What is an intervention and how do we know if we need one? First, let’s define it. An intervention according to Merriam Webster is: the act of interfering with the outcome or course especially of a condition or process (as to prevent harm or improve functioning).
So, what we are talking about is altering the course of a condition or process. I think addiction falls into the category of a process and a condition that is afflicting the entire family. For most families who have an active addicted loved one, they can look back over the years and see the process developing. There is usually a definitive cycle between the parents, addict, siblings, and extended family that is repeating itself over and over. Although nobody in the family likes this cycle, they have become stuck in it. This cycle is often driven by fear, guilt, and lack of awareness of alternative solutions.
When the loved ones around an addict finally reach a point of considering an intervention this option can be overwhelming, partially because of the amount of differing information that exists about addiction and interventions in general. In this brief article I hope to give parents some clarity and a few things to consider if they are thinking about an intervention.
In my experience interventions often overly focus on the addict and their behavior. i.e., the addict is using, how do we get them to treatment? Or the addict is doing this or that and we want it to stop. At first glance it seems to make sense to focus on the addict’s behavior because that is the urgent concern, but sometimes an intervention solely focused on this fails to address changes that need to happen throughout the entire family. An intervention at its worst can become a manipulation, where parents use threats (that they do not intend to or are not capable of following up) to try to motivate the addict to fall in line. All of this is very unlikely to be effective and helpful in the long term.
I believe a healthier way to go into an intervention is for the loved ones who are considering the intervention to look at it with this thought in mind: “We are the ones who need and are seeking intervention. It is our behavior that we have power over, and our behavior that must change.” A family with this perspective has a much better chance of a good outcome. They will focus on educating themselves about addiction, as well as looking at themselves and their own patterns of reacting to the addict and each other. This also allows them to focus on something they really have power over – themselves! Any time I speak with parents about interventions, I often say the intervention starts with you, not your loved one. This then leads to the family getting help, whether the addict is interested or not.
The following analogy describes this approach to an intervention: A family has all been driving west on the freeway in separate vehicles, led by the addict. Now some of the family has decided after a series of troubles that they no longer wish to head west. They think there is a better outcome in another direction. The intervention is usually done by sitting with the addict and letting them know, “We are going North at this point, you are more than welcome to join us if you wish. If you do not wish to that is also ok, but you will be on your own headed west and if you have a breakdown or issue you will need to handle it.”
This analogy is meant to illustrate that the family must decide what is healthy overall and commit to a direction. The addict should always be allowed and encouraged to participate in the new direction, but they are no longer in charge of the navigation. This is also very empowering for the addict in that they are given the choice to go whichever direction they wish. They can be reminded that they are able to handle the consequences of their choices, both good and bad. It is good to be prepared for a negative reaction, as addicts often do not like this empowerment; having someone else to blame and to fix their problems can be a very comfortable place to live. Another pitfall to watch for is the addict “playing the victim”, i.e. “Why are you doing this to me?” The addict is not the only one faced with the decision to stay in a victim mentality, the family is now placed in a position to decide if they want to be victims to the addict as well. A choice to go west is a choice to continue to suffer, and then blame the addict. An intervention is simply parents acknowledging that they no longer must go west, even if the addict continues to do so. This is what usually leads to the most successful outcome, this way the whole family can be free. Parents can let go, live their own lives, and go in their own direction. The addict can do the same. Many times, this leads to the whole family heading in the new direction together, for some this may happen later when it becomes clear to the addict that the new direction is a much happier journey.
As you consider whether you need or want to do an intervention with an addict, I think it best to first ask yourself: Am I ready to be intervened on? Am I ready for a change? Am I prepared to change my direction even if it is uncomfortable? If your answer is yes, then a great start to an intervention in the family is to immediately start receiving support for yourself. Get to your nearest PAL meeting or another available parent support group meeting and walk in ready for a change. It will be the start of tremendous healing and hope.
Josh Azevedo is a guest blogger for PAL and is the Executive Director at The Pathway Program, https://thepathwayprogram.com