time to blame or shame the person for what they did.

Members will also emphasize their love for the individual. They will describe why they care about this person. Finally, members will also express why they believe treatment is beneficial. They will also share their boundaries should the person deny treatment.

Professional interventionists may have each of you practice sharing your thoughts (or reading your letters) aloud. They may provide you with a formatted guide to follow when it’s your turn to speak.

Finding The Right Treatment

You will need to find a treatment facility before staging the intervention. A simple Google search will show you thousands of centers, and the search can become quickly overwhelming.

Make sure to consider the following factors when narrowing down your options:

  • Does the facility offer multiple levels of care (detox, residential, intensive outpatient)
  • Does the facility offer a family program or additional family support?
  • What does payment look like? Can you use insurance to pay for treatment?
  • Does the facility offer dual-diagnosis treatment?
  • Is there ongoing access and evaluation provided by a medical doctor?
  • Is individual therapy part of the program?
  • Can they provide support for legal, employment, or housing issues?
  • Do they offer specific programs for specific needs (i.e., LGBTQ, trauma, pain management)

The location may also be a significant variable when choosing treatment. That said, the above factors tend to be significantly more important than the area itself. In fact, many people benefit from seeking treatment away from their hometown. The distance removes them from external distractions, which allows them to focus on their recovery needs.

What If The Person Refuses Treatment?

Interventions do not always yield desirable outcomes. Addiction is a complex disease, and many people do not want to confront their problem with drinking.

It is essential that loved ones have a comprehensive plan in place if the person denies treatment. This often means having several rebuttals in place in case the individual tries to make excuses. For example, if he is worried about who will take care of their kids, you can state that you already have arrangements for childcare. If she is concerned about the treatment being too far away, you can share that you have researched the facility thoroughly, and this option is best for her needs.

That said, some individuals will still refuse to seek help. This is why having set boundaries in place is so essential.

Addiction affects the entire family, and each member plays a part in the vicious cycle. It is your job to recognize your enabling behaviors- and it is also your job to commit to stopping those behaviors immediately.

Enabling comes in many forms, but it may include:

  • Providing financial support
  • Offering bail or legal aid
  • Taking care of tasks that wouldn’t otherwise get done
  • Lying or making excuses about the drinking
  • Covering up the drinking (throwing away bottles, calling in sick for the individual)
  • Allowing the individual to criticize, insult, or otherwise hurt you

You cannot control your loved one’s addiction or recovery. You can, however, offer love and compassion while remaining firm in your boundaries during this challenging time.

Finding A Professional Interventionist

If you want to have a third-party person involved, you should start by looking into the Association of Interventionist Specialists. This association is a network of professionals who adhere to a strict code of ethics.

Ideally, you want someone that has ample experience in addiction work. Always ask about credentials and types of interventions done in the past. As you will be having ongoing communication with this person, you should also feel comfortable talking and opening up to him or her. What can you expect to happen before, during, and after the intervention? Will you be able to check in as frequently as you need?

Closing Thoughts

Staging an intervention for a loved one can be a difficult choice. However, this decision may very well save someone’s life.

Are you considering having an intervention? Are you thinking about treatment options? We can help.Contact us at (866) 812-8231 today to learn how we support loved ones during this journey.

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