It can feel desperately helpless watching the worsening of a loved one’s addiction or otherwise self-destructive behaviour or lifestyle. It may be obvious to everyone close to them that the addicted individual needs treatment. The question is how to help the person themselves recognise and accept this. Addiction is rarely, if ever, given up without resistance. The suffering individual may not allow themselves to see how bad things have become as regards the effect their relationship with alcohol, other drugs or behaviours is having both on them and those closest to them.
Sometimes straight talking by a family member about what they observe and experience may be enough to encourage the addicted person to seek help. However, such a person will be well practiced at deflecting from the issue; sometimes forcefully. This common predicament was what prompted practitioners to devise the first family intervention models in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Principles and practices have developed over the subsequent decades and they have become increasingly common as route into treatment. The idea behind an intervention is to create an opportunity in which the addicted person comes to accept the need for help and is supported to act upon it.
An off-the-cuff approach is ill advised. Even if a professional interventionist is not directly involved when the intervention eventually takes place, obtaining specialist advice in advance is a sensible option to consider. Careful planning and preparation are essential, as is the need for everyone involved to buy fully into the approach to be adopted. An effective professional should have a good understanding of the part addiction plays in family systems.
The intervention must come from a place of genuine care and compassion for the sufferer. It is intended to be an expression of support for the person presently trapped in addiction and to facilitate their acceptance of help as their route out. It is vital that the subject of the intervention does not feel ambushed by a family posse bent on unloading all their pain, hurt and resentment in a punitive, blaming way. This would almost inevitably be counterproductive, quite possibly strengthening the hold of addiction.
Having selected a neutral venue and assembled the thoroughly prepared and well-co-ordinated team, the addicted loved one is invited to meet with members of the family. The participants take it in turns to express and explain their concerns based on their personal experience of the individual’s addiction. Treatment options that will have been researched in advance are presented. The consequences of failing to take such an option are clearly set out and discussed.
While interventions can result in people choosing to go into treatment, there is no guarantee of immediate or subsequent success. That does not mean that benefit from the process cannot be derived by both the family and the addicted individual.