PV Mirror, May 22-28, 2010, issue #85, pg 15

Is there an addict or alcoholic in your life that you are worried about? Do you feel like you’ve tried everything to convince them they have a problem or to get help? Have they gone to AA/12-step programs and quit attending because “it” wasn’t working? Consider holding an “intervention”.

Do not wait for them to hit bottom!!! 
That is an old idea that can be fatal. A famous relapse prevention specialist, Terri Gorski, says that many addicts “learn to live on the bottom”. He emphasizes that they are not going to “touch” bottom, instead, their “bottom” will be death. I know so many of you can relate to this either because you are the miserable unhappy addict or you are the loving desperate spouse, friend or family member. How many times have you shaken your head in bewilderment questioning how they (the addict) survived a certain situation or how a specific event isn’t powerful or tragic enough to make them stop and change. Such experiences seem incomprehensible to us; we can’t imagine going through one of them let alone ten of them, and yet they don’t learn from it; it’s never enough, it’s never painful enough or shameful enough, to get them to stop. Nothing scares them enough.

You must raise the bottom.
If you cannot wait for them to touch bottom, then what? You must raise the bottom. You must create the urgency and set the limitsYou must say when enough is enough. You must not wait for the addict to decide enough is enough because that may never happen. In order to save yourself, your children, your marriage, you have to decide that you aren’t going to take it any longer.

Love first
Another myth is that interventions have to be confrontational. In the book “Love First” (Jeff Jay and Debra Jay, 2000, Hazelden Foundation) the authors describe how to go about planning and preparing an intervention in a loving way that encourages the addicted person to accept help. Instead of blaming them or putting them on the defense, they must be made to feel safe, loved, and supported. The addict hears about how their addiction has affected the people they love and care about and they hear those closest to them will no longer enable the addiction. The family is also educated to understand that addiction is a family disease that everyone suffers from and therefore they need to play a vital role in the recovery of the addict and of each family member.

How many of you have seen the TV show “Intervention”? It dramatically and very realistically portrays the desperateness of the family and friends of the addict as well as the desperate life of the addict. It shows many of the considerations in preparing for an intervention and then conducts one with varying results. Most of the time, the addict agrees to treatment, but sometimes they don’t. At this point, if the addict refuses treatment, at least the family knows they really have tried everything and knowing that makes it a little easier to live with whatever happens. (Their web page is excellent, especially for the long list of treatment centers http://www.aetv.com/intervention/index.jsp )

Stop enabling
“Desperate enabling” occurs as the addiction gets worse; we adjust and readjust to the problem. “Our bottom line, the things we swear we’d never do—keeps receding out of a desperate need to save the addict from destroying himself.” (Love First, pg 33). This is why Interventions are just as much if not more, for the people involved with the addict because it helps them stop enabling by clarifying with the addict and themselves what they will no longer tolerate and what consequences and ultimatums they are finally ready to set and enforce.

Leverage is a refusal to continue to enable the addict behavior” (Love First, pg72) Leverage is never a threat or punishment. It is loving limit setting for the addict and for yourself. Using leverage to motivate the addict to accept treatment could save his life and it also motivates the enablers to take actions for their own good as well. It is empowering.

One on one, addiction always wins.
Do not confront them or try to convince them alone. You need a group of people acting as a team to confront the addict at the same time. You must choose people who are influential with the addict. Do not include someone the addict dislikes; you want to use love, not disdain or resentment. Include workplace, bosses, anyone who cares and who can set convincing consequences  that the addicted person cares about and respects; people he wouldn’t want to hurt any more than he already has. Choose people he trusts to help and who he wouldn’t want to lose.

Each group member of this intervention (even the ones who cannot attend, but are important influential people to the addict) must come up with consequences they are willing to carry out. This can be very difficult because each person has to be willing to carry out these ultimatums. They must become comfortable with imposing these limits and understand they can not back down. One helpful attitude is “I’d rather have him angry with me than dead”. The ultimatums are written “If you do not accept treatment today, then I will…” … “no longer pay your rent” or  “not allow you to work for this company any longer” or “file for divorce and have you move out immediately”. The addict has spent years manipulating weak boundaries and has come to expect the person to back down and draw a new line in the sand.

NOTE: It is very important that the ultimatums or “bottom lines” are only shared with the addict if he chooses not to accept treatment. Quite often, once the addict hears the team’s bottom lines, he changes his mind and accepts treatment, which is why the team must be prepared with each of their ultimatums.

Interventions must be planned
There are basic rules to having a successful one with specific do’s and don’ts known to be beneficial or detrimental. There are many considerations in addition to those discussed including a) having an appropriately chosen treatment center lined up including a ticket to get there, a bag packed, and a chosen escort, b) a location for the intervention and a time and date when you think the addict will be sober, c) confidential agreement between group members not to forewarn addict about intervention; if they know ahead of time, it will fail, d) having an assigned planner and chairperson and following a checklist. This task can be daunting. Hiring a professional therapist to help prepare the team and/or to conduct the intervention is recommended.

The following web pages are excellent resources for planning and conducting an intervention. http://www.lovefirst.net  and http://www.casapalmera.com/admissions/intervention.php